Queen's speech: Trouble ahead - Fight austerity

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‘My government will legislate in the interests of everyone in our country. It will adopt a one-nation approach, helping working people get on, supporting aspiration, giving new opportunities to the most disadvantaged and bringing different parts of our country together.’ The Queen’s speech, 27 May 2015

Like a ventriloquist’s dummy and in the fashion now familiar – describing everything as the opposite of what it actually is – the Queen announced the Conservatives’ plans for the next Parliament. With an absolute but small majority of 12, Prime Minister Cameron took the opportunity to outline what the Financial Times referred to as ‘a blue collar agenda’ ‘inspired by Margaret Thatcher and aimed at working class voters’, explicitly ‘Red Tories, Blue Collar Conservatives or White Van Man’. CAROL BRICKLEY reports.

Cameron’s ‘one nation’, however, should be strictly understood to include only his, mainly English, Tory voters, a welter of UKIP supporters who hate Europe and immigrants and could be won back to voting Conservative, and the majority of the Labour Party and their supporters who have moved rightwards at breathtaking speed following the election result. Harriet Harman, now temporary leader of the Labour Party, was quick to announce Labour’s ‘sympathetic’ support for much of the Tory programme. As the Financial Times reported: ‘“We got lucky,” said one well-connected Conservative MP. “But by the time we’ve finished, there won’t be any ground left for Labour to occupy”.’

Planned constitutional changes will drive a coach and horses through the phoney ‘one nation’. While more powers will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament in the hope of neutralising the ‘toxic’ Scottish Nationalists, attempts will be made to introduce ‘English votes for English laws’ in the Westminster Parliament. Devolved powers for big cities, starting with the Manchester ‘Northern Powerhouse’, will leave a hinterland of rural England to carry the flag for this anti-Green and pretty unpleasant land.

Those definitely excluded from the one-nation dream will be:

• The poorest and most disadvantaged sections of the working class: their share of the ‘aspirational opportunities’ will include massive welfare cuts of £12bn, details of which will not be announced until Chancellor Osborne’s first budget on 8 July. Plans include a reduced benefit cap (see pp4/5) and freezing the level of working age benefits for at least two years. The ‘long-term economic plan’ is still ‘austerity’.

• Young working class people: many will fall foul of the ‘troubled-families programme’ designed to stigmatise poor people as trouble-makers. Unemployed 18-21-year-olds will have no entitlement to benefits except a ‘youth allowance’ under strict conditions;

• Immigrants: plans have already been announced to remove the rights of all immigrants except the very rich (see p13).

• Trade unionists: the trade unions bill promises to introduce a 50% threshold for strike ballots and restrictions on strikes affecting ‘essential services’ (ie essential to the ruling class). The aim is also to undercut funding for the Labour Party by introducing an opt-in basis for political funds. The Tories, on the other hand, will continue to rule with far less than 50% support and benefit from large donations from business supporters. Having caved in over previous anti-trade union laws, it is yet to be seen if either Labour or the unions will put up any fight.

• ‘Extremists’: ‘measures will also be brought forward to promote social cohesion and protect people by tackling extremism’. There is no definition of what ‘extremism’ is beyond ‘failing to subscribe to British values’. Clearly the intention is to narrow civil liberties and increase surveillance of anyone opposing the status quo. Already, while ‘little conservatives’ in Home Counties primary schools enjoy protected childhoods, children as young as nine in primary schools with a large Muslim intake in Waltham Forest, east London, are being grilled about their attitudes to race, religion, marriage and the police.

• Homeless people and families looking for secure housing: the extension of the right-to-buy to housing association tenants will worsen an already catastrophic housing crisis (see pp4/5). There are no plans to increase social housing, make housing really affordable, or abolish discredited, discriminatory laws like the bedroom tax. The housing market will continue to favour rich investors, unscrupulous developers and landlords.

Dismantling Britain’s welfare state will continue to be a priority, as it has been for the ruling class for several decades of economic crisis. Promised measures to improve the NHS and ‘underperforming’ schools will turn out to be the opposite (see p16). This agenda means that opposition to this barbarity must be built.

There are two further measures which promise to dominate the Westminster agenda in different ways in the coming period. The prospect of divisions in the Conservative Party has forced one pledge to be put on the back burner – the promise to replace the Human Rights Act with a ‘British Bill of Rights’, designed to reduce rights rather than improve them. The Tories have long been riled by the precedence of the European Convention on Human Rights and the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, but threats to withdraw from the Convention have sparked opposition among Tory grandees and others who are well aware that it was originally drawn up by Conservatives after 1945. Rather than force the issue, the new Lord Chancellor Gove will have to tread carefully; this may be a tall order.

The manifesto promise to hold a referendum on EU membership is now being pushed through ‘in extra quick time’ (with the support of the Labour Party). In advance of the referendum, Cameron has embarked on a series of gladhanded missions to European leaders in an attempt to change the terms of Britain’s EU membership enough to make it acceptable to the Tory right-wing and sections of the bourgeoisie. If this fails, which is likely, it will not only be the future of ‘one nation’, but also of ‘one party’ that will be in question. The ‘Tory bastards’ of John Major’s premiership are still alive and kicking. On every level, we hope there will be trouble ahead.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 245 June/July 2015