All the newspapers are talking about the Queen’s Speech. You can read it for yourself here. Both the Guardian and the Telegraph are of the opinion that it is a lacklustre effort, and the beginning of the end for the coalition.
They are wrong, of course. As journalists, they are looking for a new departure, an exciting development. And it is true that there is no Plan B in the Queen’s Speech. But what the journalists have failed to realise is that it is that very lack of a change of direction which is most important for ordinary British people.
For Britain’s hard-pressed ‘ordinary’ people, the Queen’s Speech offers a terrifying promise … ‘We will continue grinding you down’.
As you might expect, the economy figured greatly in the Queen’s Speech. Of the 36 paragraphs (excluding formalities such as ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’), TEN were about the economy.
There actually are some concrete promises. The government will promote the HS2 rail link. It is going to bring forward legislation to update the energy infrastructure. There is a reference to an ‘employment allowance’ to help small businesses.
But the bulk of the passages on the economy were merely a reassertion that the government intends to continue on the austerity path it has chosen. The word ‘continue’ occurred ten times in the Speech, and it is that word more than any other which should strike fear into the public.
The key to Britain’s economic success, the Speech asserts three times, is ‘economic competitiveness’ – ‘compete and succeed’ would have a ring as a logo. And it is how the government intends to promote that competitiveness which should frighten you.
The Speech gives us some clues about what this will mean in practical terms:
1. ‘the growth of the private sector’ = so more ‘marketisation’
2. ‘reduce the deficit’ = so more austerity and cuts
3. ‘reduce the burden of excessive regulation on businesses’ = so we can expect further measures to erode employment and Health & Safety laws … those pesky rules which prevent employers from exploiting us and help to stop us dying at work
In the meantime, although the Speech does mention issues which we would all support (‘tackle tax evasion … while continuing to make progress in tackling climate change’) it is alarming to see these promises broached, not as part of the programme of government legislation, but as an adjunct to Britain’s presidency of the G8 – i.e. the Tories are going to kick these issues into the long grass of the international arena, where we can be fairly certain that little or nothing will be achieved beyond fair words and fine promises.
The Quality of Life
Terrifyingly also, the Speech continues to link economic success to the ‘reform’ of the benefits system:
My government is committed to building an economy where people who work hard are properly rewarded. It will therefore continue to reform the benefits system, helping people move from welfare to work.Even more alarmingly, the government is now including its education reforms, ‘the way long-term care is paid for’, and ‘a simpler state pension system’ into its general commitment to ‘a fairer society where aspiration and responsibility are rewarded’. Given what we know about the way this government operates, we can be fairly sure that all these changes will involve more cuts for those at the bottom, and more business opportunities for those at the top.
Distressingly, meanwhile, on housing, the Queen’s Speech promises only that:
New arrangements will be put in place to help more people own their own home, with government support provided for mortgages and deposits.Given that the need is for a massive programme of housing provision – especially of social housing – this has to be a huge failure on the part of the government. What it means in practical terms is that the housing stock will not grow, and prices will not fall – but that people will be encouraged to buy the existing houses at the existing inflated prices.
Battering the Vulnerable
After 3 years of this government, we know how they address social problems. They do not attempt to provide solutions or ways of escape – that would cost money. Instead, they stigmatise and penalise the victims, in an attempt to force them to ‘change their ways’. Thus people on housing benefit are stigmatised as bedroom-stealers, and (in effect) fined … even though there are no smaller properties for them to go to. Similarly, the unemployed are called scroungers, and ‘coerced’ … to get a job which does not exist. And so on.
So it is depressing to find two more groups added to the government’s hit list of social targets:
Legislation will be introduced to reform the way in which offenders are rehabilitated in England and Wales.
My government will bring forward a bill that further reforms Britain's immigration system. The bill will ensure that this country attracts people who will contribute and deters those who will not.Given that we know how this government works, we know what to expect. People coming out of jail and people coming into the country are to be battered. In the case of immigrants, the Speech is explicit – we are going to punish them for being immigrants. One of the already-known ways the government intends to do this – restricting immigrants’ access to the NHS – is particularly frightening; refusing medical treatment to a defined group is the thin end of a very nasty wedge.
The Tory Garage Sale
The other thing this government has been assiduously doing, of course, for the last three years, has been giving away our public services.
In this respect the Cameron government has been far cleverer than Thatcher. She privatised (= sold off ) the public services – which meant that big business had to PAY to get control of them.
This government does not privatise … it ‘marketises’.
This means that it takes public services which we have paid to build up, resource and organise, and offers them out to tender – handing them over as working enterprises for big business to exploit.
The Queen’s Speech makes two statements which give us concern about where the government intends to go next:
My government will introduce a bill that closes the Audit Commission
Legislation will be brought forward to … further reform the police.
Actually, of everything this wicked government is doing, this is the most alarming, because such measures create conflicts of interest which we are simply expected to accept without question.
Closing the audit commission (the body which monitors public expenditure) will complete the process of marketisation which the government has already begun. But has no one thought about the conflict of interest created where a government body is putting out a tender for the very body which is going to monitor its finances (including its tendering processes). Is there not a very real danger that audit providers will be hugely incentivised to produce gentle audit decisions … in the hope of winning next year’s procurement exercise?
And as for reforming the police, the expectation has to be that this will involve the putting out of services to tender by companies like G4. Given that it has already put out chunks of the prison service and the transfer of prisoners to G4, and that it has just invited G4 and other big companies to tender for the Legal Aid system, handing over parts of the police service threatens to give us a justice system which – from arrest to court to prison – would be run by the same company! How frightening is that!
Finally, here is another proposal which – given this government’s determination to marketise everything, should scare the sh*t out of you:
Measures will be brought forward to improve the way this country procures defence equipment, as well as strengthening the reserve forces.… as one wonders which parts of our defence system will, like our helicopter search-and-rescue service, be handed over to American suppliers…