Boris Johnson’s flipping of Tory priorities leaves Labour playing catch-up: Bill Carmichael

I took a double take when browsing social media this week at the news that someone called “the Queen of England” had decreed that Britons must in future show photo-ID before they could vote.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (left) and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (2nd left) walk through the Central Lobby on the way to the House of Lords to listen to the Queen's Speech. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Of course the Queen of the United Kingdom and Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as she is more properly known, has no more right to decree any such thing than you or I.

A few minutes investigation revealed these were mainly American users of Twitter confused by the legalistic niceties of our constitutional monarchy. And they were not alone in being perplexed on the occasion of the Queen’s Speech at the State Opening of Parliament this week.

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Some British social media users seemed to think the Queen is part of a vast right-wing conspiracy designed to rob us of our freedoms and usher in a new era of fascism. They complained that the Queen was just trotting out the words that Boris Johnson had put in her mouth.

Er...quite! That is the whole point. The monarch has a constitutional obligation to read out the legislative plans for the coming session of Parliament written by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.

And our current Queen has performed this duty no fewer than 67 times since her accession to the throne in 1953, only taking a break in 1959 and 1963 when she was pregnant with Prince Andrew and Prince Edward respectively.

In that time she has read the words given to her by Prime Ministers as diverse as Winston Churchill, Harold Wilson, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and David Cameron, among others.

And the fact that not once in all those years and all those speeches has she ever given the slightest indication of whether she agrees with the words she is reading out just shows how good she is at her job.

This week’s Queen’s Speech won’t be the most radical one she has read, but it was interesting in that it illustrated the remarkable flexibility and adaptability of the modern Conservative Party.

If David Cameron and his Chancellor George Osborne could be said to be on the right of the political spectrum in terms of economics and to the left on culture, Johnson and Rishi Sunak have flipped this formula on its head, moving to the left on economics and to the right on culture.

The Conservatives understand that the votes of millions of former Labour supporters in the north and Midlands are going begging, and they are subtly repositioning their party to capture this support.

These voters can be characterised as being in favour of high levels of public spending, particularly in the NHS, but they are also pro-armed forces, pro-police, in favour of tighter immigration controls and they have absolutely no time for the fashionable woke politics of the identitarian left.

So, in terms of economics the Conservatives have turned themselves into one of the biggest spending governments since the Second World War, prepared to splash the cash on large infrastructure projects such as the HS2 rail link and 5G mobile telephone technology and clearing the way for state-aid to private companies now we are free of EU restrictions, and “levelling up” of the north.

It is a “big government” approach, wedded to high public spending and prepared to run up an alarming level of debt. Fiscal rectitude has been jettisoned out of the window.

In terms of political culture the Queen’s Speech contained increased support for the armed forces, an overhaul of the asylum system to discourage migrants from crossing the English Channel, increased powers for the police over violent protests and photo-ID to prevent electoral fraud.

Of course, what remains of the Labour Party will pause for a moment from fighting each other like ferrets in a sack to oppose every single one of these policies – and the so-called Red Wall will crumble a little further. They won’t be able to prevent themselves from falling into another trap.

One notable omission in the Queen’s Speech was any concrete proposals to deal with the crisis in adult social care, besides a single, very vague line that measures will be “brought forward”. It is now 10 years since the Dilnot Enquiry recommended a cap on the fees payable by individuals for residential care, but successive governments have failed to do anything about it. Any solution is bound to be controversial, but Johnson needs to screw his courage to the sticking point and sort this crisis once and for all.

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