The previous speeches revisited

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Indy Politics

1997

The Mood

Tony Blair had won the election by a landslide, but he and Gordon Brown had promised to stick to Tory spending plans so, though the mood was jubilant, there was no largesse in the 22 Bills promised.

Highlights

Bank of England to control interest rates. Windfall tax on privatised utilities. Devolution for Scotland, Wales and London. A Human Rights Act. Hand guns to be banned, after the Dunblane massacre. Assisted places in private schools abolished, and the cash used to cut class sizes.

What Next?

Labour easily won a referendum to create the Scottish Assembly, and scraped through in Wales, but reforming London was too complicated to be done in a year. The other measures went through.

1998

The Mood

Labour MPs were so ebullient that they interrupted the speech with cries of "hear, hear". Among the spectators in the gallery was the Hollywood actress Jamie Lee Curtis, wife of the hereditary peer Lord Haden-Guest.

Highlights

Reform of the House of Lords, free vote on lowering the age of consent for gay people, abolition of GP fundholding, claimants to be compelled to attend work interviews, devolution for London.

What Next?

MPs voted for gay rights, but the Lords blocked it. 666 out of 758 hereditary peers lost their voting rights. The London reforms went through, but that set Tony Blair on a futile quest to prevent Ken Livingstone being elected.

1999

The Mood

John Prescott and Jack Straw took centre stage in a speech promising 22 bills in all.

The Deputy Prime Minister had a blockbuster Transport Bill, while the then Home Secretary, Mr Straw, was demonstrating that he did not mind offending the civil rights lobby.

Highlights

Trial by jury to be restricted; Labour's first Anti-terrorism Bill; another free vote on gay rights; Freedom of Information; a "Right to Roam' for country walkers; Air Traffic Control privatised; police to be subject to race relations laws after the Stephen Lawrence case.

What Next?

John Prescott's Transport Bill did not have much impact. The Terrorism Act is perhaps the most significant measure passed that year; it included new and sweeping definition of a 'terrorist'. Labour delivered on gay rights.

2000

The Mood

For the first time in 100 years, the speech was delayed until December, and was a thin package of 15 Bills and four draft Bills - "all spin and no delivery", according to the Tory leader at the time, William Hague.

Highlights

Law and order measures to tackle the so-called "yob culture", street crime and drugs barons, billed as the biggest attack on crime for a generation, plus a ban on tobacco advertising, action to house the homeless, and a free vote for MPs on the future of fox-hunting.

What Next?

The hunting ban easily got through the Commons but was held up by the Lords and abandoned when Tony Blair called an election. So was the ban on tobacco advertising. Anyway, one of the biggest political issues turned out to be fuel prices.

2001

The Mood

Labour's mood was sunny. It was June, Tony Blair had won another election, and the Conservatives were in a leadership crisis. This was a time to concentrate on long-term improvement to health, education and the law, rather than picking a fight over little things like tobacco advertising.

Highlights

Regional health authorities to be scrapped in favour of primary-care trusts; more city academies and faith schools; a new communications regulator, Ofcom; the 'double jeopardy' rule to be scrapped so murder suspects can be tried twice; more Lords reform; another free vote on hunting.

What Next?

The political agenda was overtaken by the 11 September attacks, and new anti-terror legislation, quickly cobbled together, became the centrepiece of the Government's programme. Lords reform was abandoned. Fox-hunting was not banned.

2002

The Mood

The Tories were still in crisis, with Iain Duncan Smith's leadership under threat. Tony Blair mocked him without mercy, knowing that, with the Iraq war looming, his real problems were coming from his own party and from the Liberal Democrats.

Highlights

Reform of the court system to make it easier to convict criminals; pub licensing hours to be abolished; decision by June 2003 on whether to join the euro; Parliament "to reach a conclusion" on fox-hunting.

What Next?

Gordon Brown said no to the euro and pub drinking hours were relaxed - without producing the much predicted increase in drunkenness. There was no conclusion on fox-hunting. The biggest parliamentary event of 2002-3 was the serious Labour revolt over the Iraq war.

2003

The Mood

Faced by another Tory leader, Michael Howard, Tony Blair seemed to be intent on picking a fight with his own party with a programme of 23 Bills that the Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy described as "instinctively illiberal".

Highlights

Universities to be allowed to charge fees; asylum-seekers' children to be taken into care if benefits are withdrawn; compulsory "sellers' packs" for house buyers; Lords reform to be brought back; gay people to be allowed to register their partnerships; fox-hunting to be "resolved".

What Next?

The proposals for student tuition fees had to be drastically amended because of furious opposition from Labour MPs, and scraped through by just five votes. Hunting with dogs was finally banned, despite well-organised protests. The House of Lords survived unreformed.

2004

The Mood

Over the summer, Tony Blair had bought a new house, weathered a heart problem, and reneged on an alleged promise to Gordon Brown that he was about to quit. He had crammed the Speech with 37 Bills, with the battles against crime and terrorism as the centrepiece, to prove that he was still in action.

Highlights

ID cards to be brought in; a counter-terrorism Bill trailed with no details given; a Serious Organised Crime Agency to be created; people arrested for minor crimes to be drug-tested and addicts forced into treatment; fines and penalty points for drivers using mobile phones while at the wheel.

What Next?

As happened four years earlier, a general election called the legislative process to an early halt, and the most contentious item from the speech, the introduction of compulsory ID cards, was delayed after a revolt by Labour MPs and in the Lords.

2005

The Mood

Tony Blair was back after another election, more determined than ever to show he is still in business, with a bumper bundle of 45 Bills whose central theme was "respect". Another Tory leader was on the way out; as a parting gesture, Michael Howard promised Tory support for several central measures.

Highlights

ID cards top of the agenda again; another Terrorism Bill, making it illegal to 'glorify' terrorism; tight rules for incapacity claimants; more private-sector involvement in city academies; an Olympics Bill to enable a village to be constructed in east London; Lords reform back again.

What Next?

The anticipated defeat on ID cards never happened, so that Bill is law. Work on the Olympics village is under way, generating controversy. After the July bombs in London, anti-terror legislation was rushed through in an almost-empty House. Once again, Lords reform did not happen.

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