It was the first King’s speech in 70 years. The current monarch’s grandfather, George VI, gave the last one in 1950 when Clement Attlee was PM. The King’s speech was meant to reset the government’s position and show the public that, even after 13 years of Conservative rule, there are plenty of reasons to continue on the current track. The BBC outlined the pageantry of the event, but the King’s speech 2023 is being lost in the noises off; many coming from within the Government itself.
How (not) to get re-elected
The Government is facing heavy weather in its desire for re-election. It’s well down in the opinion polls, and losing local and by-elections hand over fist. It seems divided. The news explainers coming from the Covid enquiry, are grisly, in that they show how dysfunctional the Johnson government was when facing a real crisis. The trouble with the Covid enquiry is that Rishi Sunak and others in his administration were part of the Johnson government. The lack of grip and incompetence tarnishes the Sunak government, and the Conservative Party, and harms public confidence in government itself. The context behind the speech is a fast-cooling economy, a cost of living crisis, a growing housing crisis, and disquieting signs of multiple failures in local government.
As this article is being written, in Iceland there is news of emergency measures taken because of tremors indicating a possible volcanic eruption. What sort of eruption is forecast we are not told. In the UK there is political volcanism, with tremors and cracks appearing in the façades of both main parties.
Israel bombs Gaza, splits Labour Party
The bombardment of Gaza is disuniting Labour, because calls for a ceasefire are not being heeded by the leadership. Resignations have happened, but Labour is trying to contain the disquiet yet cleave to an increasingly tenuous policy of calling for pauses in the fighting. Time is running out in the US, UK, Europe and possibly Israel, for the pause policy, as the destruction of Gaza continues, and the concomitant body-count rises, with no ‘victory’ for either side in prospect.
Meanwhile, the Sunak ministry has proposed 31 bills for the legislative process, but exactly how many will be enacted is another matter. Apart from the ending of ‘no fault’ evictions and possibly the reform of leasehold law, there is not much that will alter the condition of Britain in a meaningful way, and both of those bills may be either delayed or watered down in the case of ending leasing of flats and apartments.
Too young to smoke
The total ban on the sale of cigarettes to those under 15 years of age, leading to an eventual prohibition is well-meaning and will no doubt receive substantial support, but it is overly complicated, and will no doubt infuriate the libertarian right as being ‘nanny statism’. It would be far simpler to continue to raise the taxation on tobacco products and institute a total prohibition in 10 or 20 years’ time.
There are three bills on crime and sentencing but, as UK prisons are already at capacity, is sending more people to prison for longer, going to protect the public and reduce the rates of recidivism? Looking at the House of Commons research briefings on the UK prison population, we can see that it has quadrupled since 1945. Since 1990 the growth has been pronounced, even though levels of crime fell during this period. Prisoners are getting older with 50+ prisoners rising from 10% to 21% of the prison population. In Crime and Justice as in so many topics, the government is listening to the not-so-silent majority.
As expected, annual drilling rights for oil and gas wells were announced, and legislation on Pedicabs, which are the latest cause for concern in London. Is this going to attract votes in a general election?
We can’t hear the king, Suella!
The King’s speech lost traction because of the constant invective coming from the Home Secretary, who seems unable to remain within her brief. Apart from saying that rough sleeping is a lifestyle choice, that the pro-Palestine protest marches are hate marches, she then picks a fight with the Metropolitan police chief.
The latest pro-Palestine march in London was estimated to contain at least 300,000 protestors, produced few arrests, was not condemned by either the Armistice organisers or the Royal British legion, and passed off peacefully. In contrast, the heroic exploits of the English Defence League, and nefarious football supporters, amounting to 1,000 anti-protestors, generated news content out of all proportion to their numbers, by resorting to their usual modus operandi of violence and noisy chanting, of slogans intended to incite violence.
Defence of the Cenotaph
This tiny group generated 100 arrests, while the Met tried to save the blushes of the PM and Home Secretary, by seeking persons who might have worn Hamas insignia, or who may have chanted words that might cause fear among Jewish inhabitants of the UK. I have no doubt there may have been a minority within those calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, whose view of Israel and the conflict in Gaza, has led them to forget their humanity in seeking some kind of justice for Palestine. They are no more representative of any majority, silent or otherwise, who feel that the violence should stop, and that negotiation should start, than Tommy Robinson and his violent fringe group.
Far from Rishi Sunak holding the Met Police Commissioner to account, it is Sir Mark Rowley, who is holding the PM and the Home Secretary accountable for the deplorable actions of the ‘counter protestors’.
A missed opportunity
The King’s speech was an opportunity for the government to spring back, take the initiative , and produce compelling reasons for voters to award them a further period in office. Instead, UK media coverage has degenerated into a rather infantile series of ill-judged articles and speeches from Ms Braverman; Rishi Sunak has instead failed either to discipline his cabinet colleague or come up with more reasonable and eye-catching policies of his own to be delivered, according to tradition, via the annual King’s Speech in Parliament.
[Following the Remembrance weekend, the PM ordered Mrs Braverman out of government and replaced her with the Foreign Secretary]