The Agenda of British Government: The Speech from the Throne, 1911–2008



This article considers how UK governments use the Speech from the Throne (also known as the Gracious Speech and the King's or the Queen's Speech) to define and articulate their executive and legislative agenda. The analysis uses the policy content coding system of the Policy Agendas Project to measure total executive and legislative attention to particular issues. This generates the longest known data series of the political agenda in the UK, from the date of the first Parliament Act in 1911 right up to the end of 2008, nearly a century of government agenda setting. Using these data, the article identifies long-run institutional and policy stability in this agenda-setting instrument, and variation in its length and executive–legislative content due to the focusing events of world wars and party control of government. It assesses the degree to which the policy content of the speech is persistent (autoregressive) over time and identifies long-term trends in the total number of topics mentioned in each speech (scope), and the dispersion of government attention across topics (entropy). It also identifies important variation over time that indicates change in the agenda-setting function of the speech and evolution of the agenda in response to policy challenges faced by modern British governments in the period since 1911. Overall, the analysis demonstrates the robustness of the speech as a measure of the policy agenda and executive priorities in the UK.