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The Queen's Speech That Could Have Been

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QUEENS SPEECH
AP

Wednesday's Queen's Speech was both a disgrace and disappointment - a failure on both the grounds of what it contained, and what it didn't.

What it did contain was a disgraceful pandering to the Ukip vote, in its financially toothless, but socially damaging, provisions on immigration. It is worth setting out the fact - no one steps off an Easyjet flight from anywhere in Europe and into a job centre to pick up British benefits. To get benefits you have to fulfil a "habitual residence" test, and for unemployment benefit demonstrate that you are available and looking for work.

So now, the governments "tightening the rules". The financial impact of this will be tiny.
For it is worth saying, and saying again, since there's so much painting of other pictures, that immigrants are significantly less likely the the native-born population to claim benefits. (Not of course that there's anything wrong with claiming benefits - it is a mark of our still, sometimes it feels like "just still", civilised society, that if you're unable to find a job because there's none available to you, or you have been disabled by accident or injury, society will provide you with benefits.) And the eligibility rules aren't really changing.

But the government's measures, scant as their financial impact will be, are damaging, for what they will do is build on Ukip's demonisation of immigrants. They are going to do nothing to discourage new immigrants,but they will contribute to the stigmatisation of people already here - encourage insults and slights, and worse, for anyone who looks or sounds "foreign". The drunk thug in the pub, the irate woman on the bus - all will feel empowered to let fly now the government is so clearly on their side.

As we saw after the increase in disability hate crime after the sustained attack, from government and the right-wing media, on disabled benefits, so we are going to see an increase in discrimination, in slights, in attacks on immigrants and those perceived to be immigrants.
And what about housing? Now the government is demanding that private landlords act as immigration police,how many are just not going to bother - in this overheated market where in many parts of the country several tenants are chasing every vacant property - to consider any tenant who "might" be foreign, or how many rental agencies, already so creative in their fees, will find this an excuse for an extra, extortionate, charge?

That was wrong with what was in the Queen's Speech. But there was also much that was missing.

Missing was any effective measure to tackle our economy's malaise - its high unemployment, its low wages and insecure jobs, its soaring inequality,the privileging of giant multinationals over struggling small businesses.

There was no U-turn on the failed policy of austerity, no investment in energy conservation (which would create good jobs, tackle fuel poverty and cut our carbon emission) and the guaranteed, fixed-price renewable energy that is essential for our future energy security, no investment in public transport or desperately needed funding for social care. (There is increased recognition for carers - great - but no sign of the funding they desperately need for everything from essential supplies like incontinence pads to the essential breaks provided by respite care.)

And there were no steps towards economic transformation - investment, legislation, reshaping of planning and tax policy to start to rebuild strong local economies, to support struggling small businesses and high streets, to encourage and support the tentative "reshoring" of manufacturing to Britain that we're starting to see in the garment industry, the furniture industry and food manufacturing.

And remember all of David Cameron's grand statements about making multinational companies pay their taxes? Where are the bills to do that? (He wouldn't even have to start from scratch - he could take Green MP Caroline Lucas's 2011 Tax and Financial Transparency Bill as a model.)
Where was the splitting up of our still too-big-to-fail banks, and the big push on supporting credit unions and the development if local currencies like the Bristol and Brixton pounds?

And Mr Cameron dismissed airily as too trivial to bother with long-mooted health measures including a minimum price for alcohol and plain packaging for cigarettes. Neither would transform the nation's health, but they would, and one day no doubt will, save lives, and save the NHS significant long-term costs.

But too trivial for Mr Cameron.... Though I fear for the foreseeable future no anti-immigrant measure will be too trivial for his serious consideration and urgent action.

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