Queen’s Speech as-it-happened
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By Ian Dunt
09:59 – Welcome to the beginning of the end. Today’s Queen’s Speech signals the starting gun in the race for government. Today is, for all intents and purposes, the first day of the general election campaign. About an hour and half until the pomp and circumstance gets going, you’ll be glad to hear. Once the Queen finishes speaking we’ll have a full list of the bills up on site for you to take a look at. But until then, you’re stuck with rolling commentary. We’ll take a short break after the speech until 14:00 GMT, when it’s debated in the Commons.
10:20 – The ever sensible Steve Richard, over at the Indie , writes an interesting piece praising what we’ve seen of the Queen’s Speech. “It is widely underestimated how important robust policies are in the run-up to elections,” he writes. “On this basis the seemingly doomed government has more of a case than is perceived. Today’s package has a theme of sorts, a belief that government can make a positive difference to the elderly, the environment, the banking system, housing and the NHS.”
10:24 – Meanwhile, the Times is reporting that Alistair Darling is refusing to conduct a formal spending review alongside the Pre-Budget report next month. Inside the paper, Daniel Finkelstein reminds us all that nobody really cares about politics. In pretty much the polar opposite of Richards’ views. He says: “Pundits and politicians obsess about dividing lines. They are wasting their time. The public are serenely indifferent.”
10:29 – Over at the Guardian Steve Bell pictures the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in their royal carriage. That’s probably not its name – although this won’t be the last time today I reveal my ignorance of royal regalia. There are far better commentators on pomp and ceremony than I, I’m afraid, but I make up for it by.. I’ll have to get back to you on that one. Inside, Prince Phillip struggles with the phrase: “A short, sharp, shamelessly self-serving speech.”
10:37 – And finally, the Telegraph has a rather delightful piece by Simon Heffer saying the speech wastes “our poor Queen’s time”. He goes on: “There is no purpose to her speech. Indeed, there is no point in the continuation of the present parliament, which I think we can agree is the most despised since Cromwell threw out the Rump in 1653.”
10:41 – The Lords is rammed. Our man in Westminster just spotted Thatcher, “looking seriously white, but cheerful”. Lord Lamont and, of course, the inestimable Alan Sugar are in attendance as well.
10:47 – The Yeomen are making their way through the parliamentary estate, like some sort of appalling gin advert. I am already struggling with the ins and outs of today, in much the same way as I did last year. What have I learned since then? Absolutely nothing. The Queen’s Speech is like Wimbledon. Once a year, very suddenly, everyone’s an expert on a subject no-one ever talks about for the rest of the year. Bizarre and unnerving. I’m pretty much on top of the bit where Black Rod knocks on the door, and the painful sight of Brown and Cameron trying to look amenable and respectful while walking side by side. That’s the highlight really, particularly with these two, who very genuinely despise each other.
10:52 – In the Royal Gallery, the gentlemen at arms are walking around a bit, like a peacock version of the Cybermen in Doctor Who. Outside, more men in funny outfits are messing around, preparing the royal carriage, which, once again, probably isn’t even called that. The Crown is being transported around on its red pillow. Ah, the wonderful preposterous nonsense of Great Britain. We’d be diminished without it.
10:57 – Our parliamentary correspondent just watched Peter Mandelson trying to get in, just wearing a suit. “Police refused to let him cross the road. He obeyed their slight diversion without hesitation.” You heard it here first.
11:01 – The Irish State Coach! That’s what the royal carriage is called. Fantastic. Learnt something already. Mandy and Harriet Harman have finally walked in. They walk down the central walkway like Maoists admiring tanks in some enormous Red Square.
11:08 – The Queen has just left. Jack Straw, the lord chancellor, is on his way, looking stiffer than that drink you had after splitting up with the love of your life. He’s given a red piece of material – God knows why. Meanwhile, the PM is getting in his Jag with his wife, Sarah. Straw is chatting with the Lord Marshall. The Lords has more people looking foolish in it than the Ministry of Sound on a Friday night.
11:11 – The Household Cavalry is on its way, looking far more impressive than anything else on offer. Quite Spartan actually, and not in a minimal sense. More in a ‘death to our enemies’ sense. God Save the Queen rings out. The sky is grey and charmless outside parliament. The cavalry slow to a stroll.
