Following difficult local council results, party gate and MPs sex scandals, the government will be desperate to change the agenda next week.
Their opportunity will come in the Queen’s Speech setting out their programme of bills. It is likely to be the last substantial tranche of legislation before the next election.
The problem is that the cost-of-living crisis which really matters to people is not easily solved by passing new laws, so ministers will have to try and please people in other ways.
Indications are that rather than move to a more consensual middle ground in the run up to the next election, the Queen’s Speech will contain a number of measures with a true-blue tint.
A bill to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights will raise alarm bells, the privatisation of Channel Four is unnecessary, harmful to northern independent production companies and ideologically driven. There will be more support for giving the government the right to override the Parole Board over the release of Tier 1 offenders.
There will also be support for the Economic Crime Bill to further tighten sanctions on the Russians, more power for renters over landlords and a ban on conversion therapy. In the latter case controversy will continue the exclusion of trans people from the bill.
Some measures have been carried over from the last parliamentary session. These include the bill to protect people from online harm, a measure to guarantee free speech on university campuses (it is a scandal that this is even needed) and the legislation paving the way for the HS2 line from Crewe to Manchester. It will be interesting to see whether it will provoke debate over how the line ends at Piccadilly. The government want to bring the line in on an elevated overground route while the local solution is to take it underground.
There is some political significance in what is not going to be before parliament in the coming year. Faced with a choice of backing radical measures to meet the need for new houses or appease Tory backbenchers in their leafy constituencies, the government have backed the later. In place of the planned planning bill there will be a Levelling Up measure. It is not clear what this will contain of importance to the North, but it is expected landlords may be compelled to rent out empty retail units
The Energy bill will also see concessions to backbenchers over on shore windfarms. The knotty issue in this measure will be the government’s attempt to replace gas boilers with heat pumps in millions of homes.
Thankfully there seems little prospect of the government trying to curb judicial review or trying to scrap the Northern Ireland Protocol with legislation.
BY ELECTION SPECULATION
Now that the local polls are out of the way, we can turn our attention to a couple of fascinating by elections. Wakefield and Tiverton provide an ideal opportunity for Labour and the Lib Dems to ambush the Tories.
I would get Ed Balls to stand in Wakefield with a paper Lib Dem candidate whilst Labour would soft pedal in Devon giving the Lib Dems the chance to come from third place to win as they did in North Shropshire.