Monday 14 October 2019

On the Fake Queen's Speech

It's just as well the Queen wasn't wearing the proper crown. After all, it wasn't a proper Queen's speech. Instead, thanks to Boris Johnson's disposal of his majority, what we were treated to was Queen-fronted party political broadcast on behalf of the Tory party. Which, despite its being a silly stunt in the grand scheme of things did furnish one service: it showed us what the next Conservative manifesto is going to be. Useful.

The big ticket item of course, is Brexit. But with talks ongoing based on the current plan, we'll no doubt return to that soon enough. The second eye-catching item were Johnson's police and crime proposals. Ever-playing to the racist gallery, there are hefty new penalties for deportees who return to the UK, more protections for the police and tougher sentencing. It could be the Tories in the 90s, or New Labour under Blair. Tough talk is perceived as popular, so giving criminals no quarter is always the smart political choice. What works always, always comes a distant second. There is to be some tinkering with the railway franchise model too, some laws on patient safety and drugs trials (including implementing Theresa May's inadequate mental health plan), some more moving of the furniture when it comes to adult social care, more powers for mayors in England, more regulation of high rise residentials, and the controversial plans on voter ID. Colour me inspired.

Nothing more demonstrates the cynicism in play here than the last proposal. Voter fraud is so prevalent that one person was convicted of it after the 2017 general election. The Tories know well that those not as likely to possess photo ID of the sort they have in mind - a passport, a driver's license - happen to be people more inclined to vote Labour. Young people, poorer people, minority ethnicities, instead of doing the hard yards and actually appealing to younger voters and those not well disposed to Johnson's Conservatives, it's simply easier to make them entirely inconsequential. A good job then an election stands between proposal and implementation.

As for the rest, calling this an "ambitious" programme does nothing to repair the Prime Minister's casual relationship with the truth. It is, essentially, dull. Not even the customary bombast is present, the scenes of dug up streets to pipe in full fibre broadband - gone. The battery factories, electric cars, nuclear fusion reactors, space elevators, and anti-matter rocket motors all absent. And even where there is policy that, at a stretch, could be described as an improvement it's barely a shuffle forward. A NHS crisis and a looming winter beds cataclysm, and we're talking about extra drugs trials? The collapse of adult social services and councils are being allowed to raise a pittance to try and make good? Truly we're in the Chris Leslie 'give zero contract workers advance notice of shift cancellations' territory of dismal policy making.

This then is obviously a plan aimed at the Tory core vote. Get Brexit done, appear to do something about the NHS and social care (for older people), and stick the boot in on sundry undesirables. After all, a bit of vicarious brutality never hurt anyone. Bold and ambitious? Not in the slightest. But what it might be suggesting is a roll out of the Australia strategy. Don't promise a great deal, and spend your campaign poking holes in the extensive programme offered by your opponents. Being a little bit racist won't hurt your chances either.

The problem with this is steady-as-she-goes is at cross purposes to the disruption Johnson has over-promised with regard to Brexit, his wrecking ball approach, and his own "exuberance". This programme is about shoring up the loyalists and the Brexiteers, has no broad appeal and, even less, doesn't even try to disrupt and disorganise his opponents. True, the Tories might not think they have to as they've got Brexit to rely on. No doubt the Einstein of Downing Street thinks so, but when the election comes it will be after the almost inevitable Article 50 extension. Matters then get much stickier for Johnson's chances with a strengthened Brexit Party menacing him from the sidelines.

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