11:15 – And the Queen enters with the Duke of Edinburgh. I’ve always marvelled at that white robe she wears. It just seems insanely comfortable. Jack Straw is still clutching his strange red square. The Queen is heading into the Robing Room (you’re guess is as good as mine). I’ve just been reliably informed that the red square has the Queen’s Speech in it. How wonderful. It all becomes clear.
11:24 – The Speaker is entering with highly relegated clothing. He’s terribly proud of modernising on this front but he still looks immensely odd. The mace is in place. Sarah Brown and Maggie Darling have just entered the gallery in the Lords. The former is wearing a sparkling headband. Mrs Bercow, apparently, is wearing fishnets. Cue speechless response from assorted hacks
11:26 – The lord great chamberlain is emerging from the Robing Room into the Royal Gallery. These are just words to me now. The trumpets sound. The Queen emerges. It’s the 56th state opening she’s conducted, by the way.
11:29 – Iain Dale, Conservative commentator, tweets: “I have never seen the Labour benches in the Commons so empty on Queen’s Speech Day.” The Queen makes her way to the throne. “My Lords pray be seated.” Black Rod – the new Black Rod – makes his way to the Commons set for the display of the elected MPs’ supremacy. The door is shut on him and he knocks three times. “They know he’s coming. Why don’t they just close it earlier?” someone near me asks. Classic. He calls on MPs to attend her majesty immediately. “Royal expenses on the way,” Dennis Skinner says. It’s almost tradition now for him to make a joke at this point.
11:32 – Brown and Cameron seem to be talking while not talking, Nick Clegg and Alistair Darling are chatting behind them. It’s painful to watch. It looks a lot like Cameron is ignoring the PM. They arrive in the Lords. Prince Phillip gives a new definition to the word ‘unimpressed’. Jack Straw prepares to deliver the speech (in its special red square) to the Queen. Jack Straw steps backwards away from her. Her Majesty begins.
11:35 – The government will foster growth and employment. It will also work to build trust in democratic institutions. It will seek global and European collaboration. It will fight to combat climate change. “My government will continue to reform and strengthen regulations for financial services,” she continues. Cameron looks confused, as if he just walked into the wrong room. Legislation will be brought forward to halve the deficit, the Queen adds. There will be guarantees for parents and children in school. No surprises so far. Parents will have to take responsibility for their children’s’ anti-social behaviour. The digital infrastructure bill will be going through.
11:38 – Communities will be protected from flooding. The high speed rail link will go ahead. The equality bill will go on (continued from last year – it’s nice to be back on ground where I know what I’m talking about). The commitment to abolish child poverty by 2020 will be enshrined in law. Constitutional reform laws will still go through. And draft legislation will go through on reforming the Lords. The law against bribery will be toughened up. The Northern Ireland political process will continue with the devolution of policing and justice. The Scottish devolution report will carry on. More powers will be devolved to Wales.
11:43 – Brown and Cameron beam wildly as they walk and talk. Alan Johnson seems absurdly happy. Won’t be long now until they’re all tearing each other apart. The full set of bills will be up in about two minutes.
11:40 – The government will work for stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan and to bring peace to the Middle East. Cluster munitions will be banned. The government will work towards a nuclear free world. 0.7 per cent of national income will go to international development from 2013. The speech ends. The Queen and the Duke leave the Lords, into the Princess’ Chamber and through to the Royal Gallery. With that, MPs return to their Chamber.
11:50 – Prince Phillip is having a jovial chat with Jack Straw. Quite a funny sight, really. It’s like one of those moments in US TV dramas where two characters you know well finally meet. And then usually one of them kills the other. The Queen and Prince Philip get into the carriage, sorry – the Irish State Coach. Trumpets sound, and off it goes. The sovereign standard is lowered above Victoria Tower. God Save the Queen plays. OK I think we’ll call it quits there until the afternoon debate. We’ll be back around 13:30 for the build up. See you then.
14:05 – We’re back – a little later than expected. If you want to see the bills in full, click here. If you want to see all the reaction to the new legislative agenda as it comes in click here. But if you want to read our correspondent’s sparkling account of events from inside the Lords, click here.
