King's Speech: Charles will have to announce measures we know he is bound to dislike

Tuesday is King Charles's first King's Speech as monarch.

This matters to him, not only because he knows the world will be looking to see if he does something differently (he won't - continuity matters) - and not only because it could be an opportunity to say something about his late mother, Queen Elizabeth II, in a new setting.

The pressure will also be on because we all know he will have to announce - without flinching - measures we remember from his time as Prince of Wales that he is bound to dislike, rolling back some environmental protections close to his heart.

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The cameras will be there to record any involuntary reactions and indications of dissent - yet he has practiced all his life to ensure there won't be. It will be one of the many moments he uses to show he understands what it means to be King.

This is also Rishi Sunak's first King's Speech as prime minister. The last, 18 months ago, came when Boris Johnson was in the hot seat in Number 10, weeks from him being turfed out. His successor's job is to defy gravity and try and make sure it isn't his last too.

It is one of the top five moments in Number 10's calendar for the autumn, alongside the conference speech, reshuffle, Autumn Statement and net zero announcement. It is also, arguably, the hardest of the five to use to send a clear political message. His job is altogether harder than the King's.

The Gracious Address, as Tuesday's event is also known, was not conceived to be an especially useful PR moment for the government. It is the day when the monarch, at the behest of the government, sets out the laws which ministers would like to pass in the coming 12 to 18 months. However, a bill being on the list is neither a necessary precondition - nor its absence from the King's Speech a hindrance - to something entering the statute book.

The previous Queen's Speech in May 2022 included 31 bills - parliament passed 43 bills over the course of the following 18-month session - showing there is a weak relationship between the speech and future laws at best. As such it is a moment simply when Whitehall, and the prime minister, are forced to prioritise what he cares about.

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Choosing what to leave out tells you where a government's weaknesses lie

That is why what is not in Tuesday's King's Speech is almost as important as what is. Because choosing what to leave out tells you about where a government's weaknesses lie as much as the bills that are in tell you about the message it wants to send.

Which is where the first great big con trick of the day comes in: the concept of "draft" bills. For we are likely a year, and no more than 14 months, away from a general election. Anything with the word "draft" in the King's Speech has next to no chance of becoming law before the general election, which currently the Tories are on course to lose.

So anything with "draft" appended, or absent altogether, is not a priority and given limited space, and in this session has a relatively low chance of succeeding.

Where does that leave us this week?

Laws to set up Great British Railways are unlikely to form part of a bill, for instance. This is the legislation to create a public body that would cover almost all of the rail network. This was a Boris Johnson priority - it never seemed to be as much of a Rishi Sunak one. Officials would tell you it is still happening: there's a Derby HQ and a transition team. Let's see what happens.

Then there was the idea of legislation in the King's Speech to scrap the rules around nutrient neutrality. This is the one-time EU law that blocked new housing developments in certain areas where there was too much "nutrient pollution" - seen by this government as a block on housebuilding. Labour argues developers should pollute rivers less in the first place.

The government announced it would do away with this EU-inherited law to big fanfare in September but lost a vote on this in the Lords. At one point No 10 wanted a standalone bill in Tuesday's King's Speech. But it's controversial, Labour opposes it, and they've decided not to risk time in parliament on that plan.

The government claims it'll find other ways to achieve the same goal using secondary legislation, but it's not clear they can entirely scrap this EU rule. This tells us something about the government's strength.

In the same vein, a law to ban gay conversion therapy will not become law before the next election after being downgraded to a draft bill, which means there's a lot more discussion and change before it takes form. This is likely to have been downgraded because of Tory splits. Some Tory MPs want to outlaw what they see as an "abhorrent" practice.

Other Tories fear such a ban may unintentionally criminalise parents or teachers giving gender identity advice to children. There isn't an easy way through, and despite many discussions with the chief whip, it is now heading for pre-legislative scrutiny and an uncertain future.

What is in it?

Number 10 claims there are three priorities: "future prosperity of the United Kingdom", "seize economic opportunities" and "deliver a brighter future". In fact, it's all about grabbing attention.

Suella Braverman, the camera-friendly home secretary, has been deployed to attract the biggest headlines of all, with a Vandalism Bill to outlaw tents and charities giving tents to the homeless.

This comes on top of other eye-catching measures like legislation for warrantless searches to retrieve stolen phones, visible with the "find my iPhone" app. The legislation allows police to go into a property where a phone is without a warrant.

There's also the crime and justice measures you heard about at the Tory conference - including tougher sentences for prolific offenders, albeit announced in the same week as the latest prison statistics and alongside legislation to allow the government to rent prison places abroad. Meanwhile, there will also be powers to give judges more powers to force criminals to attend sentence hearings.

Attempts to mine dividing lines with Labour

There are attempts to mine environmental dividing lines with Labour - with a law to mandate annual oil and gas licensing to bolster the UK's energy security and reduce dependence on imports from overseas which is designed to help the Tories, particularly in Scotland.

There is also likely to be the "defence of motorists" measures, limiting council powers on clean air zones and Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, as the Tories push on with their post-Uxbridge drive to prioritise the cost of living over green issues.

Then there are two big housing measures, both of which are not without their problems.

There will be a bill to abolish leaseholds on newly built houses which means all new houses must be sold as freehold. New flats can be leasehold but only in very exceptional circumstances.

The government says this is a big deal but the outstanding question is what happens to existing properties, and I understand no decision has been made on when to end ground rent or where to cap it - that is for discussions with the Treasury.

Then there is the Renters' Reform Bill, which is already in parliament but only just got its second reading, allowing it to be carried over into the next session. A number of MP landlords are unhappy about an end to no-fault evictions. Although this appears to have been subject to delay, I understand it could still be implemented before the election after the Levelling Up department agreed to fund the Ministry of Justice to ensure the courts can cope with the necessary extra work.

Does this amount to another relaunch? No. Will it change the dial? With so few genuinely new announcements, it seems hard to imagine so.

The looming general election

Yet nothing at this stage of the political cycle is done without the election being at the forefront of the government's mind, despite all the obstacles.

Everything has been pre-tested on public opinion, and the government is still able to make so much more noise than the opposition that warts and all, what it says at this stage still matters. Hard, yes. Impossible, no.