OPINION - The Queen’s Speech: No Queen and little respite

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 (West End Final)
(West End Final)

It is not quite true to suggest that the State Opening of Parliament is all style over substance. No doubt, there’s quite a lot of pomp and ceremony on display. Horse-drawn, gold-plated carriages, doors theatrically slammed in Black Rod’s face and ermine as far as the eye can bear.

But the Queen’s Speech is also an important Parliamentary marker. It provides the government of the day an opportunity to set out its legislative agenda for the upcoming session, putting meat on rhetorical bones.

Similarly, it can be hard to know where to place Boris Johnson’s government on the style-substance dichotomy. On the one hand, despite a focus on the cost of living, none of the 38 bills dutifully read out by Prince Charles, standing in for the Queen, are designed explicitly to improve people’s living standards in the short term. The opportunity to do that was the Spring Statement.

On the other hand, it is easy to forget this is a prime minister who managed to extricate the UK from the European Union and is now seriously considering whether to risk a full-scale trade war with the bloc, a possible consequence should Liz Truss make good on her threats to unilaterally walk away from the Northern Ireland Protocol.

You may not agree with the substance, but it is hard to argue, as Gertrude Stein said when she found her family home had been torn down, that “there is no there there.”

Johnson is of course right to point out that economic growth is a prerequisite for rising living standards. The curious thing is there doesn’t seem to be a plan to achieve that. Average weekly earnings, adjusted for inflation, are set to be essentially flat for 15 years. Whether or not the Bank of England’s warning of a recession comes to pass, growth is projected to be roughly nil out to 2025. And a trade war with our largest trading partner would not exactly tip the balance in our favour.

In terms of immediate support, the government wants to hold out until the autumn Budget, to see how much further the energy price cap will rise (the Bank’s guess is another 40 per cent). With inflation approaching double digits, retail sales already falling and food bank use rising, that will feel far too late for many people. And given the shellacking suffered by the Tories at the locals, quite a risk for their re-election prospects.

In the comment pages, two interesting takes on the Starmer/beergate/resign pledge. The first by Matthew d’Ancona, who lauds Sir Keir’s stance as the breath of fresh air our debased politics needs. The second by Home Affairs editor Martin Bentham, who says it’s ludicrous to suggest Starmer’s ‘beergate’ pledge will pressure the police.

Meanwhile, Royal editor Robert Jobson says the simple act of Prince Charles reading the Queen’s Speech on behalf of HM marked a sea-change in the transition of the Crown, and reckons the jubilee celebrations present good timing for the Queen to take a permanent step back.

And Peter Golds, longtime Conservative councillor in Tower Hamlets, calls on Lutfur Rahman to show he’s not afraid of questions after his mayoral victory.

Finally, does your local lido heave in a heatwave? Forget it. John Weller and Lola Culsán present the lesser-known lakes and rivers for a dip near London.

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