14:33 – Frank Dobson, former health secretary, stands up to move a formal message of thanks to the Queen. He was troubled, he tells MPs, of why the Speaker picked him to make the statement. He makes a joke about the film ‘The Men Who Stared At Goats’ (most of them are in the House of Lords). He continues, in a jokey manner. I’ve seen politicians do worse jokes, but there’s nothing yet worth repeating to you.
14:30 – John Bercow asks all members looking to take their seats to come to the table. There are a few cheers. The Commons is about three quarters full.
14:31 – Willie Bain, the victorious Glasgow North East candidate, swears his allegiance and becomes an MP. Behind him, Brown and Darling talk as if they genuinely like each other. Bain shakes Bercow’s hand, who says: “Have you met my wife?” Not joking. He really did say that.
14:38 – He’s been talking about his constituency for several minutes now – Berbeck University, St Pancreas Station, that sort of thing. It’s an exciting constituency, Holborn and St Pancras, but he is making it sound remarkably dull. He now tells us about his constituency’s previous occupants – Marx, Engels, Mary Shelley. Yes, it’s an impressive list. No, he is still not being funny or interesting. Although the MPs do seem to be enjoying it. MPs have a rare and not-quite-commendable sense of humour.
14:42 – And on, and on, and on. “Finally Mr Speaker, this has been a bad year for the House of Commons but I remain proud to be a member.” He goes on along these lines for a couple of minutes. Emily Thornberry stands to second the message. “It is odd to be a backbencher and stand to speak in this Chamber when it’s so packed,” she says.
14:52 – She discusses the effect of the London bombing, and makes some rather touching and wise statements about the success of multiculturalism in London. “We are a tolerant community,” she says. “We tolerate the bankers living amongst us. We tolerate the journalists living amongst us.” She’s Islington South and Finsbury, by the way.
14:55 – She finally finishes, and Cameron gets up. He begins by congratulating them both for the address. He says Dobson was “extremely amusing”, and reminds MPs his jokes are usually only repeatable after the watershed. Cameron can’t help but make party political jokes, despite the friendly, collegiate tone he’s supposed to adopt here. He simply can’t do it without being mean. David Miliband, Ed Balls, and even Dobson himself get the worse side of his tongue, sometimes wittily, sometimes less than wittily. He is profoundly catty.
15:03 – Thornberry looks at him with barely concealed hate, although she tries to laugh at the right moments. He tells the House she sang John Denver’s Leaving on a Jet Plane at a climate change conference. He’s really spectacularly bad at the funny/friendly bit. Bain is praised by Cameron, who adds some self-deprecating comments on his party’s fortunes in Glasgow North East.
15:05 – Somewhat jarringly, Cameron starts honouring the memory of those who fell in Afghanistan. He sounds like the PM at the start of prime minister’s questions. Cameron starts arguing against an immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan. But “the status quo is also unacceptable,” he adds. It’s good to be back on politics, and not have to listen to MPs pretending to be nice. Cameron treads a difficult line – calling for an increased rate at which he wants to train up the Afghans. There’s nothing revolutionary coming from him, just variations on Downing Street’s pre-existing strategy. He again asks the PM when he expects Obama to make his announcement on troop numbers.
15:08 – “There were some good things in the speech,” which were all Tory proposals, he says. That’s the usual line of attack, which is only sometimes true. Cameron attacks Brown for not having an immigration bill. We’ve also lost elected police commissioners. Cameron says there was not enough mention of the NHS. He is asked if he will guarantee a two week limit for cancer patient meetings, but says: “Everyone wants” people to be seen in two weeks. The mood has turned bitter in the Commons. It didn’t take much. “This PM is so incompetent he’s failed to put his own dividing line into the Queen’s Speech,” he says, still talking about the NHS. He damns Brown for not mentioning expenses reform.
15:11 – Cameron says if Brown brings forward legislation for the rest of Kelly, the Tories will support it. He gives way to Brown – or tries. Brown furiously looks down at his sheets in front of him. It’s an effective, but rather bullying, tactic Cameron is using. “Let me give him another chance – let him stand up now and tell us that together we can pass the laws to implement Kelly in full.” Brown won’t – he can’t, and Cameron knows that. “What is the point of this government,” Cameron asks the Speaker. “They’ve run out of time, they’ve run out of ideas, and as we’ve just seen, they’ve run out of courage too.”
