Little and Quietly: How Labour will Respond

May 18, 2016 | by Field Team

You’d be hard pressed to find a comprehensive reaction from Her Majesty’s Opposition to the Queen’s Speech today. An hour after Her Majesty stopped speaking and not a press statement or comment had troubled Labour’s twitter or press website. Labour’s line should be that: this is an empty Queen’s Speech…

You’d be hard pressed to find a comprehensive reaction from Her Majesty’s Opposition to the Queen’s Speech today. An hour after Her Majesty stopped speaking and not a press statement or comment had troubled Labour’s twitter or press website.

Labour’s line should be that: this is an empty Queen’s Speech and the Government has run out of ideas only a year after the general election. Coming so soon after winning an unexpected electoral mandate to govern, this legislative agenda should be packed with exciting ideas to define the majority Cameron Government. But it isn’t. It’s a Queen’s Speech from a Prime Minister paralysed by the emerging Tory civil war on Europe. Yet again the lives of normal Brits are secondary to the machinations of those wishing to knife the PM and snatch the keys to No.10 etc etc. You know the lines. But they’re not being said. Why?

Unlike the Budget and Autumn Statements, you will have to wait until the lengthy debate on the Queen’s Speech opens in Parliament this afternoon before hearing Labour’s reaction. This three-day long debate provides a chance for backbenchers and frontbenchers to comment on the Bills in the speech, Bills not in the speech and Bills they think ought to be in the speech. This highlights the opportunity for message discipline: what are the Bills Labour would want in a Queen’s Speech? How can they drive the media agenda with their views and not those of the Government? The lack of response tells the tale of Labour in opposition. There but not quite comfortable with what they’re supposed to be doing.

After the dust has settled and the media lines are established, you can expect two types of response: the front bench perspective and the moderate view. Corbyn and his team will bemoan the lack of action on everyday issues. Moderates are more likely to focus on specific pieces of legislation as they create areas of expertise to command rather than wide commentary. The British Bill of Rights replacing the Human Rights Act is a specific Bill that is likely to stir anger amongst the Labour moderates. Keir Starmer, a future Labour contender, has already issued his views and Tristram Hunt is likely to continue his campaign against the roll back of rights.

The problem for Labour is this: Labour MPs might enjoy a good Government bashing but they know that the Prime Minister and his credibility is critical to victory in the EU Referendum. Cheap potshots about the paucity of creative thought or direct action on housing or the cost of living crisis (still there, but rarely said in soundbites anymore) might damage Remain’s chances on 23 June. So they’re likely to be content with letting the Queen’s Speech be immediately forgotten, as it is likely to be. All eyes are on the EU Referendum not the beige Bills peddled by an increasingly fragile Cameron Government. That’s what they should say and do, of course, but with this Opposition, anything could happen in over the course of the afternoon…

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