Tired Speech short of ideas

THERE was no Bill paving the way for David Cameron’s promised referendum on European Union membership, but the pressure the Prime Minister is facing from the UK Independence Party still made its presence felt in yesterday’s Queen’s Speech.

Indeed, the proposal to make buy-to-let landlords responsible for checking the immigration status of their prospective tenants gives every impression of having been drawn up on the back of one of Ukip leader Nigel Farage’s cigarette packets.

Quite how private landlords are supposed to do a job that is beyond the abilities of UK Border Agency staff has not been explained. Nor did Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, the hapless Minister put up yesterday to talk about the new legislation, seem to have any idea how such a measure could be enforced.

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In fact, the proposal seems to typify the Queen’s Speech as a whole, remarkably thin and very much a reaction to the pressures being felt by the coalition Government rather than a bold attempt to shape the national agenda.

Of course, this is not to say that some of the measures are not necessary, such as the new ratings for hospitals and care homes in reaction to the Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust scandal. Others, such as pension reform and the Care Bill, capping the amount that the elderly in England will have to pay for social care, are long overdue.

And, of course, as the Speech emphasised, the Government’s priority remains the restoration of Britain’s economic health, a goal which cannot be easily legislated for, with piecemeal measures lifting some of the bureaucracy afflicting employers being little more than a small step in the right direction.

The overall impression, however, is of a coalition nearing the end of its life, unwilling to compromise further on major legislation and with its two parties becoming desperate to differentiate themselves ahead of a General Election in two years’ time.

But, of course, the coalition’s most radical legislation has already been enacted, with major reforms to education, welfare and the health service well underway.

In which case, rather than spending the next two years fretting, squabbling with their Liberal Democrat colleagues and worrying about the Ukip effect, Conservative Ministers would be better employed ensuring that these measures are implemented efficiently and that their purpose is fully explained to an electorate which gives every impression of being unconvinced about the need to give Mr Cameron another term in office.