Out of ideas, out of touch and running scared

Jan RoyallJan Royall on another disappointing Queen's Speech from the Coalition government

As anyone who has been on the doorstep over the past few weeks knows, people want hope. They have a sense that the problems that they and the country are facing are too big for politics to solve.  That’s why the turnout was a shameful 29%. They are disillusioned and afraid that their future will not be better than their past. Their main concerns are jobs, getting food on the table and fairness.  And yes, fairness does mean social care, welfare and immigration. 

Twelve months ago, I warned that the Bills in last year’s programme wouldn’t do much to get the economy going again. Today, we’re still flat-lining and there is little – if any – hope that the legislative programme announced today will bring the growth and jobs that we so desperately need. So for me the success of today’s Queen’s speech is whether or not it meets people’s deep-rooted and understandable concerns. 

Sadly, I don’t think it does and a government that legislated for a five year parliament seems to have run out of steam after three. Indeed, it comes to something when the BBC, Sky and ITV all led their lunch-time bulletins on the resignation of Sir Alex Ferguson – a great manager and a great Labour man mind, but nevertheless relegating the government’s legislative programme to the second item. Who can blame them, when there’s so little of note to report.

Where are the measures on housebuilding, which would kick start the economy with jobs in the construction industry whilst providing much needed homes? Where are the measures to bring growth and jobs which will get food on the tables of those who are now having to resort to foodbanks? Where is anything on child poverty and the pledge to maintain Labour’s goal of ending child poverty in the UK by 2020? All the more worrying, given the Institute of Fiscal Studies new report, which says that one in four children in the UK will be living in poverty by 2020. And where is the legislation to put into statute the government’s explicit commitment to earmark 0.7% of GDP on overseas aid?

But what of the proposed Bills in the programme? Planned legislation on social care support is welcome. Our society would be in enormous difficulty without carers but we will want to ensure that this issue is not used as a means for transferring extra responsibility to local authorities without the means to deliver. 

We’re also set to see a flagship Immigration Bill, clearly aimed at staving off the threat of UKIP in Tory held marginals. This will no doubt get the government a few favourable headlines but the detail so far offered suggests the measures will be limited, missing the opportunity to tackle illegal immigration and failing to deal with the big issue of exploited foreign workers undercutting local workers.

All in all, this is a legislative programme that does not even begin to meet the challenges which families and communities are now facing, nor address the scale of anxiety and disillusion running through our country. David Cameron’s government is out of ideas and out of touch. And it is also running scared: of itself and what the other side of the Coalition will do, of the economic arguments that Labour has been putting forward and, above all, of those whose lives they are hurting. 

Baroness Jan Royall of Blaisdon is Labour’s Leader in the House of Lords

Published 8th May 2013

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