Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative majority Government set forth its first Queen’s Speech of the 2015 Parliament, continuing the Tory promise of a “long-term plan” for the economy.
Aspiration and conciliation were the watchwords of the day as Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative majority Government set forth its first Queen’s Speech of the 2015 Parliament.
Politics north of the Border
Couched in the rhetoric of opportunity, the speech continued the Tory promise of a “long-term plan” for the economy and the party’s campaigning emphasis on “security”, while also making a devolutionary “one nation” offering designed to placate those who had so radically disrupted politics north of the Border.
This was not, however, enough to stop Mr Cameron from taking aim at the platform of the SNP, as he explicitly grappled with the nationalists’ opposition to Trident renewal by namechecking British submariners among the military heroes singled out for praise at the commencement of his remarks.
Furthermore, exchanges during the initial Queen’s Speech debate indicated some of the controversy to come, as SNP Members including former First Minister Alex Salmond queried the legitimacy of a pledge to alter the Standing Orders of the House to deliver controversial Conservative proposals for “English Votes for English Laws”.
Notwithstanding such hints of trouble ahead, the 2015 Queen’s Speech appeared a somewhat muted occasion, as the furious speculation that had accompanied the legislative agendas set forth each year by the Coalition was replaced by a certain surety about what was to come.
Speculation this year chiefly surrounded which of the proposals outlined in the Conservative Manifesto would be set forth with the greatest urgency, and which looked likely to cause trouble with rebellious backbenchers, given the Government’s slim majority.
Indeed, the apparent stalling of one of the most controversial proposals to emerge from the Conservatives’ stated legislative programme was greeted with disgust by the morning’s press. The absence in the speech of specific legislation to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a “British Bill of Rights” led some commentators and opponents of the Government to suggest that it had already been forced to kick the issue into the long grass in light of practical difficulties.
Another of the more controversial policies to make it into the Speech – and the focus of a major ideological divide between the parties – is the Conservatives’ proposal, contained in its new Housing Bill, to extend the social housing Right to Buy to cover the tenants of housing associations.
The Prime Minister summed up his party’s appeal to the electorate on housing by declaring that support for this measure was a “test of aspiration”.
In a similarly populist vein came a move to legislate specifically against tax rises, and a promise of a tax-free Minimum Wage, while a boost to free childcare was also framed as a means of helping working families to improve their lot.
A roar of backbench approval greeted the promise of an EU Referendum Bill, while Labour’s change of heart over the plebiscite met with a more troubled reaction, and prompted a defiant declaration from SNP Westminster Leader Angus Robertson that his party maintained its hostility to the vote.
Arguably the most difficult task of the day went to Acting Labour Leader Harriet Harman, who rose first to deliver a stern promise to provide “determined, forensic and vocal” opposition to the Government, and to remind Mr Cameron that his majority remained “slender”.
Taking on the themes of the election campaign, she made direct and resolute reference to her party’s perceived embarrassment, and also took the Prime Minister to task for his “divisive” election campaigning techniques.
With Labour looking subdued – and even legendary backbench heckler Dennis Skinner lapsing into silence – the Conservative benches were packed with MPs in fine good humour at the outset of their party’s first term in majority Government since the Major years.
But with the clouds of division on the horizon, and gaps already threatening to yawn between rhetoric and reality, this characteristically freewheeling Prime Minister faces a fractious future.
As Senior Political Analyst at DeHavilland, Anna Haswell leads on financial services policy, as well as covering media issues. In her capacity as Content Marketer, she is also responsible for DeHavilland's briefings and analysis output, working across teams to ensure relevant messages reach current and prospective clients alike. She is a graduate of the University of Oxford and Goldsmiths, University of London.