“Instead of taking action to address the cost-of-living crisis and injustices like racism and climate breakdown, they want to stop people sounding the alarm.”
By Apsana Begum MP
The Queen’s Speech, which sets out the Government’s program for the year ahead, is notable for its absence of the action needed to address the cost-of-living crisis.
It is as if they don’t know how the past few years have been so hard for everyone i.e., the astronomical rise in food banks, the horror of the hostile environment, the drag of low pay, the thousands of unnecessary and avoidable covid deaths and the skyrocketing of homelessness.
Despite now facing the biggest squeeze on household finances since comparable records began, the Tories continue to drive families, children, pensioners, and the most vulnerable in our society into desperate poverty, with real-terms cuts in social security payments.
I look around me and there is a real sense of despair fuelled by desperate situations.
And of course, this is set against the brutal backdrop of over a decade of austerity.
In my constituency, which suffers from one of the highest rates of child poverty in the entire country, too many are struggling to heat their homes or put food on the table.
At the same time, the Tories have callously continued to priorities’ profit and the super-rich.
That is why I have consistently been opposing the Tories cuts to services and social security and calling for urgent action to address the scale of the crisis, including up-rating benefits and pensions in line with inflation, restoring the £20 cut to Universal Credit (UC) and the triple lock on pensions, increasing winter fuel payments, investing in community food provision to ensure the democratic right to food for all.
The growing wave of pay struggles and trade union activism — from hospital porters to bus drivers to airport ground crew to drivers to cleaners to warehouse workers – reflect that we need pay rises.
The rising sweep of climate activism calling for a Green New Deal based on public ownership and community empowerment exposes that the Energy Security Bill that has been announced is simply insufficient.
How can it be right that wealthy companies, including oil and gas giants like Shell and BP, are continuing to make tens of billions of pounds in profits whilst household energy bills are increasing?
It is beyond obvious that these companies should be brought into public ownership, so they are run in the interests of people and can transition to renewable and sustainable energy. Meeting the necessary carbon emission targets will require a Green New Deal based on public ownership, economic democracy, and community empowerment.
It is important to recognise that the cost-of-living crisis is linked intrinsically to attacks on our civil liberties and the climate emergency.
While the Government presides over inequality, injustice, and inaction on the climate, it continues to attack our trade unions, human rights, and civil liberties. This is clearly demonstrated by the Queen’s Speech’s confirmation of the disgraceful exclusion of trans people from the conversion therapy ban, the absence of an employment bill and other measures to undermine human rights and civil liberties.
Instead of taking action to address the cost-of-living crisis and injustices like racism and climate breakdown, they want to stop people sounding the alarm.
This pattern of authoritarianism is chilling and evocative of repressive policies in countries the UK regularly criticises.
Rather than addressing lasting effects that wars and war crimes in for example, in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Tories’ Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Act will entrench a culture of fear and mistrust and increase the risk of crimes being committed overseas.
The Spy Cops scandal shook civil society causing a political firestorm, collapsing a major trial, and quashing the convictions of environmental activists. The Tories responded with the controversial Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS) Act authorising undercover operatives to commit what would otherwise be criminalised offences with impunity.
Rather than address what a United Nations inquiry described as “grave or systemic violations” of the rights of disabled people and the fact that around four out of five cases where a claimant has been denied disability benefits are overturned on appeal, the Tories pushed through the Judicial Review Act 2021 to remove vital safeguards that protect often marginalised people from mistakes being made by public bodies.
During the pandemic, despite the failures at all levels that have contributed to thousands of workers dying across all sections of various workforces, the Tories have continued to attack trade unionism – which is all too often workers only means of challenging poor working conditions and low pay.
Instead of addressing the reasons behind the desperate attempts by people to seek a better life, which can often be traced back to wars, colonialism and entrenched global inequality, the Nationality and Borders Act disgracefully attacks the rights of people fleeing war, persecution, and torture.
For most the global Black Lives Matter movement and the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer sparked widespread concern about misogyny, racism, state violence and accountability. What was the Tories response? The draconian Policing, Crime and Sentencing Act attacks the right to protest and contain measures to further undermine the rights of marginalised communities.
On top of this, the Queen’s Speech announced the latest attack on the right to protest and the expansion of police powers in the form of the Public Order Bill due to have its Second Reading next week.
It is no coincidence that the Tories continue to attack people’s power to challenge the state, just as movements try to hold them accountable and challenge those in power. Whilst the Government criminalises campaigners, they continue to put all our futures at risk by propping up the destruction and exploitation of the oil and gas industry and the super-rich.
So, what do we do when faced with the tyranny of a government incapable of anything other than protecting unjust power and covering up its wrongdoing? Well, ask yourself: whose side will history come down on in the end—those who challenge injustice and power, or the perpetrators of injustice and abuses of power seeking to avoid accountability?
The answer is clear: we must organise, inspire, and empower each other. We must build a movement for socialism – from the grassroots up – to challenge the Tories and their abhorrent agenda.
We have long needed systemic change and it has long been time that our people and our planet are put first. We must resist this Government’s attacks on our communities, our rights, and our planet and we must overcome.
- Apsana Begum is the Labour MP for Poplar and Limehouse and a regular columnist for Labour Outlook. You can follow her on twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
- You can read our round-up of the Left’s response to the Queen’s Speech here, and our exclusive interview with Rebecca Long Bailey on the Queen’s Speech here.