It wasn’t so long ago that the late Robin Cook had plans to ‘modernise’ the workings of Parliament. And it came as no surprise that the only thing he managed to change about the Queen’s Speech was that the Lord Chancellor was no longer obliged to walk backwards down the stairs during the ceremony. Even this change didn’t last long, as the next Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, restored the tradition.
It is actually all this traditional nonsense of crawling to the monarch that gives the Queen’s Speech and thus the governing party such a huge PR boost every year. The address also ensures that it, and not the opposition, controls the political agenda. And who better to read out your programme to a sceptical public than the ever-popular monarch?
This year’s pre-speech briefings may have been knocked off the Sunday front pages by the tragic death of four firefighters, but the Government’s agenda was still there. By Monday, even more of its plans were hitting the airwaves and the papers, with Ed Balls’ education proposals to the fore. All this despite tradition having it that the Queen’s Speech remains secret until it is delivered. That is about as likely as the Treasury keeping the Budget secret.
Like the Budget, pre-briefing of the Queen’s Speech enables the Government to get stories out that may be lost on the big day. For exa-mple, the new terrorism bill, which the Prime Minister hopes will put the Tories on the defensive if they oppose the extension of the time suspects can be held. And MI5 knew it was a good time to go public about the continued terror threat.
The Government may not have fully worked out its immigration proposals, but that didn’t stop the PM making it clear he intends to act. The Australian-style immigration points system has already been announced, but the Queen’s Speech gave Labour the chance to tell us all again.
I heard a BBC political correspondent telling the nation that the Queen’s Speech wasn’t news, because Gordon Brown had already told Parliament what the legislative priorities were a few months ago.
This attitude is so naïve. Politicians know just how difficult it is to get their message across to the public and repeating it over and over again is the most effective strategy.
The fact it’s the Queen repeating Labour’s priorities makes them all the more likely to be listened to.