The Queen’s Speech reviewed

The Queen’s Speech reviewed

An analysis of what was in the speech – and what was not, from our Secretary Jane Darling

The Queen’s Speech (10th May, 2022) and the Cost of Living Crisis

Comment from Jane Darling 

Prince Charles was given the poisoned chalice of having to deliver the speech this year due to the Queen’s mobility problems. He did not appear at ease with the task, whether because the content was so wide of the mark in terms of offering solutions to the many crises we are facing both as a country and as a nation of the fragile world we inhabit, or whether he was anxious about his ability to carry off this important duty , we can only guess at.

Once again, there are serious omissions in terms of policy which can genuinely make a difference to the appalling, debilitating and ever-increasing inequality in this, the fifth richest country in the world. How some government ministers can continue to complacently trot out the measures the Chancellor outlined in his Spring statement, expecting the interviewer and the public to feel that these measures are sufficient, stretches credibility. There is also the lack of attention to the coming car crash as the planet heats up to a critical degree. Did I dream that we held the COP26 Conference only 6months or so ago?

This government again and again demonstrates a wilful dereliction of duty to what should be their prime consideration – the security and welfare of their people; all the people, not just the rich and powerful establishment who keep them in power so that they can continue to profit on the backs of ordinary working people.They divide and rule by sowing division and discord. It started with Brexit and it continues with the culture wars and the war on woke and with spending on measures to mitigate the effects of climate change.

I, for one, believe that this is carefully orchestrated to divert attention from the real issues, to disempower people and make them feel worthless and voiceless. Boris Johnson talks of ‘taking back control’. He is certainly doing that as he and his Home Secretary push on with more legislation to restrict or remove the ancient right to protest; by making voting a more difficult process; by doing away with the requirement to suspect criminality before they can stop and search people, and by planning to spend money to insulate people’s homes, which they later abandoned.

 They talk about being the party of freedom, of neo-liberalism. Johnson wants to free the country from regulations, which members of past governments helped to design to keep workers safer and more healthy. He follows in the footsteps of David Cameron who was heard to say at the Dispatch Box that UK workers didn’t need all these regulations to ensure safe practices at work, with his Brexit Freedoms Bill.

 The proposed rewriting of the Human Rights Act, brought in by Labour in 1998, has drawn criticism from the Law Society and from charities who fear that it will reduce government accountability and remove or reduce human rights.

 They make no pretence about who their ‘freedoms’ are designed to support, and instead go about clearing the way for their cronies and mates to enhance their wealth and continue to pay a disproportionate amount of tax revenue to the nation. Ours is not a proactive government which plans for “building back better” for all of us, but one that waits to see how much it can get away with ignoring and hoping it will go away.

Boris Johnson survives, a morally bankrupt man, with a history of bad choices, a lack of the plans and policies to help our people survive the climate emergency, the pandemic and the cost of living crisis.

This was the opening sentence of the Queen’s Speech:

“My Government’s priority is to grow and strengthen the economy and help ease the cost of living for families.” 

However, try as hard as I might, I can find nothing in the Queen’s Speech which appears to be designed to “help ease” the cost of living, which is, in itself, a pretty modest target in view of the chasm opening up between the increasingly impossible task of making ends meet and the incomes of millions of people.

It is not only opposition party members, charities, and the public who are appalled at the absence of an adequate response from the government. Many Tory MP’s and Peers are also sharing their dismay and embarrassment at the paucity of provision, and the assertion by the Chancellor that “the government can’t help everybody”.

As we know, many of the Bills in last year’s Queen’s Speech were slipped into the business of Parliament at times which were opportune for the Government. The dramas of the pandemic, the roll-out of the vaccines, the NHS in crisis, the support for businesses, relaxation of the Covid rules and latterly the war in Ukraine. Often, very little time was allowed for debate in the Commons. Extra clauses were inserted into some Bills after they had gone through the Commons. The House of Lords spent months examining them in great detail and making amendments only to find that most of these amendments were voted down by the Commons. (One example of this was the Nationality and Borders Bill). 

Johnson has been saved from a vote of no confidence by the prosecution of war in Ukraine by another national leader, also driven by his ego, and survives against all odds to continue to further impoverish the poor of this country, whilst the rich go on getting richer, on the flimsy grounds that we cannot have a change of leadership whilst the war continues in Ukraine. If the Conservatives had made his argument in 1940, Churchill would not have become prime minister. 

