The UK has no equivalent of the USâ€™s state of the union speech â€“ when the President holds the Houses of Congress in awe with a tour of the world interwoven with some folksy stories and gets a standing ovation. Instead we have the odd ritual of the Queen announcing a series of legislative commitments, followed by a bit of ritual House of Commons knockabout. And the one person who gets an uninterrupted hour to pronounce on the state of the Britain is the Chancellor in his Budget.
Over time, the Queenâ€™s speech has evolved from a very formal list of bills into a statement of political intent. And that is why we now have â€śstatementâ€ť legislation. The Government wants to signal toughness on immigration â€“ so that is the flagship bill â€“ even though it is far from clear that the new powers it will contain add much to existing ones. There is another â€“ inevitable â€“ bill to ‘cut crime and protect national security’ â€“ to add further, no doubt, to the 4000 criminal offences created between 1983 and 2009. And legislation to boost growth â€“ which might be asking a bit too much of the law. It is not clear how many of the proposed bills would fit with the Cabinet Officeâ€™s good law initiative launched at the Institute for Government last month.
In other cases, the bills were catching up with initiatives that seemed already to have happened. A bill to abolish the Audit Commission (a decision taken shortly after the election). The much delayed response to Dilnot on social care. Finally, powers to start on the much talked about HS2 â€“ the start of the nightmare process of getting hybrid legislation passed.
Of course, there has been much talk of the signalling of what is not there as well. No ‘nanny’ legislation on alcohol pricing and tobacco packaging â€“ though Jeremy Hunt reminded us this morning that not being mentioned in the Queenâ€™s speech is no bar to legislation. The quiet dropping of the legislation to enshrine the 0.7% aid target in law â€“ though as we have argued elsewhere, Parliament should be very wary of enacting policy targets. And no mention of the fate of the UKIP-unfriendly gay marriage bill which is due for carry over into this session.
But the fate of this Queenâ€™s speech is to be remembered not as the day the government finally got tough on immigration â€“ but to run second in the headlines to the ending of an era at Manchester United. The Ferguson resignation will be talked about long after the public have blanked out what the Queen said today.