Some thoughts on the debate on the Queens Speech
26 Nov 2003
As I sat in my place in the House of Commons this afternoon, I was struck by two features of the debate on the Queen's Speech
The first was the amount of time the PM spent attacking the Opposition. His approach in previous debates on the Queen's Speech has been virtually to ignore the Opposition. He would be in Presidential mode, reluctant to concede that there was an alternative worth bothering about and spending little time on personalities or policies. Not so today; virtually half the speech was a direct attack on the Conservative Party and its Leader. The conclusion I drew was that he was rattled. (In passing, I don't think his tactics of focussing on Michael Howard's past will work. The electorate tend to look forwards not backwards. The only thing they knew about Margaret Thatcher when she became Leader was that she was a "milk-snatcher". That was not an issue at the 1979 Election, when people simply asked who would run the country best).

The second feature was the ferocity with which Michael Howard - who made a brilliant speech - attacked the proposals to separate asylum seekers' children from their parents. This was not a policy I had focussed on until today and it certainly smacks of desperation. But the significance of Michael's attack is that the Conservative Party he leads will not sign up to any tough-sounding right-wing policy that David Blunkett alights on.

From both these points, one loser emerges. Charles Kennedy and the LibDems. When Blair faced Duncan-Smith and Kennedy, Blair was on a different plateau, and the other two seemed mediocre. Now, Howard and Blair are on a different plateau, and Kennedy looks exposed. And as the battle between the two main Parties warms up, expect the LibDems to get squeezed.
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