Little help for hard-pressed families
Well it’s all just a bit of a mess, isn’t it? A drubbing up and down the country on election day, approval ratings smashing through the floor so quickly it’s threatening the stability of the building and a relaunch that was more damp squib than high-octane reboot. Luckily, there’s a medieval ceremony to look forward to, where us Brits can show the vibrancy and modernity of our political system. Step forward, Black Rod.
But the Queen’s speech is more than an age-worn spectacle, and underlying all the ridiculous pomp and ceremony is a serious statement not only of a policy programme, but of where a government is in terms of ideas, confidence and stability. Can Cameron & Co. shake off the omnishambles that has dogged them for most, if not all, of this year?
The answer is no. This Queen’s Speech has shown not only that the Coalition is out of ideas, but that its confidence and stability have taken a severe knock in the past few months. It’s not so much that the government has run out of policies, every government department has its own secret stash, but rather that it no longer has the confidence to announce or follow through on policies that are deemed ‘controversial’.
Entering a double-dip recession has certainly coloured political discourse in recent weeks, but the government do not seem to be taking the message to heart. Negative growth in two successive quarters should be a major concern for any government, but the coalition seems to be shirking the responsibility that weighs heavily upon it. Instead, the government is sticking to its outmoded austerity agenda in the vain hope that the next quarter will see even a modest return to growth.
As prices rise and wages stagnate, families are finding it increasingly difficult to keep their heads above water. In the midst of economic turmoil such as we are seeing at the moment, it should be a government’s first priority to lessen the burden on low and middle-income families. The legislative programme set out nothing concrete and instead stuck to policies that have precious little to do with the current financial situation of millions of people.
One such example is constitutional reform, specifically reform of the House of Lords. David Cameron is stuck between a rock and a hard place with this issue as backbench MPs increasingly voice discontent at what they see as an unwelcome distraction from the task at hand. But as these voices grow strong, the Liberal Democrat voices grow stronger. After losing the battle on electoral reform last year, this policy is incredibly important to the junior coalition partners if they are to be seen to be having any effect on government policy.
The commitment in the Queen’s Speech to lords reform is suitably unclear in its promises. There has been no timetable set out for such legislation and plans seem startlingly vague. This is almost certainly a sign that Cameron is trying to quell discontent amongst his own backbenchers, whilst simultaneously backing Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems. It’s a precarious balancing act for Cameron, not only in keeping together the coalition government, but also in keeping the public onside.
More importantly though, this Queen’s Speech has shown the government’s pigheadedness with regards to a failed system of austerity. The first line of the speech was, ‘My minister’s first priority will be to reduce the deficit and restore economic stability’. As the winds of change sweep across Europe and economists from around the world begin to challenge the tired program of austerity, Cameron once again sticks to Plan A as if any deviation would be an embarrassment. Embarrassment it may be, but it is surely a price worth paying if we are to recover and once again find the path to economic growth.
Instead of setting out a clear path for a return to economic growth by investing in infrastructure, Cameron and Osborne have instead chosen to tread the well worn path, attacking the rights of millions of employees. The legislation set out in the speech would remove regulatory ‘burdens’ (as if the answer to the crisis is doing the exact same thing which got us into this mess) and severely curtail the rights of employees by radically overhauling the framework of employment law. The aim is to make it easier for firms to hire and fire, but it would also do away with rights to employment tribunals, making it harder for workers to seek any recourse to the law. Once again, the price of adjustment is paid by those least able to shoulder the burden. Yesterday Nick Clegg claimed that neither of the coalition parties do things for ideological reasons. Whilst that may well be true of the Liberal Democrats, this policy has shown the true colours of Cameron’s Conservatives.
The government has single-handedly failed in this Queen’s speech to deliver policies which could make a difference to ordinary people. I’m sure that this evening, hard-working families up and down the country will sit down to the news and greet this speech with a shrug of indifference. Cameron had an opportunity in this speech to set out ‘bread and butter’ policies to improve the situations of millions in a time of economic trouble. Instead, he reasserted his belief in a failed economic orthodoxy and instead chose to hide behind policies which matter little to the vast majority of the population. Einstein once said that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If this is true, somewhere there is a straight-jacket waiting for David Cameron.
Tom Sadler is a history and politics student at Goldsmiths College, University of London.