Yesterday’s State Opening of Parliament, King Charles’ first as on the throne, is also Rishi Sunak’s first in Number 10. For all the pageantry and theatre, it is a profoundly political event.
The King’s Speech set out aspirations for policies on the economy, energy security and other areas on which the Government will seek to differentiate itself from Labour as we continue on the road to the next General Election.
The political context
The King’s Speech may look like a charming piece of theatre, but it is an intensively political event and this year’s was designed to set the Conservative Party on a strong footing, setting out the building blocks for the Party’s manifesto.
But what does an election manifesto look like when the Prime Minister is trying to steer a course between the different factions within his Parliamentary party?
The answer is that it looks like this, with a heavy emphasis on core issues that appeal to the Conservatives’ voting ‘base’, eye-catching initiatives like the phased ban on smoking and plenty of proposed legislation (including leasehold and rental reform) that has been tested, amended and shaped around the factions within the Conservative Parliamentary Party. It also provides space for representatives of those different factions to keep their troops ‘inline’: For example, Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Justice Secretary Alex Chalk have both got op-eds out today in the Daily Mail and The Times fleshing out various policies which we have seen in today’s Speech.
More policies for the built environment and local government sectors
At Redwood, we are a leading independent communications and stakeholder engagement consultancy, specialising in UK and international real estate and the built environment and focusing on understanding the political context in which we operate. The Levelling-up and Regeneration Act may have just been passed, but the built environment and local government still has a part to play in the offer that the Government wishes to make to the electorate.
The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove, has pledged to abolish what he described as England’s “feudal” leasehold system entirely. However, the King’s Speech only includes measures to reform the system rather than abolish it. Rental leases will be much longer, and ground rent will be slashed to zero at renewal and new leasehold houses will be banned.
A new Rental Reform Bill will legislate to scrap ‘no fault evictions’ – but with massive caveats to sugarcoat the pill for landlords to make it easier for them evict anti-social tenants.
Both these bills have been re-cast from previous promises or unofficial briefings, and these have come about following strong lobbying from different sections of the Conservative Parliamentary Party.
When it comes to local government, some media outlets reported that the King’s Speech would include measures to ban councils from implementing any new low traffic zones. This was not mentioned but we did hear promises for a Bill to set out a long-term plan to regenerate towns and put local people in control of their future. Expect more information on this in the coming months.
Not just theatre
The King’s Speech will be followed by around six (Parliamentary) days of debate by MPs, which will include attempts to add amendments to the speech and influence Government policy prior to a vote on the Government’s agenda. Should the Government lose the vote, it would be a major political issue and indicate a loss of confidence in the Prime Minister. Last time this happened was in 1924, when Stanley Baldwin’s minority government was defeated and led to the first Labour Government taking over.
Whilst we can expect Rishi Sunak’s still overwhelming majority to see him through, there will be furious political debate across the House.
Last year, a rebellion of Tory MPs led to an amendment to the then Levelling Up Bill to remove housing targets for local authorities. The debate around tenants’ rights, leading up to today and in the next week of debate, will again show the deep divisions within the Conservative Party. Labour’s defence of other reforms will also help set out the battle lines for the next 12 months and beyond.