For the first time since 1950 a king will be present to open parliament on Tuesday. When George the Sixth did it for the last time (ill health prevented him attending in 1951), Clement Attlee was in his last months in power with Winston Churchill about to return to No 10.
The only comparison with those distant days is that this could well be the last King’s Speech of a dying government. So, what proposals will ministers be getting King Charles to spell out.
The main task of the Prime Minister is not to give the impression that the Tories have run out of steam, making the last session content lite in terms of legislation. But he has quite a task to raise morale in a parliamentary party where most Tories with majorities under 10,000 have given up already.
We are briefed to expect bills on long term issues, although what they might be seems uncertain. Social care would be a good one to tackle, but Theresa May tried that in 2017 and was disgracefully attacked by an opportunist Labour Party who claimed she was introducing a death tax.
The pressure continues to build from the Tory right for tax cuts, but the King’s Speech is not the place for that. Apart from Charles saying his government aims for economic prosperity and growth, all we will get is “estimates for the public services will be laid before you”. I love that bland sentence. During the Coalition they should have added “much lower” in front of estimates!
So, what will we get that won’t cost too much and will woo some voters back to the Conservatives? Crime’s usually a sure bet and a bill making rapists serve their full sentence, vicious murderers die in jail and making it compulsory for convicted criminals to attend court for sentencing, seems likely. There may be a bill to reform the parole system. “Not another one” I hear that lady from Bristol exclaiming. We are still paying the bill for Chris Grayling’s stupid privatisation of the service some years ago.
As with social media, legislation is likely to struggle to keep up with the rapid development of Artificial Intelligence, but there needs to be a law on driverless cars directed by AI. There may be a bill on the rail projects planned after the scrapping of HS2. Watch carefully to see if plans for the link between Manchester Airport and Piccadilly which Mayor Burnham says is vital for Northern Powerhouse Rail, is progressed.
There may be a bill to implement the Prime Minister’s plan to phase out smoking, one to try and reduce terror attacks like the Manchester Arena and possibly one on public service broadcasting. Let’s hope the latter isn’t motivated by a desire to bash the BBC.
Whatever is in the King’s Speech, it will be delivered against a pretty depressing background. Horrible wars in Gaza and Ukraine and at home a Covid Inquiry which shows that our government might parade in pomp and ceremony but behind the scenes it was foul language and indecision.