Friday 29 May 2015

The "Queen's Speech":a programme of gloom and irrelevance

It says something about our priories (or maybe just the priorities of our media) that the Government's programme for the parliament, outlined in the so-called "Queen's Speech" has been firmly pushed from the front pages and lead news items by the alleged corruption in the organisation of international football competitions.

Taking the programme item by item, and as briefly as possible:

EU referendum bill: inserted only to placate the fruitcake UKIPERS and a Tory right wing anxious for a better yesterday, this pointless exercise will waste time and energy, discourage investment, distract us from the important issues and, if it results in a "No", cast us adrift from our neighbours, in splendid isolation but  relatively impoverished and without influence.

Investigatory powers bill:  aka "the snoopers' charter" - an expensive and  unnecessary invasion of our privacy.

Extremism bill: even a Tory minister recognises it is an unnecessary threat to free speech.

Immigration bill: a positive campaign for enforcement of  the minimum wage (and preferably living wage), regulation of "gang masters" and the abolition of zero-hours contracts would be more humane and effective.

Proposal for a bill of rights:  happily the "proposal" is really a postponement of the "promise" to withdraw from the Human Rights Act. - let's hope this shameful ploy is effectively kicked into the long grass.

Childcare bill: most people will welcome this, and it will be useful for single parents.  However, I'd prefer to see it coupled with measures so that a "double income" is not necessary for a family to achieve a satisfactory standard of living.

Cities and devolution bill: devolution is welcomed but why must it be based on cities and coupled with a directly elected mayor?  What is really need is a Royal Commission or constitutional conversion to provide a comprehensive and rational plan for devolution to the nations and regions of the UK.

Trade union bill:  contains two pieces of class-based vindictiveness.  The proposal that no strike will be legal unless at least 40% of those ENTITLED to vote (ie not just 50% of these who voted) would, if applied to most councillors and many MPs, de-legitimise them. The substitution of "contracting in" rather than "contracting out" of the TU political levy is an attempt to reduce funding to the Labour Party without any corresponding requirement for shareholders to have any say on whether or not companies  should contribute to the Tory party.

Housing bill:  extending the "right to buy" with massive discounts to some fortunate tenants of housing association properties built partly with taxpayers' money will exacerbate the already critical shortage of social housing.

Education and adoption bill:  the proposals to speed up the adoption process are welcome, but the measures to force so-called  "failing schools" to become "free" (from what?) or academies is a ruse to increase the centralising powers of the Secretary of State,  the bullying tactics of OFSTED, and possibly paving the way for "schools for profit," without any evidence that the education of the children will be improved.

Scotland bill:  it is right to implement the proposals "vowed" by the panic-stricken party leaders before the referendum, but anything else should be put into the melting pot of a Royal Commission or constitutional convention (see above.)

English votes for English laws:  again, a matter for a Royal Commission of constitutional convention, not piecemeal  meddling.  There is here an undoubted anomaly but it never seemed to worry the Tories when, in similar circumstances, the Ulster Unionists voted (normally with the Conservatives) on issues in England which were actually devolved to the Northern Ireland government.

Psychoactive substances bill:  wholeheartedly welcomed(!) but we need to go further and have a rational examination of our current policy towards drugs and assess its effectiveness.

NI contributions/finance bill: the silly gimmick of "outlawing " any increases in VAT, income tax or National Insurance contributions for the period of the parliament.  Should it be necessary to change these rates (and who knows what "unknown unknowns" my hit the economy) any such Act can, of course, be overturned by a simple majority.

Personal tax allowance: to be raised so that the low paid are taken out of liability for income tax.  A policy origination with and much flaunted by the Liberal Democrats in coalition, but I've always felt that  a more effective  way to help the low paid, along with the very low paid and the unpaid would be to lower VAT. 

Nothing about our real problems of the balance of (external) payments, which is our most  serious deficit, nor our low productivity, nor the creation of a more cohesive, fairer and involved society.

So not much to be cheerful or hopeful about

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