18 May 2016

Queen’s Speech – Referendum Truce? No Chance

The Queen was over-ruled today. I understand she has expressed some unhappiness at the way helicopters taking aerial shots of her procession make a racket overhead throughout her Royal progress. But they were up there again today, whirring away.

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Her Majesty was greeted in the Lords by two Brexiteer ministers, Michael Gove and Chris Grayling. She waved the press self-regulator judgement on “The Sun” in the Justice Secretary’s face before the processing to the Robing Room (I made that up).

The plan had been to hold this Queen’s Speech after the referendum on the EU but the government felt there was a danger it would look like it had nothing to do. The compromise is to come up with what Iain Duncan Smith has called “not the most extensive” Queen’s Speech, with much “parked” or “jettisoned” so as not to upset the voters ahead of the EU vote. This, he says, is because it is designed to get the government to the end of June not far beyond.

I asked if he wasn’t, so to speak, passing water on the government’s parade. He said the ceremony would be nothing more than pageantry unless we get back sovereignty from Brussels. So talk of a one-day ceasefire was premature.

Alongside the prison reform measures announced in the Queen’s Speech is a report by former head teacher at Burlington Danes Academy in West London, Dame Sally Coates, on what should happen to improve education in prisons.

In February, we visited a prison with Michael Gove – you can see the report above and a blog on the twists and turns of Tory prisons policy here.

Many prison reform campaigners say nothing really changes until you address prison over-crowding and reduce sentencing. David Cameron and Michael Gove think that though a lot has changed in terms of public anxiety about crime creating “political space”, as one in government put it, to pursue more liberal policies, the government isn’t confident enough to pursue sentencing liberalisation right now.

Some close to the Secretary of State for Justice have mooted the idea that more tagged temporary release, for weekends or weekdays, could gradually create a public acceptance of shorter custodial sentences as confidence grows in the technology and supervision of tagging offenders. The sources suggested this could be years off, only possible after the public have seen a few years’ evidence of tagging success.

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