9 November 2023
This is an excerpt from our full analysis of the King’s Speech. To learn more about the in-depth content our consultants provide for Cicero clients, get in touch at UKPublicAffairs@h-advisors.global.
“What can a country achieve in 52 weeks? Watch this space,” Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s latest promotional video urges us. So, what will he able be to achieve in this final Parliamentary session, which could last anywhere between six and fifteen months? The package is very light, given limited Parliamentary time and a General Election being required by January 2025. 21 is a typical number of Bills for a legislative session, but five of those are carry-overs and one is in draft form; this relatively insubstantial agenda opens up Sunak’s options for the timing of an election, which still remains up in the air.
The Speech’s principal aim was to create ‘wedge’ issues between the Conservatives and the Labour Party, the latter of which is currently around 20 points ahead in the polls, to turn out the core Tory vote and perhaps secure a bump in the polls. With the Uxbridge by-election still on his mind, the flagship legislation on oil and gas licences announced this week was an enactment of Sunak’s sceptical views towards Net Zero and a method of future-proofing his plans in anticipation of a potential Labour government. However, ahead of the hurdle of a future government comes managing his own party. A vocal minority of “green Tories” will be unhappy with the proposals and, in conjunction with Labour, may be able to destabilise the plans if Sunak is not careful.
There was an unexpectedly large number of Bills on law and order, which can pass Parliament relatively easily, cost little and stir up emotion for those voters who may not otherwise turn out for the Tories. It also draws a line between Labour and the Conservatives on justice issues – we can expect to hear plenty mentions of “lefty lawyers” and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s human rights background in the run-up to the next election. Although Sunak’s team has designed these Bills as traps for Labour to fall into, the focus on making things difficult for the Opposition appears a tacit acceptance that that Conservative hopes of forming the next Government are dwindling.
This Conservative Government, albeit under a different Prime Minister, was elected on the basis of “getting Brexit done”. Now, just four years later, there is barely a mention of the UK’s departure from the European Union, save for legislation ratifying the UK’s accession to the CPTPP. Indeed, it seems an odd choice that Sunak chose instead to talk about the UK’s international “leadership”, including the hosting of the forthcoming summit of the European Political Community – a brainchild of French President Emmanuel Macron.
As expected before a General Election, there were some retail offers, like the creation of an independent football regulator and a ban on unlicensed pedicabs. However, compare this to the last Queen’s Speech before a scheduled General Election: in 2014, David Cameron’s Government offered pension overhaul, childcare subsidies and a Bill giving voters the power to recall their MPs. Wary of his delicate position in his party, Sunak has avoided any legislation that will be majorly controversial on the Government benches – for example, on banning conversion therapy or building more homes.
Sunak has previously been accused of a lack of political vision, and a scarcity of retail policies to appeal to new (particularly younger) voters has shone a light on this issue. It is revealing that the King’s Speech declined to tackle some of the major questions facing the UK right now, like how to tackle the housing crisis and solve the UK’s massive childcare issues, instead leaving a future Government (likely of a different colour) to decide the UK’s direction.