15:13 – Balls is rebuked for making noise. “The education secretary is unable to sit quietly in class,” Cameron says. Osborne looks angrily at anyone that dares stand up to ask Cameron question, like some vicious dog owned by a boxer in Nottingham. Hague and Sir George Young are in a minor nirvana, looking around the House blissfully.
15:14 – “You’ve got an opposition behaving like a government, and a government behaving like an irresponsible opposition,” Cameron says. He adds that it’s “pathetic” how proud the government has been of saying how ‘political’ the Speech would be. “This government has been a monumental failure.” He cites the failures of Gordon Brown’s administration, like a typical PMQs performance. He has several strong points though. He runs through the messages he gave on entering Downing Street, and they don’t stand up well to the light.
15:18 – Cameron trashes Brown’s record, specifically with reference to his promised government of all the talents. “Everything he’s told us turned out to be wrong,” Cameron continues. He is being particularly vicious here. Ken Clarke is looking at Cameron as if he thinks very little of him. He appears utterly unimpressed by the attack.
15:21 – Cameron is back on ‘big government’ again. Labour believes everything can be fixed by increasing the size of government, he says. He states how much has been spent on several initiatives, none of which achieved very much. “When you look behind the curtain of the great clunking machine of this government” you see political calculation masquerading as ethics, Cameron suggests. He calls for a general election now. “A real Queen’s Speech would mean real reform of our NHS,” he says. “Instead we got a Queen’s Speech which is just a Labour press release on palace parchment.” It’s turned into an eloquent and effective attack.
15:25 – He ends by telling Brown to “just get on with it” and ask the Queen to dissolve parliament so we can have a general election. Brown negates the volatile mood in the Commons by starting with praise for the servicemen killed in Afghanistan this week.
15:26 – Brown says Karzai has provided 6,000 Afghan troops which will allow our troops to burden-share. He responds to Cameron on Afghanistan for a few more minutes, before speaking briefly on Copenhagen. Now he speaks on the two speeches we heard (endured) earlier. Thornberry is praised for her human rights work and her childhood political campaign for girls to be paid as much as boys in the church choir.
15:31 – Brown mocks Cameron’s huskie stunt, by talking about their contact with the leader of the opposition and “his cameraman”. He now praises Dobson, and makes a few jokes about him looking like Santa Clause. Brown, rather surprisingly, is better at this than Cameron. He’s more convincingly pleasant. There’s something odd and jarring about the talk of Afghanistan, then humorous pleasantries on Dobson and Thornberry’s contributions, followed by angry party political attacks.
15:36 – Brown lists all the proposals in the Queen’s Speech, or at least most of them. “When we propose these measures we are speaking up not in the party interest, but in the national interest.” He refuses to give way. “Promises from the Conservative party, guarantees – particularly ‘cast iron guarantees – are not what they used to be.” Simon Hughes is given the chance to speak. He asks why there is nothing about housing, especially social housing. Brown says it’s because they announced plans in July, by giving the powers to local authorities.
15:38 – Brown then gives way to John Redwood. How will he reduce the deficit? he asks Brown. The PM says tax rises on the top rung is one way. National insurance is going up, and reforms to pensions beat similar announcements by the Tories, Brown suggests. He gives way again, to Labour’s Rob Marris. Was there too little regulation in banking? he asks. Brown says the Tories were all about deregulation. We need global supervision of financial institutions, he says. We’ve hear that before. Behind him, even Harman, Darling and Johnson look bored. Brown sells his bonuses policy.
15:41 – Bill Cash gets a chance to talk about Europe. He does so, and Brown tells MPs the opposition are “back to their old ways”. He reminds the House about Cameron’s ‘cast iron guarantee’ again. He’s starting to overuse it. He now backs his government’s record, as he has a million times before. He gives way to Don Foster, for the Lib Dems, who speaks out against taking money from the BBC in the digital economy bill. Brown says it was all agreed that the Beeb would contribute to the move from analogue to digital.
