Editorial: The government talks up the UKs bright, post-Brexit future but its populist policies threaten to take the country backwards
Rarely has the elaborately costumed pageant of the state opening of parliament looked less in keeping with the status of the legislative programme on offer. This was pomp in bizarre circumstances.
From the off, the Queens speech struck a curiously provisional note, beginning with the statement that the governments priority has always been to leave the EU on 31 October. That was some way short of a commitment that this is going to happen, which is understandable. No one knows what is going to happen between now and the end of the month.
Given the Conservatives lack of a majority, and the showdown with MPs that is expected whether or not the government and EU are able to strike a deal before Thursdays deadline, the contents of the speech are less pertinent to Britains immediate future than the continuing talks in Brussels. The nation on Monday suffered the unedifying spectacle of the Queen reading out a Boris Johnson wishlist.
But even if none of the 26 promised bills find their way on to the statute books, the speech was interesting and dispiriting for what it reveals about our ruling party, with a general election widely expected to be triggered within a few months at the latest.
The immigration bill ending freedom of movement, and several others, hinge upon the outcome of this weeks negotiations. For the rest, seven bills in the area of law and order, including longer sentences for foreign criminals convicted of breaching deportation orders, contain remarkably little fresh thinking. Instead, they are a retread of the authoritarian and anti-immigration policies of Margaret Thatcher, as previewed in the recent party conference speech by the home secretary, Priti Patel. At the end of a decade of cuts to police and criminal justice budgets under successive Tory prime ministers, when the murder rate has risen sharply and youths in particular are at greater risk of serious violence than for many years, this retro emphasis on retribution, at the expense of prevention and rehabilitation, is worthy of contempt.
Proposals for compulsory voter ID are similarly objectionable, and not only because poorer people, who are less likely to be Conservative voters, will find it hardest to comply. All the available evidence shows that election fraud in the UK is vanishingly rare. The very last thing the UK needs is for peoples faith in democracy to be further eroded.
The UK urgently needs to limit air and water pollution, so the commitment to new environmental legislation is welcome. So is the return to the House of Commons of the domestic abuse bill that risked being lost with Mr Johnsons failed prorogation. The creation of a new buildings regulator, provided it has the necessary powers and resources, should help to ensure that there is never a repeat of the Grenfell Tower disaster.
But whether it is judged as a programme for government, or as a preview of a general election manifesto, this Queens speech was mainly notable for what it left out. On social care, tenants rights, schools funding and the climate emergency in particular, there can be no excuses for a ruling party that does not offer substantial proposals. Brexit or not, such critical issues must not be allowed to drift on, unaddressed, any longer.
The shortest parliament in living memory opened in March 1974 with Harold Wilsons promise to put the countrys membership of the European Economic Community to a referendum. So far Mr Johnson has resisted calls to put his own plans for quitting Europe to a fresh public vote. But with this new parliament likelier than not to beat 1974s record for brevity, Mondays Queens speech makes it more than ever apparent why the worst possible outcome of any election would be a majority Conservative government led by Mr Johnson.