King Charles will be opening the UK parliament for the first time today. The king’s speech sets out the government’s priorities for the next year – which will be interesting because there’s been scant evidence of any real policies in the last year. I guess anything is an improvement on the net zero policy output.
But it’s unlikely to get the royal seal of approval. Indeed, one gets the feeling that our king will not be amused as one of the likely bills to be announced will enable up to a 100 new North Sea oil and gas licenses.
This, alongside pro-motorist legislation (restricting local councils abilities to introduce 20mph zones, or clean-air schemes for example), is not going down well with green campaigners or indeed anyone who cares about the environment.
Rishi Sunak is no green enthusiast. He sent clear signals of his antipathy to net zero with the dramatic reversal of the government’s climate commitments in September. Indeed ever since the Uxbridge by-election win by the Conservatives, the prime minister appears to be under the misguided belief we are all petrol heads.
King’s speech or compelled speech?
Obviously, His Majesty does not fall into that category. Speaking to lawmakers in the upper house of the French parliament on 21 September he proposed a new “entente” for sustainability saying “we need to protect the world from the most existential challenge of all, that of global warming, climate change and the catastrophic destruction of nature”.
This is nothing new. He is nothing if not consistent. An avid supporter of climate mitigation according to Future Net Zero, telling last year’s Glasgow climate summit:
“We have to reduce emissions urgently and take action to tackle the carbon already in the atmosphere, including from coal-fired power stations.”
Ridiculed in the past for hugging trees it now seems that his day has come – or as the Express recently claimed “a lot of what he has always believed in is now mainstream opinion”.
Restricting life (style) choices
King Charles is not the only one who is going to find this speech somewhat hard to swallow.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation reported last month that the number of people experiencing destitution increased by 61% from 2019 to 2022 and this includes 1 million children. That means around 3.8 million people not being able to meet their most basic physical needs to stay warm, dry, clean and fed.
There will be no legislation to fix this though. Home Secretary Suella Braverman, announced last week that “We cannot allow our streets to be taken over by rows of tents occupied by people, many of them from abroad, living on the streets as a lifestyle choice.” Sunak has, this morning, had this excised from the speech; whether it remains a policy objective is yet to be seen.
Apart from the jaw-dropping announcement that homelessness is now a lifestyle choice, this will put her at odds with another royal, Prince William, who has launched a major five-year campaign to end homelessness.
I could go on. The economy, the NHS, education, transport, big infrastructure projects – all in terminal decline and in desperate need of a fix.
Instead, what we are likely to get today is legislation to implement the gradual smoking ban announced by Sunak at this year’s Conservative Party conference, a new football regulator, leasehold reform and hunting trophy bans. All laudable in their own right but hardly likely to be the transformational change needed to make our communities better.
Mandatory jail terms for who … ?
Allegedly, this is a speech that intends to put law and order at the heart of government action. According to the BBC, the government has also said “it wants to introduce mandatory jail terms for certain offences, including shoplifting”. The fact that prisons are full is well documented.
More seriously for the government, the HM Inspectorate of Prisons recently said that the “[prison] population crisis is not just a technocratic headache for ministers and the prison service; there will be consequences for all of us”.
I could go on. Against a backdrop of more Conservative MPs having to resign over some scandal or other, the revelations about Michelle Mone and PPE, and the absolute damning testimony that is coming out of the Covid inquiry, there is little the government can do.
Today’s speech will give us, the people, very little. It’s not meant to. After all, we are not of any real interest to this government. They are only interested now in saving their own skins.