UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Mad, Bad and Dangerous: Queen’s Speech 2012

As a committed republican, and grand-daughter of committed republicans, (one RoI, the other ILP) I grew up regarding the pomp of the Queens Speech as little more than a particularly funny pantomime. Grampa H taught a fine contempt for the upper classes including wee Lizzie and Phil the Greek, encouraged the idea that the costumes and ceremony were ridiculous, and later introduced me to the thought that a hereditary monarch speaking on behalf of a democracy was ironic at the very least.

Suddenly however in 2012, the situation didn’t seem so funny. True, our state broadcaster retains its deep, hushed, reverential tone for our unelected head of state, the blokes in dresses would not be out of place in a cheap transvestite disco, and there is always the hope that Black Rod will turn into Baldrick. But the script today had as many laughs as any eighties British sitcom (try googling them - they were all forgettable), the era that the Tories are obviously taking inspiration from.

Let’s just recap on the current political situation. Europe is now dominated by the wishes of the European Central Bank expressed through Frau Merkel. Democracy in Italy and Greece has been subverted. For the past two years neo liberalism has haunted Europe including the United Kingdom. For working people, cuts in wages, pensions, benefits and jobs have predominated. The UK Budget early this year has been judged disastrous by most economic commentators. Economic data shows that growth has stalled here and that we are in the middle of a double dip recession. Where voters in the past week have had a chance to express a view, they have made their views perfectly clear and said no to austerity.

For the Tory/Lib Dem coalition there is only one song and that’s “Keep Right on to the End of the Road”. Her Maj took just seven minutes to spell out the lack of imagination that will ensure that recession will remain the only game in town in Britain, seven minutes that ignored all of the above.

It was seven minutes that means the pain felt by households, yes households, across the country will deepen and continue. Let’s dismiss the talk of “hard-working families” that is pushed currently by all political parties. A pejorative term if there ever was one. What defines a “family”? The Tories are fairly brazen in their definition that includes maw, paw and the 2.4 children. Shame on the Labour media spinner that took up the usage. At least “household” covers 1, and 1+, and however many children if need be.

And rather than get into what is meant by hard working, it is easier to ask, who do they think isn’t? That isn’t a secret. Anyone without a job, living in a non traditional family type, anyone under employed whether voluntarily or not, anyone who is a carer, anyone who is a pensioner, anyone who is disabled or ill. All have felt the pain and will continue to do so. They know the meaning of cuts by their own hardship.

So, seven minutes that means the problems of austerity are air brushed away, to be replaced by a gratuitous list of 17 bills that ignore the current problems facing the country. Some will be of great interest to the legal profession, like the Libel Reform Bill, and I will bet will not be of interest to those who did not benefit from Tory tax cuts.

Likewise House of Lords reform, and cameras in courts, a move that seems only designed to the Jeremy Kyle demographic, to use an ad man’s term. Voter registration is important but the bill on offer scarcely seems to guarantee that more voters will be registered.

A Social Care Bill will consolidate fifty years of legislation but will not in any way increase the investment desperately needed in care, rather will ensure that the real problem is not tackled. Likewise a Children and Families Bill reflecting on such items as adoption and relationship break-up, though we are promised more flexible working. Like Libel reform, it is likely to affect the few, not the many.

Banking reform is promised but her Maj could not be trusted to give us the details on that one. Wee Geordie will do that by himself on June 14th. One we can hardly wait for, but would like to suggest that it will contain as many surprises as ‘Pope defends Catholic Church’, or even more appropriately bear defends shitting in woods. To use a local expression, shockeroony - not.

We need to be a bit more cautious about any threat to civil liberties, like the expansion of secret courts or the Communications Bill. Anyone following the “man in the bag” trial or the case of David Kelly would doubt the benefit to society of allowing the secret services to be even more hidden from scrutiny. And for those of us who won’t even use facebook or other social networking from knowledge of how those companies operate, state surveillance is inconceivable.

Both bills on State Pensions and Public Sector Pensions need opposed. UNISON highlighted the threat to state pensions through the EU about five years ago. That is when the ECB decided that state welfare provision was “unaffordable” because it increased the cost of labour through the EU. The agenda of austerity is only the most recent face of neo liberalism. At the time they were calling it the need for greater labour flexibility. That’s also why we should await with great interest the “Enterprise and Regulations Bill”. That’s probably another example of pro market ideology designed to attack workers rights.

But there is one Bill that we should start emailing every MP on now. The European Union (approval of treaty amendment decision) Bill. Parliament's approval will be sought for the agreed financial stability mechanism within the euro area. If we assist our comrades throughout Europe by upsetting the applecart on this bill by defeating it, we should. The financial stability mechanism guarantees austerity. It needs defeated.