Boris Johnson was accused of being “bereft of ideas or purpose,” after a Queen’s speech that included 38 new bills but offered no specific measures to tackle the immediate cost of living crisis.
Instead, the speech, delivered by the Prince of Wales amid the pomp of the state opening of parliament, included plans to tear up the Human Rights Act, make it harder for councils to rename the streets and privatise Channel 4.
The Labor leader, Keir Starmer, said the speech showed the government had no guiding principle, while Torsten Bell, the director of the Resolution Foundation thinktank, was equally withering.
“British politics is out of ideas,” he said. “Further action has been promised on the cost of living, but there certainly wasn’t any in the Queen’s speech. It rightly highlighted the need for growth – the essential precondition for ending our living standards stagnation – but did little to actually bring it about.”
With the Queen unable to give the address for the first time in almost 60 years, Prince Charles began by saying: “My government’s priority is to grow and strengthen the economy and help ease the cost of living for families”.
However, Johnson’s program for the new parliamentary session included a string of well-trailed and controversial plans, including banning disruptive protests and preventing universities from no-platforming speakers; but few new policies likely to boost the economy in the short term.
Instead, the government emphasized help it had already provided, including the temporary energy bill rebate and the cut to the universal credit taper rate.
Government sources claimed two-thirds of the planned new laws were aimed at boosting economic growth in the medium and long-term, pointing to the energy security bill, which aims to open up the market for new technologies such as hydrogen and carbon capture.
Johnson said the country had “risen to challenges with no precedent in recent history” including the Covid-19 pandemic and vaccine rollout, as well as Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, the UK’s supply of weapons to Kyiv and the sanctions regime that had been imposed.
But he warned that “economic aftershocks” of global crises meant huge disruptions to the global economy. “No country is immune and no government can realistically shield everyone from the impact,” he said.
Responding to the speech in the House of Commons, Starmer said the government had failed to respond to the scale of the looming “stagflation crisis”, while Conservative backbenchers David Davis and John Redwood called for tax cuts.
Theresa May’s former chief of staff Gavin Barwell tweeted that there was “lots to like” in the Queen’s speech, including a ban on no-fault evictions once promised by May; but he criticised the “lack of action” on the cost of living, adding, “both morally and politically the government needs to do more.”
Starmer said: “We need a government of the moment, with the ideas that meet the aspirations of the people.”
He claimed that instead, the government was “bereft of ideas or purpose, without a guiding principle or a roadmap for delivery”. He added: “Their time has passed.”
Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said: “This Queen’s speech does nothing to help the millions of families and pensioners facing soaring bills and eye watering inflation. It shows a prime minister refusing to listen to the clear message sent by voters at last week’s local elections who are fed up of being taken for granted by this Conservative government.”
Away from the cost of living, the government said it would introduce measures to ban no-fault evictions and tackle rogue landlords; and give councils new powers to sell off empty high street properties, in a levelling up and regeneration bill.
There were also a series of measures that appeared aimed at allowing the government to pursue “culture war” issues – including a promise that local people will be consulted before street names are changed; and a ban on councils pursuing political boycotts.
Dominic Raab’s plan to replace the Human Rights Act with a British bill of rights, aimed at curtailing the power of the European court of human rights in Strasbourg, was confirmed as a government priority.
The speech said the legislation would “ensure there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government, strengthening freedom of speech.”
The president of the Society, Stephanie Boyce, attacked the planned legislation, however, warning it would ban human rights. “If the new bill of rights becomes law, it would make it harder for all of us to protect or enforce our rights.
“The proposed changes make the state less accountable. This generals a crucial element of the rule of law, preventing people from challenging illegitimate uses of power.”
The Queens speech also confirmed the fact that proposals for a radical overhaul of the planning system have been ditched, in favor of more modest changes ministers insisted will give local people more, not less, say over developments in their neighborhoods.
Previous plans envisaged a zoning system that would introduce a presumption in favor of development in some areas.
These were ditched, along with the then communities secretary Robert Jenrick, after the Tories’ shock defeat in the Chesham and Amersham byelection was put partly down to fears the government was about to concrete over the green belt.
The Treasury was later forced to dampen hopes of an emergency budget to help hard-pressed households, after Johnson suggested in the debate that he and the chancellor would have more to say on the cost of living crisis, “in the days to come”.
Rishi Sunak has repeatedly made clear he is unwilling to act until energy regulator Ofgem has made clear how much it will increase the price cap – an announcement likely to come in August. “We’re not there yet as we don’t know where prices are going to land,” said a Treasury source.
A No 10 source confirmed there were unlikely to be new spending measures to alleviate the cost of living crisis – but said all cabinet ministers had been tasked with coming up with policies in their areas to help.
The government’s cost of living committee was due to meet on Tuesday evening, ahead of a cabinet awayday in Staffordshire on Thursday. Proposals mooted at previous meetings included deregulating childcare and making MOTs two-yearly.