Following big gains in the recent local elections for the Tories, the Queen’s speech has signalled the return of parliament. In her speech, she outlined the upcoming priorities of Boris Johnson’s government, including the much-touted “levelling up” of the country’s struggling towns. However, for working class people, any such levelling up will have been hard to find in the proposals actually put forward. Indeed, the £4.8 billion that has been put aside for the purpose is wholly inadequate when you consider the many parts of the country that have suffered decades of neglect.
Over the last year, we have seen unprecedented state spending to combat the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic, piling up a mountain of debt equal to £2,076 billion. The government has promised to put forward proposals to “create and support jobs and improve regulation”. However, the details of these proposals are noticeably vague.
At the same time, the government has announced plans for infrastructure projects in public transport and 5G technology, and for a Subsidy Control Bill laying out new rules for state support for companies. This represents a continuation of the more hands-on approach toward the economy adopted by the Tories in response to the current crisis.
However the speech also emphasised the Tories’ intention to bring public spending back toward a more “sustainable path” as we emerge from the ongoing economic crisis. Workers’ should have no faith in the Tories to continue the measures which have helped working class people to survive the last year any longer than they feel is necessary to protect the capitalist system. Already, the government has looked to roll back measures such as the ban on evictions, as well as the temporary boost to Universal Credit and the furlough scheme. So far, such cuts have been continually pushed back by the threat of economic and political turmoil, including the resumption of mass layoffs and evictions, but also the mass anger that would be provoked by such a ‘cliff edge’ in the middle of a deep crisis of capitalism. However, the incoming end of the evictions ban later this month, and the looming rollback of furlough and Universal Credit in September, belie the Tories’ real priorities. For all the talk of “enhancing the rights of those who rent”, tenants in Britain will not be feeling any less insecure following today’s speech. Neither will workers stuck working for “zombie companies” staying afloat only due to government support.
The government has promised high quality education for all and the ability for every child to fulfil their potential. But as it stands, the disparity between schools that teach students from more deprived backgrounds and those that cater to the more well-off has increased dramatically since the pandemic. At the same time, funding for the arts is set to be callously slashed in Higher Education. Even with the increased funding for schools put forward last year, real terms funding for education will continue to lag behind even the inadequate levels of funding available a decade ago.
Future proposals on social care “reform” are also striking in their lack of substance. Last year, social care was at the epicentre of the covid catastrophe, with sky-high death rates following years of severe cuts to services. What is almost certain, however, is that the government has no intention of taking the necessary steps that have become even clearer following the outbreak of Covid-19 – of bringing social care back into full public ownership, with decent funding and an immediate pay rise for care workers.
In the NHS, the proposed Health and Care Bill aims to introduce an Integrated Care Service in the NHS. According to Keep Our NHS Public, such a system would “strengthen the role of private companies, including US health insurance corporations, in the NHS”, undoubtedly to the detriment of patients.
Much of the speech was dedicated to attempts to reinforce Britain’s position on the world stage. We have seen such posturing already over Britain’s role as host of the G7 summit this year and crucially as hosts of the COP26 climate summit in November as the Tories continue to peddle the idea of ‘global Britain’.
Under the pressure of the looming climate talks, the government has restated its commitment to hitting net zero emissions by 2050 and to pass an updated Environment Bill setting binding environmental goals. This bill has been subject to numerous delays already and the government’s targets are woefully inadequate to seriously address the climate emergency.
The government also reaffirmed its position in the emerging conflict between the US and China through its pledge to remain committed to NATO, and has promised to introduce legislation to “counter hostile activity by foreign states”.
A reactionary, undemocratic government
The government’s repeated promise of the aim to ban conversion therapy comes on the back of 3 years of feet-dragging on the issue, after the government initially made such promises in 2018! Despite this brief lip-service to LGBTQ+ rights, the goals outlined in the Queen’s speech highlight a thoroughly reactionary agenda from the Tories. It has since emerged that the government plans to hold a public consultation on the issue before passing it as the Tories attempt, in practice, to push any ban back.
This includes an aim to “ensure the integrity of elections” in Britain… by introducing the notoriously undemocratic measure of mandatory voter ID. This would block anyone without ID such as a passport or driving license – both of which cost money – from being able to vote. Such a law would disproportionately affect those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds in society such as the unemployed, young people and people of colour, effectively barring big chunks of these groups from voting. For the Tories, this is a cynical attempt to secure their grip on power by putting any future opposition at an electoral disadvantage.
Furthermore, it completely exposes the falseness of the government’s pledge to “address racial and ethnic disparities” in our society. This is the same government that only a few weeks ago published a report attempting to deny such disparities.
At the same time, the Tories have pandered to the reactionary elements of their base with the promise of new migration controls to strengthen the UK borders, and to defend “freedom of speech” on university campuses – playing into overblown hysteria around racist, sexist and misogynistic figures not being able to speak at universities.
In addition, the mention of the Tories’ draconian Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill will not have gone unnoticed by the many thousands of activists around the country who have mobilised on the streets in recent weeks against this rotten piece of legislation. Alongside these other aims, the authoritarian direction of travel from the Tory government is clear, characterised by attacks on democratic rights and an increase in attacks on oppressed groups in society.
We need a real opposition
The Tories might appear to be going into the summer in a stronger position than ever, with an utterly feeble opposition from Keir Starmer’s Blairite Labour Party. This is certainly the impression they are looking to give off. But behind this facade, the government is on shaky foundations. They are still a party being torn apart by infighting, and who have been forced into a series of dramatic U-turns over numerous issues since the start of the pandemic as a result of the threat of turmoil and working-class unrest.
These victories point toward the kind of opposition we need. This should be one built by working class people, bringing together socialists, climate activists, trade unionists, feminists and all those looking to fight back against this government. Socialist Alternative argues for conferences of resistance to be formed to bring these struggles together, to coordinate action and discuss a strategy. Organising a real struggle on the streets, in our local communities and in the workplace would lay the basis for a real party of the working class to challenge the Tories and the capitalist system they represent.
As we come out of lockdown, the lasting effects of the past year, including the economic turmoil, increased disparities in society and attacks on our democratic rights will make themselves clear. But this will also be an important opportunity to organise a mass movement against this crisis-ridden government and to fight for a real alternative for working class people. If you want to help get involved in building such a movement, we encourage you to get involved!