Friday, 29 May 2015

On the recent Queen's Speech and other thoughts

Two days ago, the Queen's Speech was released (even though of course ministers write it, Queen Elizabeth II just reads it) and it was as dangerous as I expected it to be. So bad was it that the Queen purportedly scowled when there was mention of scrapping the Human Rights Act sometime in this parliament.

Here are five important reasons why the 2015 Queen's Speech is bad news for most people in Britain:

1. The proposed enormous budget cuts and decimation of social supports.

In the 2010-15 Parliament, councils were already hit so hard by austerity that by 2014, many councils already feared soon being unable to provide services required by statute, and many services were contracted out to large corporations notorious for failure or unethical practices (e.g. Capita, Serco, G4S). George Osborne announced another £12,000,000,000 of planned cuts, particularly to welfare and local government budgets that are already squeezed, and as expected he has no plans at all to introduce higher tax rates or clamp down on tax avoidance costing this country 10 times the amount of planned cuts. Worse still, if the right-to-buy, which should be entirely ended immediately, is extended to housing association homes, it will decimate the social housing stock even further and shut even more young people out of getting their home, rented or owned, and put long-term secure tenancies at risk.

2. The proposed ban on all legal highs-despite the social costs and waste of police resources such a ban would cause.

The propensity of legal highs, like those of substances already banned by law, is a health issue fundamentally-not a criminal justice issue. There should be regulation of the market of legal highs so that people can enjoy them but safely, but an outright ban would as per usual cause more problems than it solves. I believe that like the Misuse of Drugs Act, this is just another excuse to target some of the most vulnerable people in society and unfairly restrict people's personal freedom.

3. There will be yet more intrusion into the lives of innocent people and peaceful activists.

The 'snoopers' charter' and Extremism Bill will likely not be effective at combating terrorism or countering its root causes. They are just more excuses for Theresa May to abuse her power and make British society even more Orwellian than it was before. The main targets of these proposals will actually be peaceful critics of austerity and other harmful government policy, and vulnerable people.

4. 'English votes for English laws' and the effects it will have.

English votes for English laws will mean, in practice, the Conservatives riding roughshod over all areas of England, since they have only one MP in Scotland, and 12 in Wales, but 317 MPs in England out of a possible 533. Given that devolution plans in England will not be good (proposed city regions will not only not represent real devolution to local people but may also have harmful impacts on surrounding areas), this bill will have very serious consequences for the people of England if passed, given that Plaid Cymru and the SNP will aid Green MP Caroline Lucas once again in providing a real opposition to the Conservatives.

5. The excessive planned restrictions on our right to strike.

Very few MPs got support from more than 40% of the eligible electors in their constituencies, and only one (George Howarth in Knowsley) got 50% of all eligible electors in his constituency to vote for him. Yet they are planning to require that for strike action to be legal, strike turnouts must be at least 50%, with a further requirement of 40% of all eligible voters in the sector for 'key sectors' such as health and transport, which will make most strike action impossible in practice, even when it is reasonable. These restrictions are so bad they violate international law (and also the UN Convention on Human Rights).

I would also like to say that even though the EU's Trade Committee is no longer supportive of the insidious ISDS clause due to a compromise between two parts of the European neoliberal triad (the S&D, EPP, and ALDE groups), TTIP will still have very serious consequences for important environmental and health regulation if it is ever approved, so I ask you to continue opposing TTIP and doing your best to persuade your MEPs to scrap TTIP altogether, rather than accept even a watered-down version that will still be bad for us overall.

Alan.

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