As much as anything, yesterday's Queen's Speech was an attempt to persuade the public that the Government's central concern is the same as their own: a return to economic health. It was there from the opening line, promising a forthcoming legislative programme which will prioritise economic growth.
It is notable, then, that the response of the business community was so dismissive. It is also, perhaps, not surprising, given that the only concrete proposal which followed was the Enterprise Bill. The Liberal Democrat Business Secretary, Vince Cable, promises that the changes – including tweaks to parental leave, shareholder powers and employment regulations – will be "pro-growth and pro-business". But the scepticism from business leaders remains and yesterday's smattering of new measures only added to the sense of rhetoric too often not followed up by action.
Nor was there much that was inspiring elsewhere. Most of the rest of the programme was a laundry list of smaller plans which, while worthy, are unlikely to grab the attention of a public feeling the economic squeeze. In part, such blandness can be excused by the fact that the last parliamentary session was a two-year marathon including radical reforms to both welfare and the NHS. There is simply nothing more of the same magnitude to do. It also reflects the realities of coalition: with the make-or-break deals done, it is harder to reach agreement on the little things – even more so, as both sides struggle to placate their increasingly mutinous back benches.
There was no mention, therefore, of a Bill to set the route for high-speed rail. And the promise to enshrine in law the commitment to give 0.7 per cent of national income in overseas aid has been shelved. Both are concessions to the Tory right. The trade-off for Nick Clegg – under just as much internal pressure as David Cameron, if not more – was the prominent commitment to reform the House of Lords.
In an attempt to bridge the increasingly acrimonious divide between the Coalition partners on the issue, however, the Speech was more vague and ambiguous than many Liberal Democrats might have expected. The Queen talked only of a Bill to "reform the composition" of the second chamber, with no mention of elective representation and no deadline. But it is no less significant a commitment for all that.
Left to himself, a Conservative Prime Minister struggling to shed an image of being out of touch with the concerns of the masses would never have chosen to pursue arcane-seeming constitutional reform during a period of unprecedented government austerity. But Mr Clegg rightly judges that he has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to push through desperately needed reforms. He has refused to back down and it can only be hoped that his efforts will prove to be successful.
But neither Lords reform nor the Enterprise Bill nor the medley of other legislation announced yesterday is sufficient to answer the Government's most pressing requirement. It has been a torrid few months. From the mishandling of the Budget onwards – from pastygate to dinners-for-donors in the Prime Minister's flat, from the manufactured petrol crisis to the revelations about the Culture Secretary's close ties to Rupert Murdoch – the honeymoon that began in the Rose Garden in 2010 is well and truly over.
Hit by the return to recession, by the rising chorus of claims that the Government is run by posh boys who know nothing of the effects of what they do, and by the drubbing both governing parties received at last week's local elections, the overwhelming priority is to regain the public's confidence. The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister appearing in tandem at an Essex tractor factory earlier this week was a high-profile attempt to do so, stressing their commitment to economic recovery from the factory floor. When it came to the substance in the Queen's Speech, however, there were some nods in the right direction but little that was truly convincing. It will take more than talking and a few legislative tweaks to get the British economy moving again.
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