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Wednesday, May 09, 2012 

"From David Cameron to David Brent."

If there's a day a year when it's possible to feel even slightly sorry for the Queen, it has to be when the state opening of parliament rolls round again. Anyone who seriously goes in for all that "oh, isn't she a wonderful, inspiring woman, served the nation her entire life" and doesn't then immediately add "and also lived a life of the utmost luxury as reward" is a fool, but the nonsense and farrago she has to put up with on the day of the Queen's speech does almost counteract it. She's now gone through the same tedious, ridiculous procedure 57 times, and that's 57 times too many by anyone's standards. To keep asking an 86-year-old woman to carry around a "large bag of potatoes on her head", even if it's only for around 15 minutes in order to perform this unnecessary, absurd ritual is about as offensive as it gets. Please, if there's going to be reform of the House of Lords, can we abolish the archaic bummery and flummery that goes with it?

That it also takes place in this most inauspicious of years, when we can spend billions on a fortnight long circus but not on providing jobs for the young unemployed only, to quote Shaun of the Dead, exacerbates things. Dennis Skinner's quip in the Commons, which has become as much of a tradition as the rest of the day, said it all: "Jubilee year, double dip recession, what a start". At least back in 1977, the year of the silver jubilee, there was disco and the arrival of punk, with Thatcherism still two years away. What have we got now? Brostep, David Guetta, Jessie J and Simon Cowell. Think there was no future then? Blimey.

Everything you really needed to know was in the speech's first two sentences. The coalition is no longer even promising growth, as it did two years ago; now all it offers is economic stability. It will focus on growth, but stability is all we can realistically hope for. George Osborne previously told us that thanks to him, the economy was out of the danger zone. The reality is that we're still sinking.

What then is the big idea in the Queen's speech to get to grips with this? Why, they're going to make it ever so slightly easier to sack people! The idea, such as it is, is that this will enable companies to clear out the deadwood and instead hire in some go-getting youngsters that can drive them forward, thereby creating more jobs that the deadwood can then err, reapply for. Just as the coalition is trying to convince us that they're doing everything they can to help the "strivers" and the hard-working, those who find themselves without a job, or even worse, sick, may as well give up, as it's clear they're on their own.

There's also very little in it to tackle top pay, despite all that's been said. All the Enterprise bill proposes is making shareholder votes binding, which doesn't change much when there hasn't been a successful vote yet against director remuneration, and when chief executives are having to resign anyway despite that. The banking reform bill splitting investment and retail is welcome, as is the green investment bank, but neither are going to happen before the next election. About the only act that can be welcomed wholeheartedly is the Children and Families bill, and as Ed Miliband pointed out, it sounds like a Labour bill because large sections of it are pilfered from their manifesto at the last election.

The real winners it seems are the intelligence agencies, and the police. Quite why there's a need for yet another attempt to set-up a British FBI with the National Crime Agency, the Serious Organised Crime Agency having been such a massive success is unclear. It also seems that regardless of all the recent triumphs at SIS and MI5, whether through all but refusing to cooperate with the police investigation into the death of Gareth Williams, with the head of the Met yesterday announcing a forensic review of the case, or the apparent collusion with the Gaddafi on rendition, they're going to be rewarded with a bill that will prevent evidence like that revealed during Binyam Mohamed's legal action ever being revealed in court again. They're also going to get further access to the internet records of everyone, although this has been split off into a separate bill in an attempt to show the coalition really is listening to criticism, and is still concerned about civil liberties, honestly really.

And then there's the aforementioned Lords reform bill. It's not a priority apparently, but it must be more of a priority than HS2 for instance, the sort of government work programme that would create jobs, and which will have to wait another year before the legislation is ready. Tim Montgomerie, bless him, says that the whole thing "feels authentically Cameroon". If by that he means it's utterly vacuous and has no overriding theme, then he's absolutely right. As said yesterday, this is the sort of legislation programme a government that's run out of steam and doesn't know what to do decides upon. It hasn't quite reached the point of setting up a Cones Hotline, although that might be Nick Clegg's next big idea, but it's not that far off. For a government that is only two years in, it really is about as bad as it gets; no hope doesn't even begin to cover it.

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