If today’s Queen’s Speech was meant to offer a preview of what the next general election and life after it will look like, you might be forgiven for wishing you were somewhere far, far away from British politics. The debate in the House of Commons this afternoon was turgid and pointless. It was almost as if everyone involved couldn’t quite be bothered to rise to the occasion of a new legislative programme because they knew that it was more of a political messaging operation.
Jeremy Corbyn gave one of his least convincing speeches as Leader of the Opposition, which is plumbing quite some depths. He managed to both dismiss the whole event as a charade, while indulging in line-by-line analysis of the Speech. He also devoted a fair bit of his long statement to classic Labour complaints, such as privatisation in the NHS and the need to repeal the Health and Social Care Act, benefit cuts and insecure work. These might be classic fixations of his party, but MPs behind Corbyn didn’t seem particularly energised by what he was saying. They’ll have to perk up a bit if there is an election.
Boris Johnson, for his part, used the debate to make his election pitch, insisting that the Conservatives would get Brexit done, and promising that Britain would be ‘the greatest place on Earth’ as a result of the reforms planned. His MPs were rather louder in their support for the PM than Corbyn’s bunch, but there is clearly trouble brewing for Johnson on one of the apparent omissions from the speech: the treatment of veterans. There had been complaints before today’s State Opening that there was more on ‘sustainable cat litter’ than on military veterans, and there were a number of Tory MPs, as well as the DUP’s Sammy Wilson, who wanted to raise this. Johnson had managed to capitalise on Tory backbench anger on the veterans issue during his leadership campaign, but now he looks at risk of encountering the same wrath that Theresa May found in the final months of her leadership. It was striking that Johnson deflected many of these questions by pointing out that today’s speech had a strong focus on law and order.
After the leaders had both spoken, the Prime Minister’s spokesman was quizzed on what would happen if parliament voted down the Queen’s Speech. He replied that the government could continue on its way, introducing individual bills as if nothing had happened. Which makes today seem even more pointless.