Hard choices that lie ahead

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The Independent Online
Tony Blair told the new Parliament yesterday that the Queen's Speech showed the Government "doing the job" of governing for the whole nation. But he immediately faces a series of tough decisions such as how to fund higher education, setting the level of the national minimum wage, and sorting out the millennium celebration mess.

The Prime Minister told a packed Commons, with standing room only for late-comers: "We will not put right the damage of 18 years in 18 days or even 18 months. But in 12 days we have already shown how we can make a difference."

With ministers already dealing with problems inherited from the Conservatives, Mr Blair said he was proud of the Queen's Speech legislative programme.

"It builds on the hope and optimism that our election has set coursing through the veins of our nation. It shows that change can come.

"It shows this is a government firmly rooted in the centre-ground, in touch with the people, governing with the people, for the people. The people's priorities. The people's government."

The Queen's Speech, which outlined the legislative programme to run through to the autumn of next year, included 26 Bills and three White Papers. But a close examination of the day's texts showed that three additional Bills were possible: banning tobacco advertising; breaking up the NHS internal market; and putting an end to foreign donations for political parties, along with enforced declaration of large donations.

The key theme was spelled out by the Queen, when she said: "My government intends to govern for the benefit of the whole nation."

With the Conservatives sitting on the opposition benches for the first time since 1979, Mr Blair picked up the banner of the Tory moderates, telling MPs: "We speak as the One Nation party in British politics today. To anyone who doubts that, they need only look around this House today. They will see Labour MPs from every part of our country. We speak for the whole nation. We will serve the whole nation."