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The Queen's Speech and the language of priorities

By Harry Phibbs
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QueensspeechThe Independent on Sunday this morning offered some predictions for what to expect in the Queen's Speech in the coming week. Its top tips are broadly consistent with the ones from Paul Goodman offered on Friday.

Contrary to cynicism, whatever ends up being included will not have been changed since Thursday's local election results became known. The parchment was made out of  goats' skin more than a week ago to allow time for the ink to dry.

That is not quite the same as saying the rise in support for UKIP is irrelevant - their growing support has been apparent for some time, certainly since the Eastleigh byelection.

The IOS thinks the following will be in the Speech:

Immigration/welfare - Limiting benefits to some immigrants, stopping NHS "tourism" and giving extra power to deport foreign nationals.

Social care - A cap on payments of £72,000, introduced in 2016.

Pensions - Legislation introducing single-tier pension.

High-speed rail - A paving bill to allow construction to start on the controversial HS2 line between London and the north of England.

Energy Ordering - energy suppliers to make clearer, simpler bills, with fewer tariffs; encouraging private investment to electricity sector.

Business - Cutting National Insurance contributions for small businesses, saving employers up to £2,000.

Health and safety - Allowing self-employed to be exempt from health and safety law where their work poses no potential risk of harm to others, plus other cuts to red tape.

According to the IOS, items that have been dropped include legislation to make the target of spending 0.7 per cent of GDP on overseas aid a statutory requirement. Nor will there be a law, forcing tobacco companies to use plain packaging, a statutory register for lobbyists, or a "snooper's charter" for monitoring internet use.

The general narrative will be that the focus is on the priorities of ordinary people -  "hard working families" as politicians call them. So promoting economic growth by reducing tax and red tape is in. Reducing the welfare budget is in. Also getting control of immigration, and helping households worried about paying their bills.

I am pleased that the imposition of plain packaging for cigarettes is being abandoned. It would have meant more regulation, and by encouraging smuggling less revenue for the Government. In other words not merely a distraction from cutting the deficit and helping businesses to grow, but making those challenges worse. The minimum pricing for alcohol has also apparently been dropped and similar objections apply here.

Of course there is a broader point. The political objection to some of these more esoteric reforms is not so much about whether they are good or bad in themselves but whether they are "the wrong priorities."  Some people support gay marriage, others oppose it. Or boundary changes. Or reform of the House of Lords. Or the Alternative Vote system. Or equalising succession to the throne. Or a Royal Charter for press regulation. Or trying to prevent climate change. 

There are also a chunk of people who don't really care about any of these issues. They are struggling in difficult economic times, and watch in exasperation at how their elected representatives spend their time. Whatever the rights and wrongs of these issues, they feel like the "wrong priorities."

This more hard pressed section of the British electorate might echo the view of the Federal Express founder Fred Smith:

The main thing, is to keep the main thing, the main thing.

So can the Government walk and chew gum?

It can to some extent. But it is certainly sensible to foccus on reforms consistent with the overriding economic objective. For instance the welfare reforms would be the right thing to do anyway - but the overall impact will probably be to help reward work and thus boost growth and reduce the deficit.

By contrast some of the nanny state interventions would be objectionable in any event. But there is certainly little case at the moment for expanding burdens on business or recruiting extra public sector staff to impose them.

Some people think Lynton Crosby has got something to do with all this and they may well be right.

As Conservatives we are judged not just by what we do, and how effective we are, but by what motivates us and what we care about it.  If Mr Crosby has focused us on the main thing, he is right to do so.


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