Ahead of the 2013 Queen’s Speech, Portland’s George Pascoe-Watson considers the political rationale behind the coalition government’s decisions, and our Public Affairs team explore the likely announcements expected tomorrow.
By George Pascoe-Watson
David Cameron will seek to turn promises into delivery in tomorrow’s Queen’s Speech as he tries to put Britain’s strivers ahead of immigrants and scroungers.
The PM’s message to the country will be that he is putting in place measures to make real the changes he has offered.
Many of the policies will already have been announced but the Premier is keen to remind voters he wants these changes to happen, not just remain hot air.
Too often in the past political leaders have flooded voters with initiatives only to be attacked for failing to deliver.
The PM will remind the nation – and his own MPs and grassroots supporters – that to deliver change he must first bring his measures into law.
Tomorrow’s Queen’s Speech is almost certainly the last major opportunity for the Coalition to make bold shifts in the national policy landscape.
One insider told me this morning: “The media wants new, new, new in a Queen’s Speech.
“But our message will be deliver, deliver, deliver.”
Mr Cameron will claim he is unveiling a list of measures to satisfy the needs of the “common ground” which is where he believes the bulk of votes can be found.
But this will clash with Deputy Premier Nick Clegg’s promise to deliver “centre ground” politics – demonstrating a subtle but growing schism at the heart of the Coalition.
The Conservatives have stamped their authority on the Queen’s Speech with a raft of measures aimed at winning back UKIP voters and women.
Top of the list will be an end to the “pull factor” of Britain’s NHS and benefits culture to immigrants.
The aim is to force Romanian and Bulgarians tempted to travel to Britain to think again.
Immigrants will be forced to pay for GP visits, put to the back of the council housing queue and be denied access to other state handouts.
A Consumer Bill of Rights will be brought in to give people more protection on goods, services, digital content and unfair contract terms.
Shoppers will find it easier to get a refund after one failed repair or replacement and cowboy home decorators will be ordered to repaint botched jobs or hand back their cash.
These measures are important politically as Mr Cameron positions himself as championing “strivers” nationwide – knowing that Labour leader Ed Miliband is aiming at the same message.
Two flagship Bills on pensions and social care will also be introduced to win over an army of crucial women voters.
The first flat rate pension of £7,000 a year will be brought in by 2016 and is aimed at rewarding those who have chosen to care for children or elderly relatives rather than have a career.
Those same people will also be given the right to ask for help with nursing care, home improvements and respite care for old folk from their local town hall.
Mr Cameron and his team know that six out of ten carers are women and they are likely to applaud these radical moves.
There will also be some Bills aimed at boosting economic growth with bodies like the Institute of Directors warning this is his last chance before a General Election to make this happen.
Red tape will be slashed, especially for smaller firms – and health and safety checklists dropped altogether for micro businesses.
The HS2 high speed railway cannot be delivered without legislation and ministers will also launch this Bill in tomorrow’s speech.
The moves are all aimed at reassuring Tory MPs and true blue supporters that the PM is a Conservative at his core.
Bringing in figures like Jo Johnson to run his policy unit and John Hayes to beef up backbench relations are part of a bid to shape a harder, right wing edge.
Women voters remain a crucial body to capture for 2015 as they hold much of the balance of power.
Private polling seen by the Premier shows voters are applauding crackdowns on welfare scroungers and immigrants.
He now needs to remind voters that they are his policies, and to find a way of winning their support at the next General Election.
QUEEN’S SPEECH 2013 – PORTLAND BRIEFING
- Tomorrow’s expected Health and Social Care Bill, which has the difficult task of appealing to the elderly and to women marks a significant step forward for the sector, and is the result of long rounds of consultations and scrutiny of a draft Bill.
- The Bill is expected to include the £75,000 cap on the lifetime costs of social care, designed to prevent people having to sell their homes in old age to fund their care. For carers, the majority of whom are women, there will be a statutory right to support from the state if they need it.
- While the Coalition hopes this will appeal to voters, it is unlikely to be popular with local councils who will have to administer the changes on increasingly squeezed budgets. Care homes too are facing additional regulations, with new guarantees of care continuity if a provider goes out of business.
