This Queen’s Speech is not a plan for a Government at the height of their powers with a refreshed mandate. It is a legislative programme for a Government in a holding pattern, led by an isolated and humiliated Prime Minister who has been shorn of her authority after a bruising encounter with the electorate in an election that she chose to call three years early. She flunked the test spectacularly, hobbling her premiership, and weakening rather than strengthening her hand in the EU negotiations in the process. Far from gaining the landslide victory that the polls indicated would be hers when she called the election, the Prime Minister has managed to turn a Tory majority into a hung Parliament. Her much vaunted deal with the DUP has only just been concluded in the nick of time, 18 days after the general election. Meanwhile, No. 10 is beginning to resemble the Mary Celeste.
Anyone who doubts the truth of the Prime Minister’s predicament need only peruse the weekend’s front pages to see the unseemly jockeying for position that has already begun in this most weak and wobbly of Administrations. The programme is defined more by what has been missed out than by what it actually contains. The Leader of the Opposition pointed out in his speech that the Tory election manifesto has disappeared in its entirety from the party’s website. That gives us an insight into the real motivation for the Government introducing a new right to be forgotten in the data protection Bill.
There is no mention in the Queen’s Speech of the triple lock on pensions or the abolition of winter fuel payments. The Prime Minister’s highly divisive personal pet project—introducing new grammar schools—is not referred to, nor is the possibility of allowing a free vote on fox hunting any time soon. The dementia tax proposals have gone, as have the police cuts.
The election result destroyed any mandate for an extreme Brexit. Parties holding extreme positions on Brexit—whether the UK Independence party or the Liberal Democrats—were rejected emphatically. For the first time in decades, the Tories and Labour together received 80% of the votes. There is no appetite for the hard Brexit that the Prime Minister has tried to pursue since the referendum. She interpreted the decision in the referendum as giving the Government alone the power to decide how to proceed. The Supreme Court rightly interpreted the constitutional reality and disabused her of that vanity. She then asked voters to give her a free hand to drive though her own personal hard Brexit, and the British people disabused her of that vanity.
Two things must now happen. First, we need a cross-party council, comprising expertise and experience, to advise the Government on how to progress. Scrutiny benefits from a plurality of opinion. Good decisions require managed dissent. Secondly, the Brexit council should work out what a baseline acceptable deal would be and put that in place. That deal might look something like the Norwegian model—that is, to agree to Britain entering the European economic area. We could then work out which incremental elements we need to get a deal to strengthen that base. Working from a baseline, we can build a genuinely successful deal with the best chance of safeguarding jobs and building prosperity for the future.