Maggie Jones on the government’s failure to understand the real economic and environmental challenges facing our country
Today in the House of Lords, on the second day of debate on the Queen’s Speech, we will cover a wide range of issues from the economy and industry through to energy, environment, agriculture and transport.
Whatever the issue, the contributions will have a common theme: the government’s programme is without vision and without a strategy to answer the real challenges facing our country today. Unsurprising, when the plans are drawn from a disastrous Conservative manifesto which offered neither hope nor change to a British public weary of falling living standards and failing public services.
This is why it is widely acknowledged that Labour won the battle of the ideas during the election, with clear policies to deliver stronger growth, better living standards, and greater equality and justice. Nowhere is that distinction starker than on the economy. The Chancellor belatedly admitted that the public were tired of austerity but the government’s programme offers no alternative plan to tackle the root causes of our economic woes and to mitigate increasing concerns about Brexit.
Even the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney – in his Mansion House speech last week –recognised the urgent need to escape the low inflation, low wage, low growth trap which has driven down household incomes over the last decade.
Labour meanwhile, has set out a clear alternative. We will set up a National Investment Bank to deliver the finances needed by small businesses, co-operatives and new entrepreneurs to get the economy moving again. We will also tackle low pay and zero hours contracts that hold back the life chances of young people. And we will create a fertile ground for businesses to thrive, by focusing on skills – including quality apprenticeships – on science and research, and infrastructure.
The government’s lack of vision for our future extends into their Industrial Strategy. As the Lords Science and Technology Select Committee recently concluded, it ‘resembles a portfolio of tactics rather than a coherent strategy’. The programme illustrates this all too well, with proposals for electric cars, space rockets, high speed rail and smart meters. All laudable in their own way but not adding up to an Industrial Strategy in the round.
Investing in our future also means investing in our environment, but tackling climate change hardly merits a mention in the Queen’s Speech. There is a welcome reiteration of support for the Paris agreement and reference to affordable energy and electric cars, but little else.
The UK is poorly prepared for the inevitable impact of global warming in coming decades, including deadly annual heatwaves, water shortages and difficulties in producing food. But it seems the government will not be addressing these problems during the next two years. This is despite strong advice from the Committee on Climate Change that future proofing our environment should start now.
That lack of a coherent plan to tackle climate change is symptomatic of a wider failed energy strategy. The UK energy system is outdated, expensive and polluting, and the government have yet to harness the huge potential of emerging technologies and renewable energy. Instead placing a disproportionate emphasis on nuclear energy. And in the past few days, a new NAO report has highlighted the significant dangers of relying on Hinkley Point, with its spiralling costs and danger of delay or cancellations.
Michael Gove’s appointment as Secretary of State for Defra hardly provides reassurance to those who care about the environment. Mr Gove has consistently voted against measures to reduce carbon emissions and spoken enthusiastically during the ‘Leave’ campaign about opportunities to tear up environmental “red tape”.
In contrast, Labour is committed to ensuring EU environmental protections are maintained beyond Brexit and we will champion longer term sustainable farming, food and fishing.
We will continue to press all of these issues. But should this Government fall, as many are predicting, we will then bring forward an alternative Queen’s Speech that truly addresses the challenges facing our country.
Baroness Maggie Jones of Whitchurch is Shadow Defra Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets @WhitchurchGirl
Published 26th June 2017