The speech made by Rupa Huq, the Labour MP for Ealing Central and Acton, in the House of Commons on 18 May 2022.
The Gracious Speech the other day was most memorable for being a Queen’s Speech without a Queen. It was also an agenda from a Government without clear direction, flailing around in their 12th year. As the Institute for Government said,
“it reads like a manifesto aimed at the party base more than a realistic programme.”
That is what we get when we have an Administration diverted from the real issues of the day by self-preservation. While 38 Bills is, on the face of it, a frenetic level of legislation—it is the most in almost a decade and four times that of the last Queen’s Speech—when we strip away the bits that are reheated leftovers that the Government could not get through the Lords last time and the bits and pieces that will scrap EU regulations, we see that, paradoxically, it is a very thin speech. It is a scattergun of afterthoughts, and it puts off all the really big decisions.
When, the other day, the Prime Minister had a go at our hard-working civil service by saying that it had a mañana culture—I am told that the word translates as “tomorrow”—he seemed to identify that his own Government have been gripped with putting everything into a “too difficult for right now” box to be dealt with tomorrow. Although the words “cost of living crisis” were included in the speech’s text, it was missing any big, overarching ideas for dealing with the crippling of household finances when it comes to the weekly shop, leaving the lights on, heating the house or filling up the tank. The Government’s answer for when they might deal with any of the above, or the record inflation that we see today, is some ill-defined date in the future, but the problem is now.
Take the flagship pledge to ban buy-one-get-one-free on junk food—again, kicked into the long grass. I do not know if that is because the Conservatives are not into the nanny state or whether it was nanny who told them to do it. Whatever it is, it just reeks of timidity. The whole thing is like a bad episode of “Neighbours”, where we have No. 10 and No. 11 at war with each other. They only thing they are agreed on is that if you break the law you can get away with it—you don’t have to resign.
From the content of the Queen’s Speech, we would not know that we are in the midst of a European war, that we are coming out of a global pandemic with a spluttering economy edging perilously close to recession, or that we are in a climate crisis. Instead, what do we have? Ideological hobby horses and populist posturing. We have a higher education Bill consisting of student number controls and a lifelong loan entitlement—more dumbing down than levelling up. Then there is the freedom of speech Bill roundly condemned by everyone in the higher education sector. That is what you get when you have had enough of experts. There is a Bill to curb Insulate Britain, but nothing that would actually help to insulate Britain’s homes. With high streets increasingly boarded up and turning into cash deserts, it is shameful that food bank usage is rocketing but that in Acton banks are an extinct species. TSB has now gone in Ealing, which is going the same way.
Faced with crises at home and abroad, what is the Government’s priority? It is to privatise the widely respected Channel 4, which costs us all not a penny. It is a solution to which there is no problem. The proposal is condemned by prominent Conservatives, such as the former Culture Secretary who is now the Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, the right hon. Member for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt), and the right hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green), a former deputy Prime Minister, who is no longer in his place, so even their own side do not like it. It was not even in the Conservative manifesto and it looks like revenge. Members might remember that that was promised when the Prime Minister did not turn up to the Channel 4 election debate and he was replaced with an ice sculpture.
We now have a Bill for BO—the laughably titled Brexit opportunities Bill—with more dead ends and might-have-beens, and more re-writing of history all over. The Prime Minister trumpeted removing VAT on domestic energy during the referendum campaign. His exact words were:
“When we vote leave, we will be able to scrap this unfair and damaging tax.”
The country obliged, but six years on, in the middle of an energy price crisis, nothing. Then there is the manifesto pledge that Brexit would allow them to ban the import of foie gras, which is so cruel to ducklings and geese. Vanished, all because the Prime Minister is too chicken to do anything about it. [Hon. Members: “Groan!”] Only warm words, but no concrete proposals on trophy hunting. All our constituents write in in their hundreds about these things—but the proposals are gone. Two years on since the promise of an employment Bill—that sounded really good, didn’t it?—employment rights, flexible working and carers’ leave have also disappeared from the Queen’s Speech, despite the P&O scandal. BO seems, concerningly, a handy cover to euphemistically deregulate and scrap protections in a race to the bottom Singapore-on-Thames, which we know at least half the Cabinet salivates for.
We now know that the plan is to leave the European Court of Human Rights, and repeal and dilute EU law bypassing Parliament. It is all very fitting for a Government with an aversion to being held to account—wasted time and populist headline chasing when we could be addressing the real crises of a country feeling the pinch. The Financial Times said it is
“red meat over real reform”,
a bunch of ill-considered, ill-timed, unnecessary and nakedly political measures: flogging off that great Thatcher legacy, Channel 4; waging a trade war with the EU; joining Russia—only Russia has done this before—in quitting the ECHR; and regulating street naming. I have knocked on loads of doors over the years every day in the run-up to elections, and no normal person on the doorstep wants any of that. Yet there is nothing to tackle the climate crisis, or to cut energy bills, or to make people more secure at work, or to turn around our struggling economy—none of the stuff that people desperately need.
The rollercoaster nature of the Government is that they are prone to knee-jerkism and tearing up their own manifesto commitments rather than thinking through problems. On this occasion, this ostensible blizzard of Bills is ultimately a too-little-too-late Queen’s Speech without a Queen. I was pleased to see that Her Majesty was on Crossrail yesterday and has been enjoying the horses recently. HRH has been an able stand-in, but maybe we can all agree that Her Majesty will deliver many more addresses from the throne, starting, as soon as possible, with one from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), the Leader of the Opposition, when we re-take the reins. Bring it on!