Retail and consumer rights
- Shoppers could also get a boost tomorrow with the publication of a Consumer Rights Bill. Rights could be extended to online products like downloads that freeze when streaming, faulty videos, music, games and apps. Consumer Affairs Minister Jo Swinson said it would make consumer laws fit for the 21st century and could save £4 billion over 10 years.
- However, the devil will be in the detail, and some technology companies will no doubt be seeking clear guidance on how any new measures could affect them.
Media, technology and telecoms
- Nick Clegg’s recent intervention to block the inclusion of a revised Communications Data Bill will come as a relief to parts of the industry, but continuing delays will upset some. The police and the security services have long argued for the new powers, and the Tories are keen to use the Bill to tap into the sympathetic ‘law and order’ vote – a key differentiator between them and the Lib Dems.
- There is also likely to be continued frustration that a Communications Bill is still not ready for publication. Instead, a white paper will probably be published this summer. Although any Bill would have a reduced scope, recent announcements, including a series of changes to the planning regime to boost mobile coverage, show that there are still opportunities to highlight proposals for practical, incremental change which has the potential to boost economic growth.
- HS2 and airport capacity remain the dominant issues. While a discussion on Heathrow is parked until after the 2015 General Election, HS2 on the other hand is very much live. Big divisions remain within the Tories as to whether it should go ahead, and questions are being asked about the business case, impact on the environment and whether communities along the route are being properly compensated.
- Despite that, we will almost certainly see progress tomorrow. A Hybrid Bill would grant permission for the line to be built. A Paving Bill would allow work on the scheme to progress before the Hybrid Bill is passed.
- The run up to the Hybrid Bill will no doubt see both the pro- and anti-HS2 camps vie to get their voices heard, not just on the big question of whether or not the scheme goes ahead, but on issues such as compensation for local residents and amendments to the final design of the route.
- With welfare reform now squarely in the implementation stage, the focus has shifted to pensions. Pension Minister Steve Webb has been laying the groundwork for the announcement of a major Pensions Bill, with scrutiny of the draft Bill now complete.
- The Government’s pensions changes have already been subject to strong lobbying, leading to a delay to October 2020 in raising the state pension age to 66. This cost the Treasury £1.1 billion, so further concessions seem unlikely. However, the Bill would likely include the introduction of a new single weekly state pension paid for by and to individuals, rather than married couples. Around 750,000 women could benefit – another bid for the “women’s vote” in 2015.
- These reforms enjoy relatively strong cross-party support so Labour are unlikely to commit to reversing the changes given the savings they will bring to the public purse.
An Immigration Bill is widely expected, partly in the hope of luring those who turned to UKIP last week back to the Conservatives. Measures could include: making it easier to deport foreign criminals, tightening up on illegal immigrants getting a driving licence, and rules which require landlords to check the immigration status of tenants. The headline however would be a restriction of access to benefits such as health and welfare for those coming from Romania and Bulgaria.
In other news…
What else could be in?
- Reform of the Dangerous Dogs Act to make it an offence for a dog to be out of control in any place, private or public.
- Powers for the Independent Police Complaints Commission to investigate private companies employed by the police.
- A Defence Reform Bill to move to a Government-Owned, Contractor-Operated model for Equipment & Support.
- A Co-operatives Bill to consolidate legislation of these companies and encourage greater use.
- A Civil Service Bill to reform the service, including allowing ministerial appointments.
- A review of the Freedom of Information Act to extend the right to use released data.
- Generally, the Coalition will be trying to lay political traps for Labour to fall into , and will want to creat clear dividing lines at the same time.
What else could be out?
- With the Energy Bill being carried over, any further announcements in the sector are unlikely. Labour will likely criticise the Government for not taking steps to tackle energy bill rises – something they had in their own ‘Consumers Bill’ published last week.
- We are not expecting a bill to enshrine in law the 0.7% of GDP aid spending pledge – something charities have campaigned for.
- A Higher Education Bill looks unlikely after David Willetts all but ruled it out to a BIS Select Committee hearing last year.
- It was thought that the Government may include measures to standardise cigarette packaging and introduce a minimum pricing for alcohol. Both now look unlikely.
- A bill to regulate the lobbying industry is also long overdue, and speculation remains as to whether it will be announced or not.