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Bring on the wall
“This is not a programme for one year, or one parliament, it is a blueprint for the future of Britain. Just imagine where this country could be in ten years’ time…”
It may have been dress-down Thursday for Her Majesty, but there was plenty of ramped-up rhetoric from Boris Johnson as the Queen’s Speech sketched out the big ambitions of his government.
At the time of his manifesto launch, I wrote that the PM had used that ten-year horizon as the frame for his promises. And today it certainly felt as though he wants two full terms in No.10 to carry out his vision of how the UK can be transformed by “blue collar conservatism”.
It’s a shrewd phrase (promoted years ago by backbencher Rob Halfon but somehow ignored by the Cameroons). In the midlands and north, ‘Conservative’ is less toxic and harsh than the word ‘Tory’. In fact the latter was seen as so damaging that there was a time when the Lib-Con coalition spin doctors actually tried to stop broadcasters using the term.
The Queen’s Speech undoubtedly feels like a policy blueprint for the ‘blue wall’ of newly captured constituencies. It wants Brexit to become almost an afterthought (even that word itself is being written out of the script in Whitehall and the DExEu department is to be abolished after January 31), while it focuses on domestic priorities like the NHS, pumping billions into infrastructure and tackling crime.
As blue wall pioneer Lee Rowley (surely due a job in the reshuffle?) tells us in this week’s CommonsPeople podcast, delivery of bread and butter change like better roads and new hospitals is how his party can best fend off Labour at the next election. Rowley is also big on topics like robotics and AI, and it’s this, plus Dominic Cummings’ insistence on science and R&D funding, that allows the Tories to own the ‘future’ agenda that is desperately sought by any Opposition.
With his own MPs trashing his campaign and his record, it’s perhaps no wonder Jeremy Corbyn had a face like thunder as he walked alongside Johnson to hear the Queen today. And he wasn’t seeing the funny side either as he responded in the Commons later, claiming many of the promises mimicked the “language of Labour policy but without the substance”.
It may well be true that come the next election, Corbyn’s successor will argue it’s time for the full-fat Coke of public spending, rather than the Coke Zero Conservative version. Don’t forget that the IFS said austerity is still ‘baked in’ for many government departments (not least councils). The problem today was that even Corbyn’s own MPs looked like they knew their leader wasn’t The Real Thing.
Johnson himself couldn’t help rubbing salt into the open wounds of Labour’s election drubbing, even though he characteristically dressed it up as compassionate concern. He said he had always ‘admired’ Corbyn’s sincerity, but when he said he’d miss their exchanges across the despatch box, the sniggers from the Tory benches spoke volumes. An opponent who is not feared but pitied is not an opponent at all.
Apart from the newly elected Momentum-backed MPs, many backbenchers looked like they were wincing today. Although Tom Watson’s departure means there’s no acting leader to sit in at PMQs, few of them are looking forward to three more months of the kind of humiliation meted out today. I couldn’t see a single leadership contender in the chamber, but maybe Corbyn should give each of them a whirl at PMQs as part of his party’s contest.
Rebecca Long-Bailey and Emily Thornberry have of course deputised for their leader before. But one suspects Thornberry won’t be asked again, not least as she has been laying into Corbyn’s chief of comms and strategy Seumas Milne. This morning she suggested he had undermined Corbyn by giving a more sceptical briefing on Russia than Corbyn after the Salisbury poisonings. “Jeremy seemed to have said one thing in parliament and then a different spin was put on it when briefed afterwards.”
Now it’s true that the spokesman went further by raising the issue of the dodgy evidence trail of Iraq and WMD. But don’t forget that it was Corbyn himself who actually asked Theresa May if she had responded to Moscow’s request for a sample of the nerve agent used in the poisonings, so it could itself test it. That was the point at which many Labour MPs realised their leader really would never give up his worldview. The voters in the north and midlands now seem to have realised it too.
Which is why perhaps the greatest humiliation for Corbyn came today not from Johnson, nor his own MPs, but from Moscow. Yes, Vladimir Putin told a news conference he wanted to congratulate the Tory PM. Why? Because “he sensed the mood of the British society better than his opponents”. Even if it senses the mood better, with boundary changes making a comeback even harder within one term, it could indeed be ten years before Labour gets a chance to govern once more.
Quote Of The Day
“An ambitious programme of domestic reform that delivers on the people’s priorities”.
The Queen sounds uncannily like Boris Johnson as she reads out ‘her’ speech.
Thursday Cheat Sheet
Boris Johnson has unveiled the “most radical Queen’s Speech in a generation” as he promised to “move on” from Brexit with a focus on domestic issues.
Sajid Javid stands accused of rowing back on his pledge to hike the minimum wage to £10.50 as the government said it will only happen “provided economic conditions allow”.
The PM has given his friend Zac Goldsmith a seat in the House of Lords so he can keep his ministerial job despite being ousted as an MP at the election.
Boris Johnson hinted he had not given up his plan to build a bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland. “Watch this space, indeed watch that space.”
Former Labour MP Anna Turley won a libel case against Unite over a blog on the left-wing website Skwawkbox. She was awarded £75,000 in damages by the High Court after she successfully sued the union and blogger Stephen Walker.
The Independent Group for Change announced it was finally ‘winding up’ its activities. Not a single one of its MPs was re-elected.
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