Leading article: A liberal but fragile legislative agenda

Share
Related Topics

Yesterday was the official inauguration of a new political era, but the Queen's Speech itself was as familiar as an old friend. There were no surprises among the 22 bills announced. Its contents had been foreshadowed in last week's coalition programme. A leak of the contents to a Sunday newspaper had further drained the occasion of drama.

But did the speech make up in substance what it lacked in novelty? The legislative programme is a mixture of the good, bad and the potentially revolutionary. Among the good were the bills to scrap ID cards, channel more funding to schools that take in disadvantaged students, end the imprisonment of child asylum seekers, and to improve mental health services for armed forces veterans. A bill to introduce smart electricity meters to encourage household energy conservation is also welcome, as is the Government's plans to continue the search for a private-sector partner for the Royal Mail.

Among the bad was the proposed legislation to impose an annual cap on migrants from outside the European Union and a bill to deliver a "referendum lock" on any future European treaty. The first is economically illiberal statism. The second is a recipe for a counter-productive fight with our Continental partners.

The potentially revolutionary measure in the Queen's Speech is, of course, the referendum on voting reform. Although the Conservatives have said that they will campaign against any change to the existing first-past-the-post system, the Bill will be whipped by the Government, ensuring that it will make it through the Commons. But there is a different danger. No detail has yet been provided on the timing of this referendum. Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats must not allow it to be delayed until the latter half of this Parliament, when the present sweetness and light might have given way to rancour and acrimony. Such discord could sink the whole reform agenda. This referendum must take place within the next year so that the public have their opportunity to get rid of our discredited electoral system.

The Prime Minister argued yesterday that the main theme of this Queen's Speech was the decentralisation of power. Up to a point. Allowing schools to opt out of Local Education Authority control will give them greater freedom, but it will also make them directly accountable to the Schools Department. That is not devolution, but centralisation. This Government talks the talk on giving away power. It remains to be seen whether it will walk the walk.

Yet this legislative agenda will be far less important for the fortunes of this coalition Government than next month's Budget. The Government says that its welfare reform Bill will get "five million people languishing on welfare into work". But what will determine this administration's success or failure in tackling unemployment will be the health of the wider economy. Unemployment is likely to get significantly worse when the Government begins to cut into public spending. in the end what will bring the unemployment figures down is a job-creating, private-sector recovery.

There are considerable pitfalls ahead on this front. Closing a structural deficit of an estimated £90bn a year will involve severe pain. It is impossible to foresee just how powerful the backlash from the public sector unions will be. And the risk of another global financial crisis is growing as fears rise over the exposure of banks to the debts of the crisis-stricken economies of southern Europe. The possibility that the Government could find itself in another 2008-style financial emergency cannot be ruled out.

What the coalition Government unveiled yesterday is, on the whole, a liberal and progressive legislative programme. The bills deserve a fair wind. But we should be in no doubt that it is the state of the wider economy which will be making the political weather in this Parliament.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Rafael Nadal is down and out, beaten by Dustin Brown at Wimbledon – but an era is not thereby ended  

Sad as it is, Rafael Nadal's decline does not mark the end of tennis's golden era

Tom Peck
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test