My favourite part of the State Opening of Parliament is always the pageantry. It’s one of the most spectacular things we do in this country and something I’m happy to say I don’t think anyone else quite surpasses.
Her Majesty’s speech itself is probably my least favourite bit. Much as I marvel at the grit of an 87-year-old woman flawlessly delivering a speech with a 2lb crown on her head, the content of said speech is rarely cause for excitement.
There were positives to yesterday’s speech, of course. The planned introduction of a employers’ allowance, whereby those with four employees or less do not make National Insurance contributions, is welcome though one could argue it does not quite go far enough. Reducing the legislative burden on businesses is also marvellous news.
But it says something that probably the best news was what wasn’t in the speech. Namely the Home Office’s (I’m inclined to believe the department has now achieved sentience and operates through its ministers) latest attempt to allow the state to track citizens’ internet usage and , of course, legislating foreign aid.
Liberals and libertarians will no doubt breathe a sigh of relief such measures will not make the legislative programme. The former is a terrifying slide into a ‘Big Brother’ state while the latter does what no democratic government should – bind the will of its successors. Here’s hoping they stay where they belong – in the bin.
Overall, however, the programme is let down by some of the highly illiberal, even insane, things within it. The most frightening is the Government’s attempt to recreate the sub-prime mortgage crisis on these shores ‘with government support provided for mortgages and deposits’. What catalysed the world economic crisis in 2007 was American banks being pressured by the US Government to offer mortgages with low or no deposits to people with poor credit. Basically, to go against simple business and finance sense.
Also worrying is another shakeup of the education system. These seem to have come with increasing frequency under both Labour and Conservative governments yet one of the things many of the left and right (and teachers) can agree on is those actually involved in education – teachers, parents, headteachers, governors and exam boards – should decide how best to educate children. The difference between us and the left is they would have this occur within the state system while we would prefer the government out of education altogether and a private voucher system instituted. But it is generally agreed that constantly ‘moving the goal posts’ only harms pupils.
So, overall a mixed bag, but at least Ed Miliband did a great job of reminding us why we’d be infinitely worse off with Labour. The leader consistently evaded answering the question of how much more he would borrow were Labour in power before finally conceding that the party’s planned VAT cut would necessitate higher public borrowing.
He also asked why the PM wasn’t offering a ‘jobs guarantee’ to all young people like his party was. This was very well demolished by Penny Mordaunt before the debate, mocking ‘this idea of Labour’s that you can legislate to give someone a job’. An answer was also not forthcoming to Robert Halfron’s question of why the Leader of the Opposition voted against the Government’s expansion of income tax allowance.
It was interesting, too, to hear the man behind Gordon Brown make a return to the call for ‘British jobs for British workers’ in his attack on the government’s immigration policy. ‘Employers use cheap labour to exploit and undercut workers here using legal and illegal immigrants,’ he said. Cheap Labour indeed. He may criticise the Conservatives for attempting to emulate UKIP but that’s got to better than recycling the BNP’s old fascist dogma.