Page last updated at 11:49 GMT, Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Pomp, ceremony and the crunch

Analysis
By Vicki Young
Political correspondent, BBC News

Crown
Amid all the pomp, are most thoughts elsewhere?

The Queen's Speech is a day of pomp, ceremony and sparkling tiaras. It feels a whole world away from the anxieties most people are feeling about the economic downturn.

The government says it has a programme to help families and businesses through difficult times, but the truth is that most of the new laws announced were in the pipeline before the gloom began to set in.

There will be a new compulsory code of conduct for banks preventing them from withdrawing credit or changing loan arrangements without reasonable notice.

The Treasury talks of "tough penalties" if banks fail to comply, but is not specific about what they will be.

Benefits

Ministers say the theme of the speech is fairness - that no-one should get away with breaking the rules.

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Glad to hear the government is going to try to tackle binge drinking
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That means welfare cheats will have their benefits withdrawn for four weeks if they fiddle the system; the public will get a bigger role in deciding what kind of community punishment criminals get; and pubs and clubs will be banned from offering irresponsible alcohol promotions.

But, despite the timing of events, the threat of recession has had an impact on the government's programme.

Business Secretary Lord Mandelson looked at all the measures in the speech to assess whether businesses would be helped or hindered by their impact.

He says he considered delaying a plan to allow more parents to request flexible working but has decided it should go ahead.

Tory criticisms

There are several issues close to Labour hearts in this speech - a pledge on child poverty, as well as a bill to promote equality.

That will not stop the Conservatives accusing the government of running out of steam and suggesting that they were planning an early general election so have a thin agenda to offer this year.

Although all the pageantry of the State Opening of Parliament has stayed the same as in the past, Gordon Brown has changed things.

Most of the bills were outlined in draft form months ago so much of the element of surprise has gone.

That means that other issues, such as the row over the arrest of the Tory MP Damien Green, could easily overshadow events.

There may well be more announcements from ministers in the days to come as they put flesh on the bones of the bills flagged up.

But with the economic backdrop as it is, the pre-Budget report last month was probably more relevant to voters' immediate concerns.

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