Let’s leave it to Sky News political editor Beth Rigby to sum up Tuesday’s King’s Speech, in which Charles III set out Rishi Sunak’s legislative programme for the final year of a government elected four years and two Prime Ministers ago. “Ignore the rhetoric about making difficult decisions for the country,” she wrote. “In reality, what we saw on Tuesday was a prime minister trying to frame the election, rather than a programme for government…[one] who says he’s about the long-term, but with a King’s Speech laden with short-term election hits.”
No change there, then. There were some notable differences, though, between headline-friendly promises made in recent months and the content of the speech. Remember all the big post-Uxbridge talk about clamping down on Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and how imposing 20 mile per hour speed limits is against British values? The words “transport” and “motorist” were wholly absent from the words the monarch read out. This makes it difficult to see how any such measures will be introduced.
The sole transport-related item in the speech that Londoners and visitors to London can loudly applaud is a specific pledge to introduce a bill “to deal with the scourge of unlicensed pedicabs in London”, which Transport for London will be asked to put into effect.
Of course, this move was trumpeted back in April 2022 by the then transport secretary Grant Shapps, no doubt entirely coincidentally in the run-up to the borough elections. It didn’t stop the Tories losing control of Westminster for the first time in its history and it might not save former Westminster leader Nickie Aiken being removed as MP for Cities of London & Westminster at the general election, but at least she will be able to look back and say all her lobbying about pedicabs paid off, even as Labour turns more of central London red. Ros Morgan, chief executive of the Heart of London Business Alliance, is among those who will be glad to see an end to what she calls this “menace to London”.
There will be a blend of relief that the Renters (Reform) Bill hasn’t been dumped and continuing anxiety about what parts of it will eventually pass into law, notably regarding the hoped-for abolition of so-called “no fault evictions”, something Deputy Mayor for housing Tom Copley has long campaigned for, along with Shelter and many others.
Another significant promise relating to the capital is a bill to “progress the construction of a national Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre in Victoria Tower Gardens” next to Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster. The memorial project has been underway since 2014 and, in fact, the necessary proposals are already before Parliament. It’s been delayed by a legal challenge relating to its size and the use of the location, but the bill is designed to finally pave the way for its construction.
Rigby is not alone among Westminster reporters and observers in taking a cynical view of the King’s Speech. In the capital, similar sentiments are already abundant in advance of Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s autumn statement, due on 22 November. BusinessLDN has written to Hunt pleading for TfL to given a £500 million of capital funding to see it through to 2024/25 and a longer-term settlement too, pointing out that the theoretical “Docklands 2.0” of Michael Gove’s uncharacteristically pro-London speech back in July cannot possibly happen without such public investment. Acting London Councils chair Claire Holland has told MPs that as the demands on boroughs have gone up and up, the resources available for meeting them have gone down and down.
But nobody’s holding out much hope. After all, London hasn’t been a government priority since 2019 and that seems unlikely to change now that short-term electoral preoccupations are all.
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