On May 4, as it became clear that a resurgent Labour Party had made significant gains at the expense of Britain'scoalition government during nationwide elections, critics began tothrow stones at Prime Minister David Cameron . Under his watch, naysayers said, the coalition had wasted toomuch time dealing with issues like gay marriage , which both Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg support,and reform of the House of Lords, about which Cameron isparticularly enthused. Critics say they should have been focused onkick starting Britain's bruised economy instead. Among thoselaunching verbal grenades at the Prime Minister were severalmembers of his own party. With internal tension mounting and the coalition on the brink ofcivil war, Cameron and Clegg decided to renew their vows publiclyon May 8 part of what the British media have dubbed the "coalition fightback." Speaking inside an Essex tractor factory, outside of London , they tried to show themselves as men of the people. |
Onlookersincluded the factory's employees some in overalls, all inwork gear. Cameron even removed his jacket. In a show of unity, thePM frequently said "I agree with that" and"absolutely right" after Clegg spoke. And both mentried their hardest to emphasize the economy and growth over thecoalition's other initiatives such as the reforming of theHouse of Lords. Clegg said he was more concerned about apprenticeships for young people.
Cameron suggested that electing lords rather than appointing them"was a perfectly sensible reform for parliament toconsider," and he left it at that. The fightback continued on the morning of May 9, albeit in lessaustere surroundings, with the Queen's speech the most high-profile event on the parliamentary calendar, andthe 57th she has given. Although drafted by the government andsubject to cabinet approval, the Queen delivered the speech amidthe pomp and pageantry of a watered-down royal wedding. Wearing aceremonial robe and seated on the throne inside Parliament, she setout government policy for the coming year. The government'snew laws will focus on "economic growth, justice andconstitutional reform," she said, while "the firstpriority will be to reduce the deficit and restore economicstability." ( PHOTOS: The Queen Opens Parliament in the U.K.
) The 15 bills and four draft bills a slimmer than usuallegislative agenda include a Banking Reform Bill that willminimize the risk to the taxpayer of banks going under. It willring-fence retail banking services from banks' investmentactivities. The Children and Families Bill will allow prospectiveparents to adopt children of another race more easily, and willadjust rights regarding maternity and paternity leave so that"both parents may share parenting responsibilities andbalance work and family commitments." And a Pensions Billwill raise the state pension age to 67 between 2026 and 2028,hopefully making the pension system more sustainable as lifeexpectancy rises. Among the more controversial reforms is a DraftCommunications Bill which would allow police and intelligenceagencies to conduct widespread surveillance on text messages ande-mails.
But certain policies high-speed rail, foreign aidand domestic social care reform were either watered down ordelayed. The Labour Party's view was that the government"just don't get it," with leader Ed Milibandtelling MPs, "No change, no hope that is the realmessage of this Queen's Speech." Despite downplaying its plans to reform the House of Lords at the tractor factory in Essex , the government included it in the Queen's speech anyway."A bill will be brought forward to reform composition of theHouse of Lords," the Queen said. It's intended to bringdemocracy to the chamber by ensuring the majority of its membersare elected, rather than being appointed as they currently are. Thegovernment also hopes to reduce the size of the chamber. The Queendid not give a time frame suggesting it may, in fact, be on theback burner for the time being.
( MORE: Boris Johnson Takes London, But Resurgent Labour Win Big Nationally ) Conservative peer Lord Forsyth, who doesn't support the plan,wants any changes put before the public in a referendum. And hesays support will be hard to come by within Parliament."There has been a huge rebellion in the House of Commons asthe House of Commons realizes that this bill being proposed wouldhave a devastating effect on the powers of the House of Commons andcreate a competitive chamber," he said. "The issue hereis that if you having an elected House of Lords … it willtake power from the House of Commons." ( MORE: David Cameron and Nick Clegg Find Common Ground in Gay Marriage ) William Lee Adams is a staff writer at the London bureau of TIME . Find him on Twitter at @willyleeadams or on Facebook . You can also continue the discussion on TIME s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME .
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