Our democratic parliament was opened by our autocratic monarch on Thursday. What’s worse, that wasn’t the only paradox: in a speech that was meant to inspire and energise parliament for a new year of headlocks and cat fighting, the tone felt more fitting to a wellness app designed to put you to sleep.
As the King played puppet for the government and announced the Tories’ plans for the new political year, even the crown jewels appeared new and original compared to the government’s tired and worn-out policies. The speech bought together all the half-hearted ideas Sunak’s been flogging the past few months, including a plan to ban smoking for teenagers and legislation to make the UK a leading country in driverless cars. To call these grand plans dim-witted would be harsh, but to call them visionary would be dishonest.
In credit to the King, he managed to make a speech of no substance last over 10 minutes (though that is approximately 9 too long for my TikTok-warped attention span). I wonder if he’s available to pad out my midterm essays.
But, obviously, he didn’t write it himself. He was just a mouthpiece for the government’s aged agenda. Nothing underlined this like the painful irony of our environment-loving monarch preaching on annual oil and gas licences. Perhaps one of the strongest things Charles has going for him is his environmental agenda, but as a mouthpiece for the government he had to choke down any integrity for the sake of tradition as Sunak continued with his cut-back of environmental pledges by once again announcing new licences for oil and gas excavation.
As plans were unveiled for a new football regulator, there was a distinct lack of meaningful action on vital issues: noticeably missing from the beige fest of congealed boredom was any mention of mental health or a ban on conversion therapy. Education, too, was far from the top of the agenda. Policies on housing were lukewarm at best, environmental progress was replaced with environmental malfeasance and there was even a pledge to scrap a piece of legislation that’s never actually been enacted. With a general election expected next year, it would be no surprise if the Tories want to hold back some new policy for their manifesto, but the lack of vision delivered on Thursday suggests they’re either holding back too much for their own good, or that after 13 years of control they’ve run out of steam. I know which I would bet on.
More interesting than the speech itself, perhaps, was who was in attendance as it was delivered to the House of Lords. As those who received peerages in Johnson’s resignation/eviction honours took their questionably-deserved places, I was reminded of the pandemonium that gripped Downing Street mere months ago. We might have successfully escaped that chaos, but if this speech was anything to go by, we still have a long way to go before we see any semblance of real economic and political progress.