British Journal of Political Science

Research Article

Punctuations and Turning Points in British Politics: The Policy Agenda of the Queen’s Speech, 1940–2005

Peter John and Will Jennings*


This article explores the politics of attention in Britain from 1940 to 2005. It uses the Speech from the Throne (the King’s or Queen’s Speech) at the state opening of each session of parliament as a measure of the government’s priorities, which is coded according to topic as categorized by the Policy Agendas framework. The article aims to advance understanding of a core aspect of the political agenda in Britain, offering empirical insights on established theories, claims and narratives about post-war British politics and policy making. The analysis uses both distributional and time-series tests that reveal the punctuated character of the political agenda in Britain and its increasing fragmentation over time, with turning points observed in 1964 and 1991.

(Online publication April 27 2010)


* School of Social Sciences, University of Manchester (email: An earlier version of this article was presented to the Study of Parliament Group of the United Kingdom, to seminars at the Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University, and at the universities of Essex and East Anglia. The authors are very grateful for comments made by participants at those seminars. Suggestions from the Journal’s Editor and three anonymous referees were particularly helpful for its improvement. The authors also thank the British Academy for its Small Research Grant, 2005–06 (S5) for The Policy Priorities of UK Governments: A Content Analysis of King’s and Queen’s speeches, 1945–2005, and the UK Policy Agendas Project coders for their diligent work.