When a new Parliament is elected, the first thing the new Government does is to write a speech for Her Majesty to deliver at the State Opening. This is a statement of all the Acts of Parliament the Government intends to pass, and various other important measures. The speech always ends with the Queen saying “Other measures will be laid before you” which means that there will be some decisions and regulations which haven’t been mentioned in the Speech – but it’s unusual for anything important or controversial to be left out. So the first reaction of politicians and reporters is to look through the Speech to see what has been put in – and what has been left out.
This year, following a General Election campaign stuffed with promises, we might have expected to have a very long and full Queen’s Speech. Not a bit of it – it was one of the shortest and least ambitious government programmes in living memory. And what was there was largely meaningless – phrases like “work to ensure” & “help ensure” and “continue to improve” and “continue to support” occur throughout. What they mean is – we know that these things matter, but we can’t find any money to improve them, so we won’t put forward any specific proposals, we’ll just say some warm words. And it’s true, the Government won’t be able to make any real difference unless they increase our revenue by reversing the tax cuts that have diverted so much wealth to already extremely wealthy individuals and major multi-national companies. But they won’t do that, because those are precisely the people who have supported the Conservative Party for so long.
It’s also true that, with all the difficult work that will be required to steer through Brexit, it would not have been sensible to embark on other long and complicated and controversial legislation which might have used up a lot of government time. But there are lots of short and uncontroversial measures which they could have introduced with no difficulty at all, measures which would have commanded cross-party support and shown the country that Theresa May was listening. Measures such as abolishing the Bedroom Tax, ending the cap on public sector pay, introducing a Real Living Wage which is high enough to lift working people out of poverty, and reversing the cuts to Schools and the Police and the Fire Service. None of these things are there – things which a Labour Government would have introduced in the first year.
And the other things that are not there are the disastrous policies which the Conservatives sprung on a disbelieving nation in their infamous Manifesto. There are no grammar schools. There are no cuts proposed to the Winter Fuel payments, or means-testing of the concessionary travel cards, or removal of the triple lock on pensions. There is no reference to fox-hunting. And there is nothing about the Dementia Tax.
On Wednesday I voted, alongside my Labour Colleagues, for an amendment to the Queen’s Speech which would end the public sector pay cap – crucial when doctors and nurses and police officers and teachers are becoming more and more difficult to recruit or retain, because their pay has fallen so far behind. And we will have voted last night to further reverse austerity and prevent a “no deal” Brexit that would leave us with thousands fewer jobs and less protection for working people and for the environment.
I don’t know how Thursday’s votes will go, although my guess is that, following their enormous £1.5 Billion bribe, the Northern Ireland MPs will support the government and get the amendments thrown out, just as they did on Wednesday. Northern Ireland has been given the money it needs to reverse austerity, so that they can support a Conservative government in imposing austerity on the rest of us. The hypocrisy is breathtaking. So long as we are in Opposition, we will continue to call for an end to austerity and proper investment in our public services, but we will not be able to implement our plans until we are in government.
But even if the Government’s current plans are passed in full, we have already won a significant victory, because of all the arrogant measures that were included in the Conservative Manifesto but which have now been quietly dropped. The people spoke on June 8th – you might struggle to hear any Conservatives admit that, but it’s what they’re NOT doing which speaks volumes.