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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 May, 2005, 11:27 GMT 12:27 UK
Blair's reform and respect agenda
Analysis
By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website

If this Queen's Speech represents Tony Blair's swansong then he seems determined to go out with a bang.

The Queen
Queen's speech is a packed programme
The huge package of 45 bills and five drafts - already branded the "reform and respect" agenda - will power his government through its longest session yet, until the end of 2006.

And many believe that, by then, the prime minister will - one way or another - be at, or very close to, the end of his premiership.

So he is out to make this package count by securing his legacy, notably on public sector and welfare reform, crowding out the Tories by addressing issues on discipline and law and order identified in their election manifesto, and ending as he began in 1997, at full throttle.

To that end he has produced an undoubtedly ambitious, controversial and wide-ranging package of planned legislation covering everything from national security to welfare and public service reform.

On the way it sweeps up new measures to introduce ID cards, scrap incapacity benefit, tackle the pensions crisis, reform the Lords, ban smoking in public, bring more private capacity into health and education and outlaw the promotion of religious hatred.

But over it all hangs the as yet unanswered question of whether his backbench rebels have the will or the strength to stop key bits of it in their tracks - or even bring down the prime minister.

Bigger test

An early test of that will come with the plans for ID cards which sparked a revolt during the last parliament.

Home Secretary Charles Clarke was sounding emollient when he suggested there was plenty of room for sensible debate over the measure, and he may also be banking on the opposition parties failing to unite.

Mock ID card
ID cards could be flashpoint
The Tories have previously been split on the proposal but, if they scent the prime minister's blood, are likely to seize any opportunity to help defeat him.

But it will still require more than the 19 Labour rebels who voted against it last time to kill it off.

Many believe the far bigger test will come over the public services and welfare, particularly extending the use of private provision and the scrapping of incapacity benefit.

The latter is exactly the sort of territory where Mr Blair has suffered serious revolts in the past - the first coming very shortly after his 1997 victory when plans to cut benefit to single parents saw a rebellion by 47 backbenchers.

Similarly, increased use of private health care in the NHS, the extension of foundation status to primary schools, the growth in city academies and tough counter-terrorism measures may well provide flashpoints.

Major concessions

It may be that the "respect" agenda already highlighted by the prime minister will grab headlines, but at the heart of this programme is the prime minister's determination to secure his legacy.

And that means finally ensuring his proposals to transform public services and welfare are completed and made irreversible.

Tony Blair meets new MPs
Backbench behaviour will be crucial
But that may mean he has no alternative but to take on his dissenters. He will undoubtedly remind his backbenchers they have just fought and won an historic third consecutive term on his manifesto and should stick to it.

However, the prime minister may also feel he needs to consult more widely than before as he can no longer automatically rely on a massive majority to bulldoze legislation through parliament.

And that could yet see some major concessions over the most controversial pieces of legislation.

Tony Blair's legacy may yet be less a matter of winning what he wants and more a case of accepting what he can get.




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