Is that it? I’ve just come from watching the Queen’s Speech and it feels like a loose end legislative programme. They have found some tidy up ideas which had been kicking around Departments for years. It doesn’t feel like a Conservative government who had been out of power for 13 years. No big idea, no real vision, a tidy up and a missed opportunity.
My early reaction is that there are some things Labour can support but generally it would appear that the Governments legislative programme is aimed at reuniting the Tory end of the Coalition rather than the country. More on that later.
It comes off the back of a terrible month or so for the Government. But few would have missed the similarities over the last few days of the Nicolas Sarkozy as incumbent refusing to shift from his dogmatic pro austerity stance before being kicked out of office just as our very own government dug their pro austerity heels in repeating a similar mantra. The only surprise is that the contest ended closer than many had previously predicted.
There is a political phenomenon of anti-incumbency sweeping Europe and beyond. It's too early to sense when or where that trend will end although Obama looks as though he can buck it by appealing as an insurgent incumbent against Romney and a vested Republican establishment. Across the world results are favouring neither Left nor the Right but are punishing incumbents for financial turmoil. This suggests there is no emerging consensus other than those who fail to deliver growth in living standards lose.
This takes us to the Right of the Conservative Party, who are desperately using Boris Johnson’s victory to demand greater cuts, labour market deregulation and the relegation of constitutional reform. The argument goes that Boris won London because he was a ‘true’ Tory. It is true he argued openly for tax cuts and gives a strong impression of preferring the prosperity of Tunbridge Wells to the more challenged Tottenham, but he has also argued for an amnesty for illegal immigrants and against some of the more punitive measures the Government are proposing on reform of housing benefit. In truth he is a more complex character than the Right are suggesting and he won in a campaign dominated by personality not policy.
Most importantly, however, the victory the Right want to be the basis of a new Tory agenda was by 60,000 votes of an electorate of 2 million against a candidate most can agree lacked momentum. The desperately low turnout for both parties further compounds the view that the narrow margin of Boris’s victory should worry the policy-lite Mayor rather than give anyone the impression he has a vision to enthral the country. There is even an outbreak of Boris for PM which is risible. He may lead the Conservative Party one day but never the country.
And those who now demand clear blue water should be easily dismissed by a confident Conservative leadership. But it is telling that they haven’t been. A nervy performance by George Osborne on BBC's Marr on Sunday showed two important traits. First that constitutional reform will be put to the back of the queue. Second that the cupboard appears empty and the rhetoric on cuts did not shift.
Why is this significant? Because the sense that David Cameron’s political project achieved 80% of what it set out to achieve when he walked through the door of Downing St gets ever stronger.
In the same way some political commentators asked what Gordon Brown would be about were it not for the financial crash, people not ask what would David Cameron be for if he were not for George Osborne's deficit reduction?
If electorates are delivering judgements based on results, relying solely a political economy of ‘expansionary fiscal contraction’ seems increasingly flawed. Yesterday’s reaffirmation of political vows underlines that this risk is shared across the coalition. The Queen’s Speech appears to do little to address this strategic weakness.
For the first time in too long people outside of the political village are willing to listen to Labour; so what should we do? Firstly don’t listen to the Tory Right - the idea we did well because of an out of touch Government's focus on things like Lords reform is laughable. Second, and more importantly, we must remember that we are incumbents too. Too many people see both of the main parties as part of the establishment (as Scots are beginning to see the SNP). In some people’s minds we share the responsibility for their problems. The prize in post-crash politics will go to the Party that can best balance the reality of deficit reduction and the optimism of economic growth.
To enjoy Tory weaknesses or ponder whether the ideological tectonic plates have shifted would be to ignore some of the lessons from across the Channel. Last week’s election results and today’s Queen’s Speech don’t mean that Labour will win the general election but that we can win it.
As Ed Miliband says, the economy is not working for working people, and we need to be the real alternative who can deliver that change.