Last week the United Kingdom witnessed the Queens Speech. This Annual event is a strange mixture of: arcane ritual and modern spin doctoring; History lesson and Disneyisque flimflam; Pantomine and political theatre; make believe and hard political truths; continuity and change; Importance and unimportance. Some pundits, like the Economist Magazine believe it to be a waste of time and money; an arcane, pointless ritual. In fact, the only coverage it seemed to receive in most of the media concerned fainting page boys and plastic bags. Maybe, this is doubly true, given the facts that; many of these bills are already on their way through Parliament, the Coalition Government is in the last year of power before an election; and much of the speech was given to the press earlier this week. But, being a politics and history geek, I find it a fascinating ritual. It is a symbol of Britian’s nuanced position. It is a democracy headed by a monarch and a modern capitalist nation that often feels, at the same time, burdened and enriched by a long, feudal history. In fact, I think that this year’s Speech, given the historical period, a year before the next election and with 100ish days to the Scottish Referendum, is an important pointer towards the next twelve months. A starting gun of the election campaign and an indication of the shape of the rhetoric that will be coming our way over the few months. This is especially true when this speech is viewed alongside the response given by the Leader of the Opposition. This post will look at; what was in the actual speech, what it says about the Coalition, the reaction to the speech and what, taken as a whole, these speeches say about the rhetoric of political speech at a time leading up to the next election.
The responsible individual
I will not bore you with a list of bills included in the speech. You can find these in several places, including; http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/jun/04/queens-speech-2014-the-new-bills. Instead, I will summarize the most important bills, stating what they say about the Government's agenda. Of course, there’s the normal stuff about the Queen’s visits abroad and foreign heads of state being hosted by the Queen. There’s the foreign policy stuff, which interestingly does not take up much space within the speech. Vague promises to help the peacemaking efforts in Syria and the Ukraine and to help the rebuilding of Afghanistan. But, no detail concerning how any of these promises will be achieved The main thrust of this speech focused on ‘Home affairs’, focusing on; Taxes, pensions, education, welfare, cutting the deficit and relationships between the various states which make up the Union. There are two main ideas behind this speech: that government should be as small as possible and that business should be encouraged to take over the services once offered by the state; and should be free of all government restrictions: and that the citizen should stand on their own two feet, being responsible for both; themselves and society as a whole.
The Government restated their belief that the Government’s main goal should be to support those who “work hard” and to help others “move from welfare to work’. They will begin by making sure that those people “Who work hard” get paid for the work that they do. They will do this by implementing policies that “reduce delays in employment tribunals” and introduce legislation that will seek to ensure “fair contracts for low paid workers”. They, also, introduced legislation to give these ‘hard working people’ a greater chance to own their own home, creating legislation to encourage the building of new homes. Moreover, they will introduce legislation to sell off high value government land for house building projects. The Government also intends to give the ‘hard working’ people more control of; their own pensions, and even the staffing of national parks through the election of park officials. Those who cannot find work, or are too ill/disabled, to work will be ‘encouraged’ back to work through further cuts in welfare spending.
In addition, as Ed Milliband has pointed out, there is little for those who give or receive care;
“Let me turn to one of the biggest omissions from this Queen’s Speech. There is no bigger challenge facing families up and down the country than care for elderly relatives. And there was no clearer promise from this government than that they would legislate on this.
The Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister signed the foreword to the Health White Paper and it said very clearly there would be, and I quote, “legislation in the second session of this Parliament to establish a sustainable legal and financial framework for adult social care.”
And instead we have nothing. There is nothing to stop the Government speeding up the process, committing to legislation in this session, nothing at all. But they have chosen not to do so. “
Once again, those who require care, and those who seek to give it, are left out in the cold.
The Responsible Shrinking Government
The theme of responsibility does not stop with the individual, but spreads to Government spending. This is expressed in their promise to provide an updated version of the ‘Charter for Budget Responsibility’ and their goal to cut the government deficit and spending. There will be further cuts in welfare spending and the cap on that spending will remain in place. The Government, also, state that they will seek to reduce the amount paid to civil servants in redundancy payments. In sum, expect more cuts in government spending. But, it’s not only spending that the government is cutting they are also seeking to cut the amount of regulation coming out of government. The government is promoting legislation that would see the various departments of government setting “deregulation targets.” In addition, the government is seeking more private sector control of education in the form of ‘Academies’. Moreover, there will be a shrinking of legislation that governs big and small businesses.
We are living in a time of ever shrinking government, a time when business and individuals are expected to take on more and more responsibility for both; their own future and the future society. Is this a good or bad thing? Depends who you are.
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