|Volume 47 Number 12, July 1, 2017||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
Following the disastrous election campaign, the resulting minority government of Theresa May presented its delayed Queen's Speech on June 21, with the Conservative manifesto widely being said to be in tatters. It is certainly the case that the government has had to tactically retreat from its policies for new grammar schools, end free school meals for infants, abolish the Serious Fraud Office, scrap the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, shelve a vote to reverse the ban on fox hunting, and others. Yet the manifesto's reactionary kernel remains firmly in place. With the announcement that this will be a two-year parliament, the Speech was a declaration of the intent to rule regardless. It still represents what May herself has come to represent: arbitrary rule through police powers.
"My government's priority is to secure the best possible deal as the country leaves the European Union," opened the Queen's Speech. This hope for the "best deal" is tied to the notion of what the government is calling "Global Britain". This pipe-dream is the British empire-building aim around which the Conservatives are attempting to create a post-Brexit consensus, the latest incarnation of Blair's "make Britain great again", and even more dangerous.
Their manifesto elaborates this thoroughly reactionary idea:
"The United Kingdom is a global nation. Our history is a global history; our future must be global too. We believe Britain should play an active, leading role in the world. Not because it is our right or inheritance, but because our leadership in the world is the surest way to defend and advance the interests of the British people, and to extend around the world those values that we believe to be right.
"The United Kingdom is already a global power. We have a leading diplomatic service and one of the largest overseas development budgets in the world. Our armed forces are respected around the world and enable us to project power globally. Our global businesses and London's position as the global centre of finance make us more interconnected with the global economy than any other comparable nation."
Irrationality runs throughout these conceptions, which, now that the election has sharpened all of the contradictions within the Conservative Party, in parliament, between the factions of British capital, in the nations, and internationally, have become even more incoherent and pragmatic.
The Speech therefore announced the bill to repeal the 1972 European Communities Act, which is the Act through which EU law has force in Britain. The Act would bring this EU legislation into British law. The parts of this previously EU law would then be kept, amended or repealed. At the same time, the Speech mentioned additional legislation to establish "new national policies on immigration, international sanctions, nuclear safeguards, agriculture, and fisheries", all of which represent points of contention between the rival empire-building projects of Global Britain and the EU.
Immigration policy in particular cannot at all be expected to be based on the principle of treating movement first and foremost as a matter of humanity, a matter of people's needs and the rights they have by virtue of being human. As well as further cynical manipulation of people's status as a bargaining chip in winning the "best deal", immigration policy can instead be expected to be based on what competing oligopolies require of movement of labour and capital in the context of Global Britain.
The irrational idea is that there is some kind of business deal good for Britain as a whole. The Speech talks of "a deep and special partnership with European allies", while referring to new trading relationships across the world - the Speech announced bills on trade and customs - reflecting the developing contradictions between these big powers as well as their collusion.
On foreign policy, the Speech reiterated the manifesto commitment to use, for example, "international development" to "project British values around the world", as well as to continue to spend at least two per cent of national income on the military as required by NATO. The speech specifically mentioned continued political and military intervention in the Middle East.
This foreign intervention is matched at home with further government via police powers in the name of security. The Speech announced a new commission for countering extremism, for "stamping out extremist ideology in all its forms, both across society and on the internet, so it is denied a safe space to spread".
Regarding the Internet, a new law on protecting personal data will be brought forward as well as proposals for a new "digital charter".
The government will review counter-terrorism strategy, to ensure that "the police and security services have all the powers they need" and the "length of custodial sentences for terrorism-related offences are sufficient". The Speech also announced legislation to change the legal process, specifically to "modernise" the courts system.
On the economy, the Speech reflected the tension between continued austerity to push the burden of the crisis onto the backs of the general mass of the population, particularly the working class on the one hand, and the problems austerity is causing and the growing demand for investment and to shift to generating growth on the other; for example, the so-called productivity problem and the demand for safe places to invest capital. Thus the Speech mentioned both "continuing to improve the public finances" and "investment in infrastructure to support economic growth".
The Speech also mentioned "a new modern, industrial strategy". This again relates to Global Britain, as how British business can find its niche or place in the global market in terms of spearheading new industries - the Speech explicitly mentions electric cars and commercial satellites. It also mentioned a new high-speed rail bill, further developing a network that is in the interest of certain sections of big business rather than the population as a whole.
Regardless of a sop to increase the National Living Wage, the strategy does nothing at all to invest in social programmes. When it comes to education, the Speech referred to schools being "fairly funded". Also a "major reform" of technical education indicates the government's further intent to press ahead with the capital-centred direction for education.
On health and social care, it referred to "reform" of mental health legislation and a consultation on the proposals for social care.
On the problem of housing, the government plans to "ban unfair tenant fees" and "promote fairness and transparency in the housing market" as well as generating more house building.
All are market solutions, and will do nothing to guarantee the right to decent, safe housing. On that issue, the government has had to respond to the Grenfell Tower tragedy, and promised a full public inquiry and also to introduce an independent public advocate, who will act for bereaved families after a public disaster and support them at public inquest. Yet such measures are damage limitation and risk mitigation measures at best. Not only are the root causes unaddressed, they are set to deteriorate further. The whole programme continues with austerity, does nothing to restore the public authority which lies in tatters, and does not provide rights with a guarantee.
In response to the Speech, Jeremy Corbyn said: "This is a government without a majority, without a mandate, without a serious legislative programme, led by a Prime Minister who has lost her political authority, and is struggling to stitch together a deal to stay in office.
"We will use every opportunity to vote down government policies that failed to win public support and we will use every opportunity to win support for our programme."
The sheer brazenness and irrationalism is made starkly clear in the promise to "work with all of the parties in Northern Ireland", while simultaneously pursuing an agreement with the DUP. Their priority "to build a more united country" can only be through force when it sets out by holding the public, institutions and civil society in such contempt. The loss of authority, the inability to take control of anything or to make any accommodation is the underlying theme of the Speech; the need is to counter this and all its attendant dangers with a Workers' Opposition organised around an independent programme of its own.