Leading article: An unwanted legacy, and a promise unfulfilled


This year's Queen's Speech had a strangely perfunctory quality, which seemed to match the fractious mood of MPs. Part of the difficulty was that whenever the Queen spoke the words "my government" - as she frequently must in a speech introducing the legislative programme - this reminded everyone that today's Prime Minister will no longer be Prime Minister when the parliamentary session is out. And this left a question: was this untidy set of Bills, with its emphasis on national security and criminal justice, really something that Tony Blair saw as adding distinction to his political legacy? If so, it was a big disappointment.

Mr Blair came to office as a moderniser with an ambitious programme of reform. But he leaves with an alternately lacklustre and repressive programme that will not even be complete by the time of his expected departure. As leaders of both major Opposition parties noted, many people find this rather unsatisfactory. "Power without responsibility", the Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, called it.

For the Conservatives, David Cameron neatly contrasted the hopes that a forward-looking Mr Blair generated 12 years ago when - as he refrained from saying - he held a position equivalent to the one Mr Cameron occupies today. Sir Menzies, in excellent form, spelt out the unacceptability of any attempt to extend the period of detention without charge. Mr Blair had asked for cross-party understanding on this, suggesting that 90-day detention was again in his sights. Sir Menzies declared that his party would again oppose this.

This was a Queen's Speech overloaded with trophies for the Home Office. If the planned legislation goes through, we will see the eighth Terrorism Bill of this government's tenure and the 24th Criminal Justice Bill. For Mr Blair to argue, as he has done before, that tougher anti-terrorism legislation is necessary because the police and security services judge it to be so was disingenuous. The duty of the Government is to weigh what is in the country's interests; this may or may not coincide with measures the law-enforcers would like to see.

We have misgivings about anything that curbs civil liberties or threatens the judicial rights of ordinary people; there were plenty of such measures on display yesterday. Abolishing juries in serious fraud trials could set a dangerous precedent. The march of ID cards goes on, and new powers are envisaged on violent crime and anti-social behaviour. The sickly Child Support Agency is finally to be put out of its misery: but why was it allowed to become such an expensive failure?

The Climate Change Bill was a disappointment of a different kind. For a Government that boasts of its green credentials and sets so much store by targets, its failure to set annual targets for cutting carbon emissions is regrettable. The 60 per cent reduction stipulated for 2050 may look ambitious, but it is, for the Government, conveniently far away. Mr Blair's subsequent strictures about the need to set environmental considerations against energy security made the Government sound at best half-hearted about climate change.

If climate change received short shrift, the Iraq war was dealt with in a fraction of a sentence, which promised to "support the new Iraqi government in its efforts to build an enduring constitutional settlement". Yet it was Iraq, and tributes to the latest British casualties, that set the subdued tone for yesterday's debate. Iraq is descending into anarchy, as the mass kidnapping in Baghdad so graphically showed. Iraq and the terrorist threat it has fuelled are also part of the reason for the Government's preoccupation with security. Iraq cast a pall over this State Opening of Parliament; it, too, is the enduring part of Mr Blair's legacy.

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