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International 13 May, 2021 Follow News

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II Queen's Speech 2021

The British government this week set out its legislative and policy agenda for the next Parliamentary year with the traditional Queen's speech delivered by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second.

The event normally steeped in pomp and circumstances was comparatively subdued this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But coming on the heels of local and mayoral elections which were generally disastrous for the opposition Labour Party, the understated tone of this year’s event was overshadowed by the swirling political maelstrom in the background.

The speech dwelt heavily on post-pandemic economic recovery and ‘levelling-up’, a campaign slogan of the ruling Conservative Party of Prime Minister Boris Johnson intended to rebalance growth and development between the capital London and the rest of the country.

While much of the policy outlines and accompanying laws were holdovers from 2020 and largely delayed because of the impact of the pandemic, new measures are now being put forward to steer the economy back to growth.

However, much focus has been on a proposal by the government to introduce photo-ID voter cards. Prime Minister Johnson has defended the idea as “protecting democracy” with the suggestions that the objective is to reduce the prospect of voter fraud.

However, critics - including those within his own party - have questioned the necessity of the planned requirement saying that there was hardly any incidence or concern over voter fraud in recent elections.

A former Conservative Party Cabinet minister called it an “illiberal solution for a non-existent problem”.

The leader of the main opposition Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer, still reeling from his party’s poor performance in this week’s local and mayoral elections, said the proposed voter ID laws will "make it harder for people to vote" and will "disproportionately impact ethnic minorities".

A related move that will have far-reaching political implications, is the plan by Prime Minister Johnson to scrap laws restricting the government to a fixed elections schedule.

By abolishing the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, the government will be able to set a date for the election of its choosing.

Observers see this as a move by Mr Johnson to call early elections by taking credit for the successful COVID-19 vaccination roll-out, despite severe criticism over how the government has handled other aspects of the pandemic.

With the Labour Party still trailing the Conservatives both in the opinion polls and its performance in the recent elections, it is felt that Prime Minister Johnson is positioning his party to capitalise on the Opposition's woes by calling early elections possibly by 2023, one year ahead of schedule.

Another key aspect of the Queen’s Speech dealt with healthcare, especially the government’s plans for the National Health Service (NHS) which has been at the forefront of the fight against the pandemic.

The government wants to have more say over how the NHS is run and has faced criticism from the Opposition and others for gradually privatising the NHS, accusations which the government has rejected.

The treasured NHS built on the principle of free healthcare in most instances to citizens has been at the centre of campaigns and controversies including Brexit, and an object of interest by US private healthcare companies.

Another area hard-hit by the pandemic but which it is felt was generally overlooked in the Queen's Speech is social care.

The challenges being faced by the sector were further highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic with a disproportionate number of deaths of elderly in care homes and care workers.

Mr Johnson had previously promised to "fix the crisis in social care once and for all with a clear plan we have prepared".

But during the debate of the Queen's Speech, Opposition Leader Sir Keir Starmer said the government's continued failure to address shortcomings in social care, especially after a pandemic, "is nothing short of an insult to a whole nation."

The UK government is also considering allowing British nationals living abroad for more than 15 years the right to vote in UK elections.

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