This Queen’s Speech was supposed to reflect the winning party’s manifesto. But with the General Election having seen Prime Minister Theresa May’s Commons majority wiped out, it was just as interesting to consider what policies weren’t included.
From the Cabinet to the backbenches, there has been plenty of chatter over the past week about what parts of the Conservative Manifesto needed to be pruned away. Tory MPs still aggrieved over perceived mistakes during the campaign have made their voices heard about which measures should be dropped. Though ultimately, given that they still want to govern, the actions of those within Tory ranks seeking to capitalise on their moment of influence have been tempered by the delicate situation the Party now finds itself in.
Not so for the DUP of course, who May has not yet managed to agree a confidence and supply deal with. The DUP again flexed their new found parliamentary muscle on the eve of the Queen’s Speech, complaining that talks had not been progressing as expected.
So with the election result being what it was, decisions about what policies can be taken forward have now been reduced to a calculation about simple parliamentary arithmetic. Anything not guaranteed broad support is now considered to be too great a risk.
So what didn’t make the cut?
Energy price cap
Interventionism was prominent in 2017 Tory manifesto, with a flagship example being the retail energy market where a proposed safeguard tariff cap was put forward as a way of protecting customers. With Chancellor Philip Hammond said to be against a cap and the free market wing of the Party rejuvenated by the election result, May has bowed to pressure and the language in the Speech was watered down to “measures” to “help reduce energy bills”. Ways to extend “price protection” to more of those on poorest value tariffs will be put forward for consultation in the form of a green paper, with the Government considering whether to introduce these through action by the regulator or legislation.
Other prominent manifesto promises on energy, such as plans to accelerate development of the UK’s shale industry were not included. The proposals would have seen planning processes streamlined and a higher proportion of tax revenues given to local communities in a bid to overcome grassroots opposition. A government spokesman emphasised that its policy on shale gas “remains the same”’, despite no new legislation yet being put forward.
While the Speech contained bills on the second phase of HS2 and electric vehicles, progress on airport capacity was absent. Although expanding Heathrow was a manifesto commitment the issue had been put on hold last October, after a lack of support led the Government to order further consultations. Speaking after the Queen’s Speech a No 10 spokesperson did reiterate that it a commitment had been made and that the Government does expect a vote in this session. Given that as many as 40 Tory MPs are said to be opposed – including Cabinet members Boris Johnson and Justine Greening – and with Labour non-committal, when the issue finally does reach the division lobbies you’d expect that the Government Whips will have their work cut out.
Corporate governance reform
Corporate governance reform has been high on May’s agenda since becoming PM. And with regulators, investor groups and others having already responded to a Green Paper consultation on corporate governance earlier this year, there was an expectation that a bill would follow. But with her failure to secure an increased mandate, and Brexit already placing increased burdens on businesses, the legislation promised in the manifesto on binding votes on executive pay, employee representation and pay ratio data was not taken forward.
Reversing the ban on selective education in England, one of May’s signature policy proposals, was also not included. There has been scant enthusiasm for a roll out of new grammar schools from a large number of Tory MPs, backed by some fierce criticism from the education sector. And with Labour staunchly opposed to the plans, even with the pro-grammar DUP at her side, May has conceded that she just doesn’t have the numbers on this one. The unpopular pledge to end universal free school meals for four-to-seven-year-olds has also been axed.
The brouhaha surrounding the controversial social care plan, dubbed the ‘dementia tax’, marked perhaps the lowest point of the Conservative campaign. No surprise then to see that the measure, which involved people having to sell their homes until they had only £100,000 left in their estates, kicked into the long grass, wrapped up in a broader consultation into how the social care system is funded.
Pensions and welfare
Moves to downgrade the state pensions triple lock, under which the state pension rises in line with the highest of average earnings, the inflation rate or 2.5%, to a double lock, based on earnings and inflation, and the proposed scrapping of the Winter Fuel Allowance have also been shelved. Neither policy had the backing of the DUP, with the latter having also been opposed by Leader of the Scottish Conservatives Ruth Davidson.
Although the Speech reiterated the Government’s intention to implement the Paris agreement there was no sign of DEFRA 25-year plan. The publication of the document, which has already been delayed for a year, is eagerly awaited by the resources industry as it will determine the direction and priorities for the Department. Despite being one of the main environmental commitments in the manifesto, the plan was once again kicked down the road.
Fixed Term Parliaments Act
Absent also were Tory proposals to repeal the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, which creates a five year period between general elections, with early elections only held in particular circumstances with the consent of the Commons. There was reportedly much laughter in the post-Speech press briefing, as a No 10 spokesperson was said to confirm repealing the act was “not the priority for this parliamentary session”.
There was also no reference to the manifesto pledge for a free vote on repeal of the Hunting Act, despite May underlining her personal support for foxhunting during the campaign. A divisive issue like this with such limited public support was never going to be a priority.