The State Opening of Parliament is always a wonderful day of pageantry, with swords, robes, silly hats and the fantastic procession bringing the Queen to the Palace of Westminster to play out the symbolism of our Parliamentary system.
But as Her Majesty rode back to Buckingham Palace today across Horseguards' Parade (shown in my picture above), she might be forgiven for wondering if it had been worth her turning up at all. It's not just that the speech itself was so short - a record of just six minutes - but that the legislative programme unveiled is so dismal.
The collection of Bills outlined seems designed purely to capture headlines, rather than as a coherent programme for government. Most of them read like press releases, with bold pledges which wave a magic wand in the direction of the nation's problems. Take these extracts, for example:
- "Legislation will be brought forward to halve the deficit"
- "My Government will continue to enshrine in law its commitment to abolish child poverty by 2020"
- "My Government will bring forward legislation to protect communities by ensuring that parents take responsibility for their children's antisocial behaviour"
How on earth do you legislate to halve the national debt? It it were that simple, many Chancellors of the Exchequer would have had a rather easier time of it in the past. How can a law abolish child poverty, when all Labour's past efforts have failed to do it? And how can a decree from Parliament change deep-rooted and complex social problems tied up with bad parenting? They simply cannot. There is also an absurd Schools Bill (yes, another one) containing a jumble of half-baked initiatives, none of which appears actually to need new legislation.Either the Prime Minister still believes that passing a law is the same thing as delivering a policy, in which case he has learnt nothing from his experience in government; or he expects us to believe it is the same thing, in which case he is - to use David Cameron's phrase - taking us all for fools.
Against this backdrop it is not surprising that the Speech also contained the proposal that:
"Legislation will be brought forward to protect communities from flooding"
Yes, Labour really are trying to hold back the tide.