The Queen’s Speech: move along folks, not much to see here

by Stephen Tall on May 6, 2013

This week sees the fourth Queen’s Speech of this Coalition Government, but no-one’s expecting it to be especially busy or radical.

(You can hear me discuss some of the reasons why on Radio 4′s PM programme here.)

To some extent, Lib Dems will breathe a sigh of relief: missing from it will be any reference to the Communications Data Bill, already torpedoed by Nick Clegg. Indeed, the Speech seems to have been stripped of those bits of legislation which looked set to cause the Coalition leaders most aggro for least reward. While Lib Dem pressure saw off the ‘snoopers’ charter’, both minimum alcohol pricing and plain cigarette packing (measures likely to annoy the more free-market / libertarian elements in both parties, but especially the Tories) have also bitten the dust.

What’s left appears pretty unambitious. That’s not to say there aren’t big things within it. To name just three…

  1. Steve Webb’s Pensions Bill will introduce the single-tier pension, ensuring that people on low and average wages will be able to maintain their standard of living in retirement.
  2. Jo Swinson’s Consumer Rights Bill aims to give consumers greater confidence in knowing their rights when they purchase new products, switch suppliers or make purchases via the internet or phone.
  3. And Norman Baker will be championing massive spending on the high-speed rail network, HS2 (I still think it’s a huge white elephant, but it seems pretty popular within the Lib Dems).

But this remains a pared-down programme. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As Mark Pack points out here, a loaded legislative agenda isn’t a guarantee of good government; the government needs to deliver on reforms already underway before initiating new ones and over-reaching.

However, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion the Coalition is now pretty much intellectually dead. Whereas the Coalition Agreement fizzed with radical promise — both parties alighting on the bits of their manifestos they thought most important and parking the bits they’d always found a bit embarrassing — we’ve now reached a point, it seems, of mid-term, stalemated exhaustion. Before you know it the party conferences will be upon us, along with the growing realisation the next election is looming.

The Coalition gives every appearance now of biding its time, wanting to stick around for another two years not because it’s buzzing with new ideas, but because it has its fingers crossed that the economy is going to up-tick just enough by 2015 to save Lib Dem and Tory necks. That may be our best and only strategy, but it doesn’t half make those early radical days feel like ancient history.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.