15:46 – Brown starts spurting numbers, as he often does. Something inside me dies forever. He says he will make some new guarantees: From January, all 15-17 year olds will be guaranteed a place in learning if they can’t find a job, training or work experience. There’ll be a new guarantee that 1,000’s of extra young people will be offered a job or training. Online training course will be offered direct, along with work experience places. “No graduates will become long-term unemployed.” If they’re unemployed six months after graduation, they’ll be offered a high quality internship, he says.
15:50 – Interesting stuff. Brown says the Tory party claimed to move to the centre, but all its policies are a repeat of the 1980’s and 1990’s. He reads from the Tory economic policy, from their conference. The opposition deputy chief whip should be setting an example to others, especially after 17 years in the House, Bercow tells him. “He has the opportunity to behave with some dignity,” the Speaker adds. The Tories will give 200,000 to the richest people in the country, via the hereditary tax policy, Brown argues. He says he can’t believe they haven’t dropped this. He doesn’t mention Labour tried to mimic it.
15:54 – “Is this what they mean by ‘we’re all in this together’. I say poverty and inequality will endure until Doomsday if the leader of the opposition is the only one that’s going to confront it.” Excellent passage from Brown. “When they have a policy it is always the wrong policy,” Brown says. “On the subject of Europe…” Edward Leigh starts, and the House laughs. He asks how it’s going getting Tony Blair into the presidential role. Brown says the question typifies their obsession with personality. “The Conservative party have been wrong on every single issue,” Brown says. Sounds like he’s winding down. The debate has barely touched on the Speech itself. It’s just a directors cut of PMQs basically. That, and my hands are getting tired. “Our changes are for the many, not the few, and I commend them to the House,” Brown ends.
15:57 – Clegg stands up for the Lib Dems. A large subsection of the MPs in the Commons instantly get up to leave. Bercow tells them to keep it quiet as they do so. Clegg adds his voice to those remembering the men who died in Afghanistan this week. He congratulates the proposer and seconder of the Royal Address. He praises Dobson for never “bending to fads and fashions”. “His ‘Frank for Mayor’ campaign website is still live on the internet.” Apparently, he once said nuclear weapons were OK as long as the person who presses the button has to remain above ground afterwards. Very good. He also quotes Dobson saying that during Blair’s early years ultra-loyalists would have even voted for a bill which sacrificed every third-born child.
16:01 – And on to proper politics. “This is a fantasy Queen’s Speech.” It won’t help joblessness or housing, and won’t fix our rotten politics, he says. “What is this Queen’s Speech really for?” He says legislation is “Labour’s comfort blanket – it makes them feel good.” But they should be legislating less, and concentrating on getting stuff done.
16:03 – Only two bills from last year made it onto the statute book by May this year (the general election will almost certainly be in May) he mocks the deficit proposals. “It’s like passing a law promising to get up early in the morning,” Clegg says, rather wonderfully. Then there are unnecessary laws. The financial services bill isn’t really giving the FSA any more power, Clegg says. He wants retail and investment banking split to protect consumers. Today’s bill is just “displacement activity”. The Labour benches are almost entirely empty.
16:05 – He attacks the schools bill, which imposes more restrictions on teachers, and mentions this is the 12th education bill on the subject. He makes a similar point on the crime bill, which tinkers with Asbos. Some bills “cynically” raises expectations – the cluster bomb ban is only for some cluster bombs. The same with elderly care, which Clegg says “won’t happen”. “He has raised the hopes of some of the most vulnerable people in these country” when he knows it will only help a fraction of them. Most of the Tories have left too. Hell, most of the Labour front bench has left. Only Brown and Harman remain.
16:09 – This is a rump parliament, he says. We should have a power of recall instead. Candidates should declare financial interests, the House of Lords be properly reformed, the Commons procedures changed to reduce executive power and fixed-term parliament introduced. “These months could have been a moment of important change,” Clegg says. “That opportunity to do the right thing has been squandered by this government.” He ends his response, and backbenchers start getting up to add their opinions.
16:11 – And with that, we’ll leave. Come back next week for the first prime minister’s questions of the new parliament. As for me, I think it’s time to rest my fingers.