A Queen's Speech which exposed this government for what it really is — Thatcherism with the lid on

Come back Nick Clegg, all is forgiven!

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The Independent Online

They say teenagers crave new experiences, which is fortunate, because anyone under the age of nineteen will have today witnessed their first all-Conservative Queen’s speech. Not since the dog-days of the sleaze-ridden John Major administration have the Tories commanded a majority in the House of Commons. The last time they did so (1996) the Spice Girls were about to get their big break and the former Yugoslavia was in flames.  

Accordingly this was the most Thatcherite Queen’s Speech in years. This was evident in the government’s proposed legislation to limit strike action so that unions require the support of 40 per cent of those entitled to vote and 50 per cent who actually vote. After almost five years of falling living standards the biggest problem the country faces is apparently workers having too many rights. There is no clamour in the country for this – strikes are at a 30-year low – but there is clamour for it on the Tory back benches, and since the General Election they hold the whip hand.

Mrs Thatcher would no doubt have been delighted with the extension of Right to Buy to housing association tenants, a plan that will deliver another hammer blow to the viability of social housing. But the red meat for the Tory benches was balanced out with populist measures like tax cuts for low earners and free childcare for three and four year-olds - further evidence that Cameron hasn’t given up on the ‘one-nation’ conservatism he clearly feels more at home with.

For all the apparent 80s and 90s nostalgia, one glimmer of hope in the Queen’s Speech was the Scotland Bill, which will implement the recommendations of the Smith Commission. This will pass 60 per cent of spending responsibilities to the Scottish government and devolve income tax raising powers. Not only is this more democratic for both English and Scottish voters than the current set up; it’s also the first step in taking the wind out of Nicola Sturgeon’s sails. Positioning yourself as an anti-austerity alternative is easier when most of the bills are paid by someone else. Scotland will get the freedom to build its Scandinavian-style welfare state – but now it’ll have to budget for it.

Against his better nature, Cameron stuck with an economically illiterate pre-election pledge to introduce a ‘Tax Lock Bill’, enshrining in law a promise not to raise income tax, VAT or National Insurance in this parliament. Not wanting to raise taxes certainly has its merits; but abandoning any wriggle room should another economic crisis hit is to make a rod for your own back. Fortunately the Queen’s Speech is merely the government’s mission statement – just because something is in there doesn’t mean it’ll become law. Cameron may be glad of this if the economic winds suddenly change.

Glaring in its oversight today was any plan to replace the European Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights. The government instead presented us with an open-ended ‘consultation’ – in reality they’ve kicked the can down the road - ostensibly because the new legislation isn’t ready, but more likely because of discontent among senior Conservatives. Tory rebels Dominic Grieve, David Davis and Andrew Mitchell have already hinted that they could line up with opposition parties on any vote on the Act; and with a majority of only 12 such things matter.

Today’s Queen’s Speech may not have been Thatcherism in its pomp, but it was a recognisable imitation. The EU Referendum Bill - a sop to UKIP as well as to the right of the Conservative party - says a great deal about where the biggest challenge to David Cameron’s authority will come from in this parliament. But Cameron’s wafer-thin majority provides only a little scope for radicalism, and so we got tougher trade union laws, populist housing and tax measures but not, as expected, the end of the hated Human Rights Act.

This is Thatcherism with the lid on, but in contrast to the compromise and equivocation of the previous coalition government, the shackles are off. Come back, Nick Clegg. All is forgiven!

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