Today was meant to be Theresa May’s big day. Enemies within and without vanquished; parliamentary opposition in ruins, maybe even another tragicomic Labour leadership election; government remade in her image; her manifesto, her mandate, her government; her time. Instead, she is the first prime minister in decades to put a legislative agenda forward without knowing that a majority in the House of Commons exists to back it, and has surely fought her last general election as leader.
Down to earth with a bump
Manifesto policies that rankled with voters were discarded. Goodbye grammar schools and so long school meal cuts – there’s neither the political capital nor the mandate to pursue either. Fox hunting? Not a sniff. Pensions remain safely under triple-lock and key, as the government tries to placate pensioners worried about social care (there was a pledge to ‘work to improve’ it and to consult on a yet-to-be-determined policy).
It was a Queen’s Speech in three parts. The first was Brexit, which will monopolise time and attention, with measures to support and stimulate the economy: the next phase of HS2, a new industrial strategy, infrastructure investment and reforms to technical education. The second was reactive, in response to recent terrorist attacks and the tragedy at Grenfell Tower: a commission on reducing extremism, a review of counter-terrorism strategy, and an independent public advocate to act on behalf of those affected by major disasters. Third, a handful of more populist policies: tackling ‘unfair’ energy markets, increasing the National Living Wage, enhancing workplace rights, fighting the gender pay gap and abolishing tenancy fees.
Turmoil at the top
That last point was part of the remit of the new Downing Street chief of staff, Gavin Barwell, in his former housing brief. Mr Barwell was a popular figure with the industry, but has had a difficult time recently, with housing regulations under forensic scrutiny. His arrival in the back office at Number 10 is part of wider upheaval in government, as the previous top team is purged and new faces come to the fore. The Treasury is once again flexing its muscles, with the prime minister’s position weakened. The property industry will watch with interest as the new housing minister, Alok Sharma, takes up the mantle on the housing white paper, and seeks to make his mark – but will he last longer than any of his recent predecessors, with an average tenure in the job of about a year?
Strong and stable leadership?
The property sector likes stability to drive investment, so will watch Brexit negotiations with avid interest. The whispering campaigns in Westminster have already started, as senior Tories jostle for position before the prime minister steps down or is pushed out. Jeremy Corbyn claims to be ready to offer strong and stable leadership if Theresa May cannot. With the parliamentary arithmetic precarious, it will be a while before anyone can make good on that pledge.