Last week saw the delivery of one of the most ambitious Queen’s Speeches since 2005. With a total of 38 Bills to be introduced, the Government outlined a super busy legislative agenda for the year ahead. The volume of Bills to achieve in just 12 months leads many to question where compromises will be made when time runs out.
The cost-of-living crisis was highlighted in the speech as a priority for the Government as a gesture that the financial pressures facing households and the plights of voters are being listened to. However, on closer inspection one could be mistaken for believing this not to be the case as there were no announcements on how the Government will actually tackle the crisis. It could be argued that this is the Government’s first compromise, or simply that they are tone-deaf on the public’s priorities.
It is no secret that the UK finds itself with a stuttering economy at present. Money resolutions required from the Treasury for Bills before parliament will be the biggest hindrance to their passing to Royal Assent. Raising more taxes and writing more cheques to solve the problem, creates a political challenge, so the Treasury may instead ask that the underlying cause of the problem is resolved to avoid a financial sticking plaster that needs to be continually topped up.
The winter months will be the biggest test of this with rising energy bills hitting the poor hardest. so No10 may be prepared to push for a quick fix answer. Reforms to the wholesale energy market can be made but those structural changes will take time to deliver and time is not on their side.
Whatever difficult decision the Government might take, they need to start asking themselves what type of Conservative Party they want to be?
Recently, the Government has demonstrated that it is in favour of raising taxes and big state interventions, a much-altered vision to the one described in the 2019 manifesto and the core conservative principles. Such measures have led to some factions in the Conservative Party (both members and backbench MPs) who question if their party still possesses the values which led to a landslide victory and the transformation of the previously unattainable Red Wall into a blue one.
Some argue extenuating circumstances such as the pandemic and the Ukrainian war have led to a global financial crisis making it hard to keep commitments made in manifestos past. However, the Government cannot escape that their actions for the foreseeable will be analysed through the cost-of-living lens. Recent U-turns on policies, such as the banning of promotional offers and advertising of junk food, are a prime example of how they have to show consideration beyond the optics and focus on the impact. The junk food debate in particular has certainly led to the Government grappling with questions from backbenchers over, not just the policy, but the timing. Implementation of such measures at a time when people are struggling to afford to eat highlighted an ignorance of the plights of the public, and subsequently led to the policy being kicked into the long grass (at least for the moment).
It was hoped by No10 that the new parliamentary session was an opportunity for the Government to have a reset and refresh. It is, after all, their last chance to deliver meaningful solutions ahead of the 2024 election. Now is the time to secure the trust of the public, yet the volume of bills announced in the Queen’s Speech suggests the politics of “seeing to be doing” has taken over Whitehall. At the same time, there is a lack of legislative content that would ease public financial pressures. If the Government wants to reassure the public that they are listening, they need to demonstrate understanding and empathy for the crisis at hand.