Bernard Ingham: Pity the Queen on her speech shouldn't happen to a corgi

ALL my sympathies are with the Queen on her speech day.

Bernard Ingham has sympathy for her Majesty ahead of the Queen's Speech ritual at Westminster today.

Fancy at the age of 90 having today to read the deathless prose in the average Queen’s Speech under the lights, the heavy brocades, the jewels and the Crown.

It shouldn’t happen to a corgi.

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This brings me to the timing of this ritual. We must assume that in February when David Cameron announced the EU referendum on June 23, he knew that the second Queen’s Speech of this Parliament would come earlier.

It will no doubt be seen as another example of his overweening confidence at that time that we would vote to remain in the EU. Otherwise, he would not have promised a referendum.

The nation’s temperature has changed in the three months since and a lot of people are getting hot under the collar about all Cameron’s scaremongering – a financial crisis on Friday, June 24, 
if we vote to leave, followed by unemployment on Saturday and war on Sunday.

I exaggerate to make a point. But where does this leave the Queen’s Speech?

In my time, the Government regarded the document as a statement of intent.

But how can any government in Britain today produce a credible and durable declaration of purpose for the next 12 months when public opinion is so closely divided on whether we should stay in the EU or leave?

The referendum is rapidly becoming either a Government miscalculation or a cock-up.

It is also making the Queen’s Speech unusually interesting. Will it acknowledge the possibility of Britain’s changed constitutional status in a month’s time – and the possible need for legislation to provide for our new independence – or will it plough on with its bold assumption that, from No 10’s point of view, it will be all right on the night?

We are getting into deep waters here since so little seems to have been done by way of contingencies to cope with any Brexit outcome. The forecast Bill of Rights in the speech serves both exit and stay.

The fact remains that Britain has certain problems that will not go away whatever happens in June. This is not an exhaustive list:

the £70bn budget deficit;

uncertainty about economic growth;

the need for higher productivity;

the trade deficit; and

mass immigration that is squeezing the green belt, housing, education and the NHS.

There is enough there to keep a government and Parliament busy for a year at least.

The Government will, of course, say Brexit will exacerbate our economic problems, even though the evidence is very mixed.

The Leave camp, with more justification, will say there is not a hope in hell of curbing immigration without shaking the dust of Brussels off our feet.

In these circumstances, all the Queen’s Speech can usefully do is to set out to curb immigration as best it can – and mean it – and then reinforce the pledge to reduce the budget deficit, which the Chancellor is required by law to end by 2020.

It is going to be a close-run thing and, for the sake of confidence in our economy, the Government needs resoundingly to renew its undertaking to return a credit balance over the next few years.

This means that there will not be much spare money lying around. That needs to be emphasised because Britain spends a lot more time talking about austerity than practising it.

Such public funds as are available should be directed at raising productivity, encouraging manufacturing, promoting British goods and services and raising exports.

None of this will make more brownfield land available for housing, though it could help education and the NHS if immigration is curbed.

Leave aside immigration, education will not significantly improve unless parents help teachers by exercising discipline at home and teachers stop treating kids as hyper-sensitive plants over such things as Sats examinations and prepare them for the rough and tumble of the adult world.

Competition is a fact of life, however much some educationists wish to suppress it in schools.

As for the NHS, assailed though it is, like education, by immigrants, it needs a better slimmed-down management that avoids future internal wars with, for example, the BMA and junior doctors and shows some ingenuity in getting a quart out of a pint pot.

In short, the Queen’s message to the nation today should be that after all the recent arrogance, misjudgments and flights of menacing fantasy, HMG is back in serious business. Only then will her journey, while constitutionally necessary, have been worthwhile.