A mixed bag of measures will be the legacy of Mr Blair

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The Independent Online

The Queen's Speech turned out to be even more crammed with legislation than anticipated. Parliament was promised 45 new Bills - a highly detailed agenda, and one, no doubt, intended to demonstrate that the Prime Minister remains very much in control. Despite this, a disappointing lack of ambition remains at the heart of Tony Blair's government.

The Queen's Speech turned out to be even more crammed with legislation than anticipated. Parliament was promised 45 new Bills - a highly detailed agenda, and one, no doubt, intended to demonstrate that the Prime Minister remains very much in control. Despite this, a disappointing lack of ambition remains at the heart of Tony Blair's government.

We were told that the key theme would be establishing a "culture of respect", which explains the heavy emphasis on law and order legislation. Some is justified, such as tighter restrictions on buying knifes and replica handguns. But too much of it smacks of New Labour gimmickry. The creation of "Alcohol Disorder Zones" to combat binge drinking falls into this category. The problem of anti-social behaviour and low-level violence is growing, and it is often, although by no means always, young people who are the culprits. But the only effective way to tackle this is through better policing, improved schools, and local schemes and facilities for the young. By floating the repellent idea of forcing those on community service to wear lurid uniforms, the Government has shown how far it has swung towards reactionary conservatism.

Indeed, far too much illiberalism was evident. The foolish insistence on an ID cards Bill will constitute a huge test of Mr Blair's authority when it comes before the Commons. It is a contest he deserves to lose, since this scheme would be an unprecedented and wholly unjustified curb on our civil liberties. The Bill to outlaw incitement to religious hatred, by curtailing freedom of speech, suffers from this same defect.

One heartening aspect was the absence of any Bill to erode further the right to trial by jury. And the proposed counter-terrorism Bill - which would outlaw "acts preparatory to terrorism" - at least shows the Government has accepted it is morally indefensible to hold terror suspects indefinitely without trial. But it is disappointing Mr Blair continues to try to reform the criminal justice system to suit his flawed "war on terror".

Yet even this was overshadowed by the shameful decision to remove the right of asylum-seekers to permanent residency. Instead, their situation will be "reviewed" every few years. And the draconian mental health Bill - which proposes to lock up many more ill people without their consent - looks set to become law.

So this is the mixed bag of measures that Mr Blair hopes will set his legacy in stone. His best hope of creating a lasting monument remains the reform of the public services. It is perfectly understandable - and indeed right - that he is, finally, seeking to push through proper reforms in education and the NHS, particularly with regard to the private sector. The danger is that he has left it far too late to make the necessary fundamental changes in the way these service are delivered.

For all of Mr Blair's fine talk of radicalism and boldness, this remains a timid, focus group-led set of measures. And several major issues remain unresolved. It is arguable that any important decisions on energy policies had to be deferred until a wide consensus could be established over nuclear power, renewable energy and climate change; but it is disgraceful that Mr Blair begins his third term with no coherent plan to deal with the pension crisis. The same drift is evident in the absence of a commitment to complete the reform of the House of Lords; the half-hearted approach to the second chamber in many ways symbolises the hopes and failures of Mr Blair's time in Downing Street.

Too much of yesterday's speech was devoted to petty gesture politics; too little was concerned with real and lasting reform. It was an inauspicious beginning to Mr Blair's last years in power.

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