“Faced with a government so utterly devoid of ideas and unserious about the crises we’re facing, Labour has an opportunity to draw clear dividing lines that show we have solutions to people’s problems.”
By Nadia Whittome MP
Some people want to be Prime Minister to transform the country. Some, to leave a mark on history. Judging from his first, and likely only, King’s Speech, neither is the case for Rishi Sunak.
On Tuesday, the King came to Parliament to read out the Tories’ plans for the coming months. One might expect a government hoping for re-election next year to put forward an inspiring vision full of fresh ideas and big promises. However, the speech contained nothing of the sort.
Of the 21 bills included, few were pledges we hadn’t heard before. The handful that were new were not exactly gamechangers. It tells you all you need to know that, seeing the state the country is in, the government has made it one of its priorities to regulate London’s pedicabs. Apart from that, the Tories played some of their greatest hits: climate vandalism, attacks on key workers and law and order posturing.
Just weeks before COP28, the government has restated its plans to license new oil and gas fields – bizarrely, describing it as “helping the country to transition to net zero by 2050”. Experts are clear: if we’re in any way serious about stopping runaway climate chaos, we should be phasing out fossil fuels, not expanding their production. But I’m sure the big polluters, who are funding the Tories to the tune of £3.5 million a year, have a different view.
The NHS is facing the worst crisis in its history, with severe staff shortages and record waiting lists putting lives at risk. But instead of proposing anything resembling a plan to save it, the Tories are once again scapegoating healthcare workers. The speech reaffirmed the commitment to enforcing minimum service levels on strike days – nevermind that the government can’t even ensure a safe level of staffing on all other days.
Perhaps the most headline-grabbing announcements concerned criminal justice. The government promised to extend the use of whole life sentences for the worst murderers and prevent the early release of serious sexual offenders. What the speech didn’t mention is that conviction rates for sexual violence remain dismally low – or that Britain’s prisons are so overcrowded that the government is looking into renting out prison cells abroad (measures to enable this are included in the new Criminal Justice Bill). Unsurprisingly, we heard more talk of stopping Channel crossings, although – thankfully – no new anti-refugee bills were announced.
It’s hard not to notice what didn’t make it into the speech. It included merely a passing reference to the cost of living crisis, not a single measure to help families with energy bills and nothing on building affordable or social housing and tackling rising homelessness. The long-delayed Renters Reform Bill was mentioned, but with no commitment to banning no-fault evictions. (Fortunately, Suella Braverman’s cartoonishly evil suggestion to crack down on the use of tents by rough sleepers didn’t make the cut either.)
Another notable omission was a ban on conversion therapy – first pledged in 2018 but still nowhere to be seen. Since then, I’ve lost count of how many times the Tories have promised to outlaw it only to backtrack weeks or even days later. It’s clear that the government is more interested in appeasing bigots than protecting LGBTQ+ people from harm.
After 13 years of Conservative governments, people are crying out for change. The Tories increasingly look like they’ve already accepted defeat, and this speech certainly won’t avert it. But this doesn’t mean we can take our election victory for granted. Faced with a government so utterly devoid of ideas and unserious about the crises we’re facing, Labour has an opportunity to draw clear dividing lines that show we have solutions to people’s problems.
While the Tories are protecting the profits of fossil fuel companies, we should respond with a transformative Green New Deal that can bring down emissions and the cost of living at once. While they’re attacking workers’ rights, we must be clear about our commitment to strengthen them through our New Deal for Working People and we must give our public sector workers their long overdue, proper pay rises. And while they’re trying to divide us with toxic culture wars, we need to stand firmly with all marginalised people, while tackling the deprivation and hopelessness that provide such a fertile ground for hate.
That’s what the next King’s Speech, written by a Labour government, should include.
- Nadia Whittome is the MP for Nottingham East and a regular contributor to Labour Outlook. You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
- You can read more reaction to the King’s Speech on Labour Outlook – check out our interview with Rebecca Long Bailey MP here.
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