Nadhim Zahawi is MP for Stratford On Avon.
The Queen’s Speech is always an important day in Westminster, as Ministers sets out their plans for the next Parliament. However, last week’s speech took even greater significance, because contained within it is the Government’s plan for Brexit as we face a rare two-year Parliament, as well as the policies to tackle so many other pressing issues we face as a nation.
Events like the Queen’s Speech provide concrete facts to grip on to and analyse, and a clear indicator of how the Government intends to lead our country. It is vital to pay attention to these facts, especially when all of us in politics can get too caught up in gossip and rumour, or the popular narrative of the day. We should beware being sucked into these narratives, since they seem to guide us wrongly more often than they are right of late. Perhaps we’ll find it more useful to just look at the facts rather than listen to the punditry.
I hoped that Britain would leave the European Union: however, I am sure that even most Brexiteers found themselves too often swayed by the popular narrative that leaving couldn’t happen. We all know how that turned out. After the referendum, everyone seemed equally certain that angry Remainers would unite behind anti-Brexit parties like the Liberal Democrats and fight the result. Instead the Lib Dems lost votes, and 85 per cent of the electorate voted for parties that embraced Brexit. YouGov data shows that only 21 per cent of people still do not support leaving the EU.
Now after the Conservatives unexpectedly underperformed in the election, the narrative has switched again. The current flavour of the week is the idea that the general population has suddenly embraced Chavista socialism, and the nation stands ready to sweep Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street. Beware the narrative. The facts are so much more important.
Our party did not fail to retain our majority because of a tidal wave of youthful revolutionaries, who wish to seize the means of production and spend until the nation drops. Everyone knows there is no magic money tree, and people are rightly suspicious of Labour’s policies. Everyone knows you need a strong economy to build strong public services. And everyone knows that increasing debt only leaves the next generation with greater bills to pay.
Instead, what truly damaged us was that we did not fully convince those who worry about how they’re going to make their next paycheck last until the end of the moth. Those who have long given up on hope of saving for a deposit for a house, because prices rise so fast it would take decades to save the tens of thousands needed for a deposit. Those who wonder if the Government has a plan to prioritise jobs and growth through a difficult Brexit negotiation.
Corbyn’s dismal performance last week from the dispatch box was a helpful reminder, to those who have forgotten, of how incapable he is in his current job and how unfit he would be as a Prime Minister. And the Speech set out how the Conservatives have the policies to help those people.
But we need to become better at selling them to the British people. The Speech contains plans to ban unfair tenant fees, promote fairness and transparency in the housing market and ensure that homes can be built. It contained plans to tackle unfair practices in the energy market to help reduce energy bills. It promised good, properly funded schools, the provision of skills so our children can achieve in the high skilled, high wage jobs of the future, and an increasing living wage for those in work.
And, just as importantly, it set out the start of our plan to transition from the European Union. The Speech started by addressing Brexit, and gave the subject its due prominence. We need to create the widest possible consensus for our future outside the EU, while providing certainty for business and individuals. I thought the Prime Minister’s offer on the rights of European citizens in the UK that has followed on Thursday is a good start. We need the deep and special partnership the Government that talks about as we set ourselves on a new path in a globalised world. Although I firmly believe we must not allow ourselves to be distracted from the other vital tasks we must undertake, and injustices we must tackle, it is right that the Government gives Brexit the attention it needs. If we do not get this right, then little else will be able to fall into place.
The Queen’s Speech provided us with facts. This is what the Government has told us it wants to do. I think it’s a convincing offer to the British people, but we have to make sure it’s not just an offer: it has to be delivered. If we make the Britain set out by the Government last week a reality, we’ll soon see the narrative change again.