Pomp meets politics as British govt unveils agenda

AP News
Posted: Nov 18, 2009 12:30 AM

Prime Minister Gordon Brown will woo British voters with promises of new social programs and a clampdown on financial sector excess when the government's plans for the next parliamentary session are announced Wednesday by Queen Elizabeth II.

The measures are Brown's last attempt to sway the electorate with his legislative agenda before a national election that must be called by June.

Polls suggest Brown's Labour Party will lose that vote, returning the Conservatives to power after 13 years in opposition.

The queen's speech, delivered at the ceremonial state opening of Parliament, will include new legislation to toughen banking regulations and let customers take collective action against errant financial institutions.

The queen has no say in the content of the speech, which is written for her by government officials, and the lavish annual ceremony is rich in symbolism of the power struggle between monarchy and Parliament.

The queen travels to Parliament in a horse-drawn carriage, escorted by mounted members of the Household Cavalry. She reads the speech from a gilded throne, wearing a crown studded with more than 2,000 diamonds.

The monarch is not allowed in the House of Commons, so the event is held in Parliament's upper chamber, the House of Lords. Lawmakers are summoned from the Commons by an official known as Black Rod _ but only after they slam the door in his face to symbolize their independence.

In another symbol of the traditional hostility between Commons and crown, a lawmaker is held at Buckingham Palace as a "hostage" during the ceremony to ensure the monarch's safe return.

In a podcast on the Downing Street Web site, Brown promised "a transformation of the way the financial sector is policed, with banks themselves and not the taxpayer made to pay for bank failings." The Financial Services Bill will give regulators the power to stop bankers from pocketing big bonuses that could destabilize the financial system.

Facing a perfect storm of recession, public anger over lawmakers' expenses and an unpopular war in Afghanistan, Brown is likely to focus on measures calculated to win public support.

There's no guarantee all the bills announced Wednesday will make it through Parliament before the election.

Britain's Press Association news agency reported the speech would include guarantees of free home care for the elderly and one-on-one tutoring for high school students.

In his podcast, Brown said that although Britain remains in recession and tough times lie ahead, his government had kept unemployment and home repossessions below the levels seen in the 1990s recession.

He said that despite the downturn, targeted public investment would produce a "stronger, fairer, safer Britain for the many not the few."

Brown also promised new tools to fight anti-social behavior and more control over public services by patients, parents and local communities.

Brown signaled that the speech will restate Britain's commitment to the war in Afghanistan, saying "a safer Britain means continuing to tackle the terrorist threat at source in the borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan."