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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 November, 2004, 13:04 GMT
Security takes election stage
By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website

Voters could be forgiven for suspecting this was less the Queen's speech and more the home secretary's speech.

The Queen
The speech focuses on security threats
The government's programme is overwhelmingly dominated by issues relating to crime, anti-social behaviour and, most obviously, security.

It is littered with references to the threat from global terrorism and the fact that we all live in a "changing and uncertain world."

And its tone is set by a series of measures including proposals for ID cards, an organised crime bill and a counter terrorism bill, all designed to address what Tony Blair believes is the greatest challenge of the modern world.

Unlike last year's package of just 19 bills - seen at the time as a deliberately light programme to give room for a May 2005 election - this is a packed programme.

It contains 32 bills and eight draft bills - including just three held over from last session - none of which would normally be passed before that possible polling date.

Changing world

It is partly designed to show that the government has not run out of steam and plans a radical third term, should it win one.

And it aims to show that law and order and security are no longer Tory issues. Leader of the House Peter Hain later said the government was "crowding out any space" for the Tories.

But it is also the clearest possible signal of the areas on which the government plans to fight the election.

Anti-social behaviour targeted
So there is a lot about anti-social behaviour, economic opportunity for all, raising school standards, improving public services and so on and very little looking back at the controversy over the Iraq war, for example.

But the headings in the government's briefing note which accompanies the speech show where the priorities lie.

"Making Britain more secure in a changing world. Opportunity and security for all. Security built on strong foundations".

That has already led to claims from the Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, amongst others, that ministers are deliberately whipping up a climate of fear for electoral advantage.

And Tory spokesman David Cameron has attacked the numerous law and order measures claiming they appear to be creating "a police state without the police".

Major attack

Some MPs have noted that Tony Blair appears to have taken a lesson from the recent US election which saw George Bush emphasising security and the threat from global terrorism.

Security around Westminster
Security is at core of programme
"He appears to be saying the enemy is at the gate," declared one.

Even former shadow home secretary Roy Hattersley said he believed the programme went "too much in the direction of authoritarianism and too little civil liberties".

That climate may well have been encouraged by newspaper reports suggesting that the security services had foiled plans by al-Qaeda to fly hijacked planes into London's Canary Wharf skyscrapers.

The reports are unconfirmed but security chiefs are on record stating that a major attack on Britain is "inevitable".

The home secretary, who has fiercely rejected the attacks on his motives, insists he has to act to combat the perceived threat or stand accused of complacency.

And Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott underlined the message, declaring: "If we went to the public and said 'This is modern terrorism, these are the global problems we have got, but we are not going to do anything - but don't worry, you will feel free', would they feel free if they are facing these threats?

"Doesn't the government have a responsibility to act and justify its actions to Parliament and the public?".

That is a question that is certain to be raised by this speech and which now looks set to hang over the looming general election campaign.

The Queen's Speech 2004






Pomp and pageantry


Watch the speech
MPs debate the speech


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