Queen’s Speech very speedy as Theresa May’s agenda so slight
A PM drained of authority finds tide turned as chamber mood favours Jeremy Corbyn
This was the most austere state opening of parliament since 1974, with no procession from Buckingham Palace, and a modest, armoured Bentley replacing the usual horse-drawn carriages. The queen left her crown on a cushion in front of her as she delivered her speech wearing a hat that would not be out of place at Royal Ascot, where she planned to spend the afternoon.
One ancient parliamentary tradition survived this bonfire of the flummeries, however – the Dennis Skinner heckle, delivered as Black Rod arrived into the Commons chamber.
“You better get your skates on, the first race is half past two,” he said. He needn’t have worried, because the queen got through the speech in nine minutes and was out the door so fast she could have got to Ascot with a good hour to spare before the first race. It wasn’t the royal delivery that made the speech so short, but the fact that Theresa May’s legislative agenda is so slight. Humiliated by the electorate and clinging to office courtesy of her own disdainful backbenchers and an increasingly sulky DUP, the prime minister knows that her government’s legislative bandwidth is slender. Apart from eight Bills to facilitate Brexit, the Queen’s Speech promised a handful of domestic measures, most of them worthy and uncontroversial.
Much of the Conservative manifesto has been thrown overboard, including its most controversial proposals on pensions, social care, grammar schools and foxhunting. By Wednesday afternoon, the manifesto had disappeared from the Conservatives’ website, another step in the slow erasure of May’s influence on her party. As the DUP grumbled about the Conservatives’ chaotic approach to negotiations between the two parties, the word at Westminster was that it could be next week before an agreement is concluded. Meanwhile, as the prime minister’s authority continues to drain away, her MPs are divided on how long they should leave her in place. Some favour an early exit and others want to postpone her departure for a number of months, but none expect her to survive for long. May’s diminished standing became brutally clear when she walked into the chamber for the debate on the Queen’s Speech on Wednesday afternoon. Before the election, the benches behind her erupted in a riot of cheering every time she took her seat. Now, there was scarcely a murmur. When Jeremy Corbyn rose to speak he delivered a funny, powerful, focused speech and sat down to loud cheers from Labour MPs who were apologising for him on the doorsteps just a few weeks ago. Before the election, when Corbyn was perceived as weak, the prime minister regularly made him the butt of cruel jokes written by her advisers. On Wednesday, as Conservative MPs sat in silence, the opposition benches welcomed her with a loud, sustained, merciless roar.