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Wednesday, 13 November, 2002, 11:46 GMT
Leaks ensure no surprises
Queen opening Parliament
The speech will struggle to get front pages

Tony Blair has only himself to blame if his new programme fails to ignite the public imagination.

For weeks preceding the Queen's speech, the government has been leaking details of the legislative programme like David Shayler and MI5 secrets.

Even the prime minister himself told the world what was in it on at least three separate occasions.

At his last televised press conference he "let slip" - as if - that he was going to allow all day boozing.

Air pistol
Airgun crackdown revealed
And later, during his weekly Question Time performance, he revealed plans to combat the menace of air guns.

Small beer, as it were, but in an article in a Sunday newspaper, he also mapped out the detailed thinking behind his core programme to rebalance the criminal justice system in favour of the victim.

All this came against a background of more general nods, winks and nudges that have ensured there is virtually nothing to surprise anyone in this speech.

Up his sleeve

It has always happened, but it is hard to recall a time when the previewing of a Queen's Speech was so comprehensive and coordinated.

The aim of all this leaking was, as ever, to ensure that the government gets several bites at the news cherry.

The danger is that, if there's nothing up his sleeve for the day itself, the entire announcement becomes a bit of a non-event.

And with the firefighters strike, war with Iraq, the Royals' crisis and the new pre-Christmas terrorist threat dominating the news agenda, this speech will struggle to hijack the front pages.

A London pub
All day drinking move
The prime minister clearly wants the speech to suggest the government has not lost its momentum.

He argues that his government has already tackled the big issues of the economy, health, education and public services and can now move onto the next phase - the new stage of the journey, as the spinners like to describe it.

And there are certainly some big things in the programme - many of them highly controversial.

Cabinet split

Scrapping some jury trials, allowing courts to hear details of an accused's previous convictions, ending double jeopardy and allowing hearsay evidence will all prove controversial.

Proposals for foundation hospitals have already provoked a serious cabinet split and still have the potential to stir up backbench opposition.

And some will be deeply concerned over 24 hour drinking.

There will also be disappointment, if not great surprise, at the omissions.

There is nothing on fox hunting other than to repeat the pledge to give parliament the chance to "reach a conclusion" on the issue once minister Alun Michael has come up with a cunning plan.

Similarly, the next stage of Lords reform awaits the outcome of the deliberations by the joint committee of peers and MPs headed by Jack Cunningham.

Prime Minister Tony Blair
Blair has pledges to keep
At least the speech claims the government "looks forward" to considering that report. But that's probably only meant literally.

And, surprise surprise, the Queen tells us the government's attitude towards the euro is - exactly the same as it's always been.

Way we live

Before the speech it was also widely leaked that the writers in Downing Street had been told to abandon the practice of peppering the speech with New Labour speak. But they just can't stop themselves.

This year, the Queen was not forced to mouth quite so much of it, but there were slips into "delivering justice for all", "building on excellence" and "giving people rights and responsibilities".

Ministers will undoubtedly paint this as the most radical programme of legislation since - well, probably the last Queen's speech.

And it does indeed promise some significant changes in the way we live and the way our public services operate.

But, as the prime minister is painfully aware, delivery is everything.

He will face criticisms from opposition parties about his current alleged failure to tackle violent crime and low grade yobbery.

And he will face fresh accusations that his previous programmes on the health service and education have still yet to deliver.

But Mr Blair knows that he has a host of election manifesto pledges to meet before the next election and, believe it or not, time is running out.

Key stories

Blair's programme


Queen's Speech quiz



See also:

13 Nov 02 | Politics
12 Nov 02 | UK
10 Nov 02 | Politics
06 Nov 02 | Politics
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