The King sounded somewhere between neutral and bored as he delivered the lines but what, if anything, did they amount to?
There are three dimensions to a King’s Speech – the speech, the policy and the politics. It is almost always the third that counts and that was certainly true yesterday.
The speech, judged as a piece of rhetoric, was a bit of a non-event, as these occasions usually are. There were plenty of forlorn hopes - lower inflation, trade agreements, NHS waiting lists, peace and stability in the Middle East and quite a few rather obvious traps for the Labour party - new oil and gas fields, terror legislation, illegal immigration, tougher prison sentences. Rishi Sunak’s reckless conference promises were all ticked off in turn – but there wasn’t much by way of an organising principle.
The most substantive policy was the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill, the purpose of which is to confer powers on the already-established digital markets unit of the Consumer and Markets Authority.
The Media Bill shifts the focus, finally, from television.
The Criminal Justice Bill and the Sentencing Bill will give more power to the police and more rights to victims of crime respectively.
The Rail Reform Bill, which will unwind HS2, will be a teaser to the Labour party to say “well, will you repeal that?” The same is true of the Offshore petroleum licensing bill.
The rhetorical wrapping of the speech was that it was all about the long-term but of course it was nothing of the sort. The crucial point is the politics and it was all a bit sign-posted and obvious. In fact the pivotal moment of the day probably came during the debate on the Loyal Address when Keir Starmer accused the Conservative party of having “given up on governing”. Sunak retorted by using the term “change” more than a dozen times.
It was hard, in the end, to conclude anything other than that he will definitely experience a change but not the one he wants.
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