PF Blog: The Queen’s Speech heralds a new era of Tory governance, with a ruthless focus on public opinion at its core
This week’s Queen’s Speech was a stunt. Her Majesty might as well have added “and this is all meaningless blather” as the closing paragraph to what is always a surprisingly short address. Either there will be an election, or the FTPA will mean Boris Johnson will stagger on as Prime Minister or we might even have a new Prime Minister. Whatever happens in the next few weeks or months, there will be almost certainly be another Queen’s Speech before any of the Bills announced on Monday actually become law – if they ever actually do.
Except, in raw political terms, it was actually an incredibly important event The objective was to use the flummery and pomp of a royal occasion to set out a series of screeching handbrake turns which together communicate that a new Conservative Party is being born. Gone are the right-on gestures of Cameroonians. Say farewell to the tedious timidity of post-2017 Theresa May. Boris Johnson’s new Conservative Party is now in full sight.
And it’s rather impressive. Aside from all the Brexit-related measures, barnacles like the Porn Block are being partially scraped away. Delayed, sensible reforms like no-fault divorce are being sped up. Serious new environmental laws on things like single-use plastics are being brought in.
But the most impressive thing that this Queen’s Speech revealed is that there is a political operation in Downing Street which is going to have a ruthless focus on what the public thinks and will respond to public opinion in a direct and quite radical way. In our focus groups over the last two years, we have seen crime rocket up the list of things which the public are worried about. It is mentioned at least as often, perhaps more, than the NHS. Partly this is being driven by the fact that crime is probably going up. But it’s also being driven by how people are consuming news. Facebook has changed its algorithms to serve up more local news. And a lot of that local content is about crime.
Animal welfare is another example of something which it took an awfully long time for SW1 to engage seriously with. But you only have to look at, for example, the amount of money which the public gives to animal charities to realise that people really do care about animal suffering at home or abroad.
No sane person has predicted how political events would unfold since the 2016 referendum blew apart the tramlines along which Westminster proceeded for the past few decades, with an occasional adjustment in direction as the tracks diverged at election times. But should Brexit “get done” and a Johnson Conservative government get a majority, then anyone who wants to engage with government is going to need a very sharp understanding of how public opinion works. Showing that the public will reward a popular measure that government undertakes, or punish ministers for doing something unpopular, will be a key tool in shaping policy.
Government-by-focus group is too trite a way of summing this up. But the political operation which will surround a putative Johnson majority administration will have a relentless focus on winning hearts and minds among key segments of the population. Organisations and entities which understand this, and form their approach to ministers on that basis, will be the ones whose engagement will be the most successful.