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UK's Sunak makes pre-election pitch in first King's Speech since 1951

By AFP

November 7, 2023 10:14 AM


File photo

Charles III gives the first King's Speech in more than 70 years Tuesday, formally opening the UK parliament with a run-down of his government's legislative plans as an election looms.

The 74-year-old head of state will outline Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's wish list of new laws that are expected to underline differences with the main opposition Labour Party.

The address from a golden throne in the House of Lords comes as the Tories, in power since 2010, trail Labour by double-digits in most opinion polls before an election widely expected next year.

"The King's Speech represents one of the last chances for Rishi Sunak to set out his stall," said Richard Carr, an associate professor in public policy and strategy at Anglia Ruskin University.

"Being a low-polling prime minister, one of the few virtues he currently has is he can set the national agenda, control what his supportive newspapers print, and thereby try and set a series of hurdles for the opposition to jump through," he told AFP.

The ceremonial address, and the traditions that accompany it, is Charles's first as monarch, although he had a dry run deputising for his mother Queen Elizabeth II in May last year.

It is also Sunak's first since succeeding Liz Truss, who took over from Boris Johnson as prime minister just two days before the queen's death and lasted only 49 days in office.

In the speech, Sunak will reinforce clear dividing lines that he is drawing with Keir Starmer's centre-left Labour party over the environment and energy.

It will propose a law granting new licences for oil and gas projects in the North Sea annually that Sunak says will reduce Britain's reliance on foreign energy and create jobs.

He had already announced a rollback of green energy policies in September, positioning himself as a champion of motorists in a bid to turn around his party's fortunes.

Labour has said it will not award any new oil and gas exploration licences and has pledged instead to boost investment in green energy.

- Rituals -

Sunak's proposals may make uncomfortable reading for Charles, who has devoted his life to environmental causes.

The speech, which should last around 10 minutes, is also expected to announce tougher sentencing guidelines around life terms and an end to early release for some violent sexual offenders.

Sunak is likely to include a phased smoking ban, which he announced at last month's Tory conference, and reforms to home ownership laws.

The King's Speech signifies the start of a new parliamentary year and was last delivered by a male monarch in 1951 -- although not in person as King George VI was unwell.

It indicates the types of laws the government hopes to get through parliament in the next 12 months.

Although a Tory defeat at the next election is far from a foregone conclusion, owing to their sizeable parliamentary majority, a loss would mean much of the legislation never seeing the light of day.

"The problem for Sunak is he's running out of time, the public are both bored and angry at Conservative governance," added Carr.

Tuesday's state opening typically involves the sovereign travelling to the Houses of Parliament by carriage from Buckingham Palace.

An MP is ceremonially held "hostage" to ensure the king's safe return.

Royal bodyguards ritually search the basement of the Palace of Westminster for explosives -- a legacy of the failed attempt by Catholics to blow up parliament in 1605.

The monarch leads a procession through the House of Lords, parliament's unelected upper chamber, before giving the speech there to assembled lords and ladies, plus invited members of the elected lower House of Commons.


AFP


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