Following a few days of prorogation that was actually lawful, which makes a nice change, the State Opening of parliament will take place today. Bodyguards in Tudor uniforms, a grand horse-drawn carriage procession and an incredibly heavy crown decorated with thousands of diamonds will all feature in the ceremony allowing the government to set out its agenda. The Queen’s Speech to which we are being treated this morning has already been called “farcical”, a “cynical stunt” and a “pre-election party political broadcast for the Conservative Party” by Labour.
Using the monarch as a conduit for promoting political ideas to the country is just the UK ‘having a normal one’ – but this ceremony leaves a particularly bad taste in the mouth. First, because its announcement of grim priorities is happening against a backdrop of continued austerity, which the government has no intention of genuinely dismantling to improve the lives of the most vulnerable in our society. And second, because this government has a majority of -45 and a 100% record of defeat in the Commons, as the Labour leader has noted, so it cannot even implement the cruelty it will be selling to the nation this morning.
The Queen’s Speech is set to be dominated by law and order, with pledges that are designed to appeal to blue-collar Brexiteers rather than to address pressing concerns such as prison overpopulation. 22 new bills will be unveiled. Perhaps most egregious is the plan – leaked over the weekend – to introduce compulsory voter ID across the country. This blatant attempt at voter suppression, bound to affect the poorest and most marginalised, aims not only to enact change but also to prevent future change. Darren Hughes of the Electoral Reform Society put it best, pointing out that the government has ignored actual threats, from “dark ads” to “dodgy donations”, concluding: “Instead of taking on the real issues, they are using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.”
Brexit threatens to dominate headlines, however. There was no breakthrough over the weekend, and they are still struggling to find a way to avoid physical checks. Although the shift in tone towards optimism has been remarkable, it doesn’t sound as if substantial progress has been made – the talks are still stuck on the same tensions between the same irreconcilable objectives around borders and customs, after all. But if a deal is agreed and put to the Commons, a big row is predicted for Labour over whether to try to attach a referendum to the offer or reject it altogether. The Labour leader appeared to disagree with ally and top frontbencher Rebecca Long-Bailey over this issue on the Sunday shows.
After the Queen’s Speech, a statement from the Speaker, speeches from backbenchers, openers by the PM and Corbyn, and a Commons debate, we may have a clearer idea of what is coming next with Brexit as well as a preview of the Tories’ upcoming election campaign. And although MPs will be in the chamber until late, Corbyn is holding a rally this evening to outline Labour’s own plan for government. Keep following LabourList for all the essential updates. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.