The Bank of England has put up interest rates on the basis that this will help to keep down inflation, now running at a 40 year high of 9%, whilst at the same time acknowledging that rising prices are caused by the external factors of global rises in energy and fuel and the war in Ukraine. Inflation due to Brexit is rarely acknowledged. The Governor, Andrew Bailey, has urged people not to demand wage rises.

 The Office for National Statistics latest bulletin shows that wage growth is well below the rate of inflation for the lowest paid and above inflation for the higher paid. These are some of the main points for January to March 2022 as published in May:

  • “Average total pay growth for the private sector was 8.2% in January to March 2022
  • For the public sector it was 1.6% in the same time period
  • The finance and business services sector showed the largest growth rate (10.7%), partly because of strong bonus payments.
  • In real terms (adjusted for inflation) in January to March 2022, growth in total pay was 1.4% and regular pay fell on the year at negative 1.2%.
  • Strong bonus payments have kept real total pay growth positive, and real regular pay growth last fell on the year to more than negative 1.2% in September to November 2013.”

Once again it is those who are on fixed incomes from benefits or those who are earning low wages who are bearing the brunt, as they are having to use a higher proportion of their income to pay energy bills and buy food. Many are reporting to the media that they are feeling worthless, that they don’t matter and that they are suffering huge stress and isolation because they cannot afford to socialise with their friends.

The CEO of the Citizens Advice Bureau told the BBC’s Today programme this morning (18th May) that over 90% of their current clients have never sought help from the CAB before. Many of them are unable to pay down debt because all their income is spent on day to day living costs. Many will lose their homes and will finish up in bed and breakfast or other temporary accommodation at great expense to the taxpayer.

Senior Tory Bernard Jenkin, the chair of the liaison committee that holds Boris Johnson to account has let it be known to the Guardian that he will warn today (18th May) that “the economic situation is far worse than the government is prepared to admit”.

As, Robert Halfon, MP for Harlow said on BBC’s World at One (18 May), people are in “de facto” lockdown because they can’t afford to go out with friends. A windfall tax is a “no brainer”

Liz Truss in her interview on the Today Programme on the same date that she absolutely supports “all of the government’s policies” on the cost of living crisis. She refused to be drawn on whether or when the Chancellor would hold an emergency budget or whether he would do a U-turn on a windfall tax on energy companies. It would be somewhat embarrassing to do this now in the light of the vote by all Tory MPs, according to Ms Truss, against the Labour amendment to the Queen’s Speech to allow a windfall tax.

She stated that “we have to keep an eye out for the long-term” and to ensure economic growth through investment.

What this government seems unable or unwilling to appreciate is the long-term damage that is be done to the mental and physical well-being of our more vulnerable people and to their children as they suck up the thought that no-one cares about them.

We have just had the Queen’s speech in which there was no mention of the Cost of Living crisis. This government does not watch the signs which should trigger planning and determine priorities. Had the government stuck to its programme of insulating homes across the country, and had not stifled the growth of wind farms, solar power and tidal energy, we might not now be paying the enormous price for energy demanded by regimes it would be better not to do business with. 

We have no idea what, if anything the Chancellor is going to come up with in the coming days, weeks or months, but he does continue to dampen down expectations by telling us the government can’t help everybody. No, they can’t unless they start collecting more tax from those who can afford it and ensure that all companies pay a proper living wage, so that the tax payer is no longer subsidising low wages through universal credit. In the Guardian (20 May), there is a headline which tells us that the Church of England is urging firms to pay the living wage as the boss of ‘Next’ gets rise of 50%. Last year he was paid £4.4mn. the boss of Tesco was paid £4.75mn last year. Tesco have been fined for paying below the minimum wage in the recent past. 

It’s time government stopped pandering to companies who are making higher and higher profits on the backs of low-paid, hard-working employees and started investing in the people of this country by ensuring that everyone has enough to live on, a place to call home and the knowledge that they have worth and potential. We would all be better off if everyone had money in their pockets. It might prevent many of the businesses saved by Rishi Sunak’s pandemic rescue packages from going to the wall.

So, as we move forward further into the rising tide of despair which threatens to engulf us, we must remain strong and resolute in our determination to work for government built on the premise of looking after the nation and working together to use the potential of all our citizens by providing security and the firm foundations of good housing, good jobs and good health provision, starting in our own locality of Folkestone and Hythe. If you feel angry about the failures of our government, join with us in our Campaigning for a better, brighter future by becoming an activist.

To get involved or to give feedback at any time, please get in touch via comms@fhlabour.org

20th May 2022

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