Queen’s Speech 2013 comment: Cameron offers another damp, right-wing sigh

The least we're entitled to is some rabid right-wing politics. Flaccid right-wing politics isn't even funny to watch. It's just depressing.

Caught between a Liberal Democrat party explicitly trying to stay on the centre-ground and Tory backbenchers straining at the leash to move further right, David Cameron has offered a typically unsatisfying compromise. The Queen's Speech 2013 offers a damp, half-hearted right-wing agenda which will alienate centrists while doing little to satisfy his parliamentary party.

Legislation to ensure a referendum on Europe in the next parliament has been shelved, despite Cameron contributing to its hype over the last few days. It's the same counter-productive strategy he toyed with on the European Convention of Human Rights. The prime minister marches his backbenchers up the hill only to march them down again. He raises expectations and then dashes them. It is a uniquely dangerous and self-defeating approach to a rebellious parliamentary party.

Instead of a referendum bill we get government compliance on EU rules demanding a programme called 'Europe for Citizens', whose Orwellian mission involves promoting European history, including the totalitarian regimes of the early 20th century, and encouraging "civic participation". You can imagine what's on offer: a permanent state-funded class in how the EU saved us all from war and tyranny. Tory backbenchers demanded referendum laws and they got this. No wonder Downing Street was at pains to call it "minor".

Most of the legislative programme merely offers help for businesses, in line with backbench demands. Employment tribunals, for instance, will lose the power to make wider recommendations for successful discrimination cases under the Equality Act. The coalition continues to fillet this important piece of law.

One of the only bills offering new rights to people rather than companies – the draft consumer rights bill – is a result of EU directives, not Whitehall action.

Meanwhile, workers will be asked to work until they drop, with an increase in the state pension age and a regular review in light of "rising life expectancy".

Immigration, which sound minds might consider a solution to Britain's demographic problem, is a clear victim of the party's anxiety attack about Ukip. A mean-spirited new crackdown will limit access to public services for some immigrants, limit the right of appeal (particularly damaging given UKBA's proclivity to reject as a default setting) and force landlords to spy on their tenants' immigration status.

Defence procurement rules are being adapted, but the absurdly titled FutureForce2020 plans for reservists will ensure that Britain will soon rely on a part-time army.

There are plenty of other right-wing scraps of red meat. Offenders will soon be checked for Class B as well as Class A drugs, for example.

Trouble is, they're not enough. This will not quell Cameron's Ukip problem. Admittedly, there is little that will. Tory backbenchers are never satisfied. Promise them a referendum and they'll soon escalate their demands to include legislation for it, as if they had always been perfectly clear about that.

But throwing them scraps like this while failing to deliver on their core concerns does little to placate them.

It does, however, send a message to the centrist voters that Cameron's modernisation drive is well and truly over. The mood music from No 10 is Ukip-strained – sufficiently so to alienate moderate voters. It's a thematic overreaction to Ukip's much-publicised surge, while the people who can really damage Cameron – his backbenchers – are well placed to see how insubstantial it all is.

The Liberal Democrats will celebrate their success in keeping proper right-wing plans off the table, but they are unlikely to receive much electoral benefit from an entirely negative strategy. They will go to the country with a list of what they prevented instead of what they accomplished. This is not the sort of tactic you find in books on how to win an election.

And, of course, the legislation we saw today offered no new ideas on the economy, as Britain continues to tumble along the bottom. Little right-wing scraps are the best the government has to offer during the worst depression this country has faced since the Second World War.

This Queen's Speech pleases no-one and does nothing about the issues facing the country. It isn't even right-wing enough to be interesting. It is impotently right-wing: a sigh instead of a shout.

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