UK's Sunak sets out pre-poll agenda in King's Speech

The UK government has set out its plans to tackle crime, boost growth and water down climate change measures, an unashamedly political agenda that could be Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's first and last King's Speech before an election.

In an agenda written by the government but delivered by King Charles to MPs packed into parliament's ornate House of Lords, Sunak signalled his intent to draw a dividing line with the opposition Labour Party before the vote expected next year.

With Labour running way ahead in the opinion polls, Sunak's team is hoping that his agenda will close the gap by reducing what he says is the burden of Britain's climate change targets on households and by toughening sentences for violent offenders.

There was little new in the King's Speech, more a collection of what Sunak has worked on since becoming prime minister last year on a pledge to bring stability after two leaders of his Conservative party were forced from power in a matter of weeks.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labour Party leader Keir Starmer
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (right) faces an uphill battle against Keir Starmer's Labour opposition.

"My government will, in all respects, seek to make long-term decisions in the interests of future generations," Charles, wearing the Imperial State Crown and Robe of State, told a hushed audience of MPs on Tuesday in the upper house of parliament.

It was the first time Charles had made the speech as king - though he stood in for his mother Queen Elizabeth months before her death last year - in a ceremony marked by pomp and pageantry that also attracted a loud, if small, anti-monarchy protest outside parliament.

Arriving at parliament from Buckingham Palace in a grand carriage procession, he then led a ceremony, with some of its traditions traced to the 16th century, that delivers the government's agenda.

The largely domestic focus of the plans Charles read out suggested Britain has already entered campaign season, with Labour leader Keir Starmer accusing the Conservatives of using the speech to try to save their "own skin".

Britain's King Charles III delivers his speech next to Queen Camilla
King Charles led a ceremony with some of its traditions traced to the 16th century.

In the King's Speech, the government signalled it would move ahead with the Sentencing Bill that will bring forward tougher jail sentences for the most serious offenders, and repeated its pledge to boost economic growth and reduce inflation.

Reading some of the government's climate policies might have jarred with Charles, who has campaigned on environmental issues for more than 50 years.

The government has already moved to delay a ban on sales of new petrol cars, but officials have repeatedly said ministers were not giving up on the overall targets, just being more "pragmatic" in how they get there.

Sunak faces an uphill struggle to win back voters, with Labour holding a 20-point lead in the polls.

His party is mired in allegations of sex scandals, under scrutiny over its actions during the COVID-19 pandemic and deeply divided over its strategy before the next election.