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“It is time for a change and we are it”, Rishi Sunak told the Conservative Party conference just last month as he promised a radical programme of reform after more than 13 years in Government.
There was little sign of that change in today’s King’s Speech. Made up in large part of bills that have already been put before Parliament, several previously promised new measures were mysteriously absent.
The ban on gay and trans conversion therapy, which the Prime Minister described last month as an “abhorrent” practice, and which was first proposed by the Conservatives more than five years ago, was missing from the speech, with his spokesman telling this paper that the PM was “taking the time to carefully consider” any potential ban.
An inflammatory plan to crack down on rough sleepers using tents, which had been briefed by the Home Secretary to friendly newspapers just last weekend was also nowhere to be seen.
Nor was the Prime Minister’s crackdown on 20mph and low emission zones, which Sunak spoke about at length just last month, mentioned anywhere in the speech, or accompanying documents.
Where real change was promised today, such as the Government’s plans for a new ‘Data Protection Bill’ the change risks being for the worse. Under the proposals, existing privacy protections introduced by the EU will be ripped up in order to deliver less “burdens on businesses”.
Another plan to rip up requirements for landlords to make their properties more energy efficient, looks set to lead to many tenants continuing to experience higher bills for years to come.
Even some of the genuinely welcome new measures in the speech appear to have been watered down. A mooted plan to ban the creation of all new feudal-style leaseholds, contains a clause to exclude new flats.
Asked by Byline Times why flats had been removed from the plans, his spokesman said that the Prime Minister believed he had to “strike the right balance” between protecting renters and protecting landlords.
A Custodian of Vested Interests
In fact so flimsy was the overall programme announced by the King this morning that some Labour MPs immediately began to speculate that the Government must be planning an early election next May.
In reality such a bold move would be as far from what we have come to expect from this Prime Minister’s character as it is possible to imagine. Far from being the daring agent of change that he sold himself to the country as, Sunak has instead proven himself to be a reliable custodian of vested interests.
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Whether its fossil fuel industry bosses, who were rewarded today with a plan for a new swathe of North Sea licenses, or trophy hunters who were let off another proposed ban, Sunak has consistently backed the interests of the ultra privileged few over the interests of the majority of the people in this country he originally promised to serve.
Recent opinion polls and by-election results suggest that most British people now believe that genuine political change is required in the UK.
All the evidence from today’s King’s Speech is that neither Sunak, nor his party, still has the ideas, or the desire, to deliver it.