In the space of a few short years, the government will have turned the UK from a prosperous, democratic country with a functioning social safety net into a poor, isolated banana republic off the coast of northern Europe.
In a nutshell, the Queen’s Speech is full of good things that won’t happen and bad things that will – it is a warning to us to act now:
- The promises are wonderful; but
- The legislation bears no relationship to the promises; so
- We need to act fast to take back control from the market fundamentalists in the cabinet.
The Promises are Wonderful
The opening words of the Queen’s Speech were:
“My lords and members of the House of Commons. My Government’s priority is to grow and strengthen the economy and help ease the cost of living for families. My Government will level up opportunity in all parts of the country and support more people into work. My ministers will continue to support the police to make the streets safer and fund the National Health Service to reduce the COVID backlogs. In these challenging times, my Government will play a leading role in defending democracy and freedom across the world, including continuing to support the people of Ukraine. My Government will drive economic growth to improve living standards and fund sustainable investment in public services.”
If the government were to deliver on these promises, we would be looking forward to a bright future. But these are just words, written to sound good, they are not legislation.
The Legislation Bears No Relationship to the Promises
The government’s proposed legislation covers some 38 Bills, but they will not deliver against these promises, so the good things are unlikely to happen. But much of the legislation looks extremely damaging for UK democracy, so there are plenty of bad things which will happen if we let the government get its way.
|Promise||Reality of planned Legislation|
|“to grow and strengthen the economy”||The UK has been the worst performing of the developed economies since Johnson became PM. To a large extent this is due to a combination of Brexit and an extremely poor handling of COVID compared with other governments.
To grow the economy now would require increased investment – which the UK private sector will not make as it can see no increase in demand to invest for, and the government has no plans to make in anything like the required scale. And sustaining growth would require households to be able to spend, which the cost-of-living crisis is making harder every day.
|“help ease the cost of living for families”||The government has repeatedly claimed that it will tackle the cost-of-living crisis, but still has no intention of doing the sorts of things other governments have already done to protect their populations.|
|“My Government will level up opportunity in all parts of the country”||Johnson has declared levelling-up to be the defining mission of his government. But all his actions have worsened inequality both within and between regions. Much of the so-called ‘levelling-up’ spend was pretty blatantly directed into Tory constituencies regardless of need.
Of course, the new Levelling Up Bill may run counter to all we have seen so far – but that does not seem likely.
|“support more people into work”||Without growing the economy, it is very hard to support more people into work. And there seem to be no Bills planned to create more jobs.|
|“support the police to make the streets safer”||Again there seems to be no specific legislation proposed. We can look at the track record: the government has been growing police numbers, though there are still fewer police than in 2010 and crime rates have been falling since 1997 though that is not down to this government.
This promise is the most likely to come true.
|“fund the National Health Service to reduce the COVID backlogs.”||The government has been steadily underfunding the NHS since 2010 and this (as much as COVID) is responsible for a large increase in backlogs. The government has now passed a Health & Care Act which is likely to increase providers’ profits at huge cost to patients and taxpayers.|
|“defending democracy and freedom”||This government has launched an unprecedented assault on democracy and freedom. The Electoral Commission is no longer an independent body, so it is Michael Gove who will determine whether the next election is fair. That is like asking the cat to look after the canary. You will need photo-ID to vote. And you no longer have the right to peaceful protest.
All your human rights will be at risk if the Human Rights Bill passes: judges will no longer be expected to uphold international law on human rights. If you want to assert your rights, you will first have to prove “significant disadvantage” and “good behaviour.” If the government doesn’t like your behaviour, you may find your rights are gone.
|My Government will drive economic growth to improve living standards and fund sustainable investment in public services.||The economy is very likely to contract (see first point).
The Bank of England has forecast the sharpest fall in living standards since their records began. And this Speech does nothing to make one question that assessment.
The level of underfunding of public services is likely only to increase (see below)
So, with the exception of the promise on policing, none of the promises of the Queen’s speech seem likely to be kept.
And there was barely a mention in the speech of climate change. In terms of legislation, there is nothing in the pipeline aimed at addressing the climate emergency.
The speech did contain the apparently innocuous but, in reality, deeply ominous phrase:
“This will be underpinned by a responsible approach to the public finances, reducing debt while reforming and cutting taxes.”
Being truly responsible would of course be good – but interpreting that to mean reducing debt while cutting taxes means only one thing – Austerity. Nothing could be more irresponsible.
This needs a little explanation: there are two ways of looking at government finances:
- The first, which would have been true while we were on the gold standard but has not been true for many decades, argues that the government cannot create money – money has to come from borrowing or taxpayers;
- The second argues – based on the indisputable fact that the Bank of England, which is an arm of the government, has indeed created £895 billion since the Global Financial Crisis – that the government can and does create money.
Sunak takes the first position. On this view, government spending can only be financed by taxes or by debt. This implies that he has to treat the £895 billion that the government ‘owes’ to its own central bank as though it were debt to a third party which must be repaid when, in reality, the government could cancel that debt tomorrow. Critically, it also implies that to reduce both debt and taxes, as he has threatened, spending must fall to below the level of taxes, which in turn would be lower than today. Sunak, in other words, is pushing for a new, even more brutal, round of austerity. The first round of austerity did incalculable damage both to the economy and to the fabric of society; a second round would be worse.
A responsible government would do the opposite. It would recognise that there are no grounds for debt hysteria, that the economy has been badly damaged on the demand side by falling real wages and on the supply side by a combination of issues including Brexit, COVID and most recently the war in Ukraine. And it would use its power to address these problems rather than expecting UK citizens to bear the pain. It would understand that it is critical to put pounds into the pockets of ordinary people, who will spend it quickly both for their benefit and for that of the economy. Without household spending, there is no GDP. And it would invest heavily – e.g. in green transition – both to protect the environment and to stimulate the economy.
We Need to Act Fast to Take Back Control of Our Country
In short, if the government proceeds as suggested by the Queen’s Speech, by the end of the next term, our economy will be weaker, we shall be far poorer, our health will be worse, and we shall have few rights remaining – even the right to a free and fair election is, as mentioned above, at risk.
In the space of a few short years, the government will have turned the UK from a prosperous, democratic country with a functioning (if not strong) social safety net into a poor, isolated banana republic off the coast of northern Europe.
What can we do, as individuals or collectively to prevent this? Three things right now:
- We all know many people who are still unaware of what is happening to the UK; they do not understand how poor this government’s track record is; and they have little idea of the threats posed by the Queen’s speech – we can make a point of sharing the facts with them;
- The local election results have rattled the government badly – many sitting MPs are worried about retaining their seats. Now is a perfect time to write to our MPs asking them to call for a vote of no-confidence in the Prime Minister. If 54 MPs write to the 1922 Committee, a vote will be called. If you would like to write to your MP, these general guidelines may be useful, and this template may help you get started.
- We can write to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner asking her to investigate whether, in the light of his law-breaking and lying about it in Parliament, Johnson remaining in post is compatible with Parliamentary Standards. If you would like to do that, everything you need is here
And if you think you might like to help more widely, or just to keep informed, please do sign-up and join the 99% Organisation.