At yesterday’s State Opening of Parliament, King Charles announced Rishi Sunak’s legislative agenda for the next year. It was the first time Charles delivered the King’s Speech and the Government’s aims to draw dividing lines between the Conservative Party and Labour Party underlined the major talking points from the 21 pieces of legislation that were announced.
When Home Secretary in 1993, Tony Blair described his party as “tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime” and The Conservative Party in an attempt to both evoke and win back its reputation as the party of law and order, unveiled legislation to reinforce this message to the public.
A Sentencing Bill, Criminal Justice Bill, Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill, Terrorism (Protection of Premises) Bill and Victims and Prisoners Bill underpinned the priorities for the Government over the next Parliamentary year.
The legislation will see dangerous offenders serve full life sentences and give ministers the powers to prevent them accessing parole and getting married behind bars. It will also require venues to take further steps to be better prepared to respond to terror incidents and hand powers to the security and intelligence services to prevent them.
Despite being a recognised advocate for the green agenda, King Charles announced the Government’s plan to support the future licensing of new oil and gas fields which had been criticised by environmental campaigners. Supported by legislation to increase competition between tech firms and the accession to the Indo-Pacific trade bloc, which includes Australia and Japan, the Conservative Government look also set to position themselves once again as the party of economic credibility and management.
Following the crisis created by HS2’s northern leg being axed, the state opening of Parliament featured significant announcements on the future of transport and travel in the UK. A new legal framework will see the introduction of driverless cars on Britain’s roads by the end of the decade, while a Draft Rail Reform Bill will create a new public body aimed at reforming the rail sector. However, this is unlikely to be seen in the next Parliamentary year.
The UK has a well-recognised housing crisis and housing has threatened to be an election defining issue for a number of years. The State Opening of Parliament included the Leasehold and Freehold Bill which brought forward plans for leasehold reform, capping ground rents and extending leases to 990 years, however, campaigners have argued legislation could and should have gone further. Alongside this, the Renters (Reform) Bill has been carried over from the last parliament, aimed at strengthening the rights of renters and banning “no-fault” evictions.
The King’s Speech also introduced significant legislation to Parliament which had been trailed at Conservative Party Conference or rumoured for a while. The Tobacco and Vapes Bill seeks to phase out smoking through a phased out approach while also crack down on the increasing market for disposable vapes. Meanwhile, the landmark, Football Governance Bill aims to establish a new independent regulator for the sport to safeguard the future of clubs and fans.
King Charles’ first State Opening of Parliament was an aim by the Conservative Government to set dividing lines ahead of the next General Election. A tough on crime agenda looks to be the real focal point of this speech, however, the opposition described it as an “exercise in economic miserablism” perhaps unsurprisingly.
The King’s Speech was another event in a long succession of the Conservative Party trying to distance themselves from an opposition in ascendency. The Independent lead with the opening of parliament as the “last Tory roll of the dice” and No.10 are unlikely to be ecstatic about today’s front pages which do not focus heavily on Sunak’s legislative agenda.
A General Election looks more and more likely to be next year and as the winter closes in, the Conservative Party has a real battle on their hands to capture the imagination of a nation struggling with a cost of living crisis.