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Volume 52 Number 11, May 21, 2022 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Queen's Speech

A Programme of Rule by Police Powers and Politicising Private Interests

On May 10, Prince Charles delivered the Queen's Speech outlining the legislative programme for the new parliamentary session [1]. Though the parliament is expected to last for one year as is standard, the Speech announced some 38 Bills, significantly more than what is usual. Of those 38, five are draft Bills and five are carried from the previous session [2].

Amid increasing concerns of the ruling circles as to the health of the Queen, aged 96, and the future of the monarchy, the Speech was delivered by the Prince of Wales for the first time after the Queen pulled out due to what were officially described as "mobility problems" by the Palace.

Though the Prince began by declaring that the government's priority "is to grow and strengthen the economy and help ease the cost of living for families," the Speech announced nothing to address control over prices or the increasingly-restricted claims of working people on the economy, or even support those struggling in the situation.

Instead, the Prime Minister's spokesperson echoed former Prime Minister Theresa May's infamous "magic money tree", insisting that there was only a "finite" amount that could be done.

In his introduction to the legislative programme, Boris Johnson declared that "no government can realistically shield everyone", claiming: "This moment makes clear our best remedy lies in urgently delivering on our mission to turbo charge the economy, create jobs and spread opportunity across the country."

The intent is to drive up productivity through further exacerbating the disequilibrium in the social relation between employer and employed. Referring to a promise made in 2019 to introduce an Employment Bill concerning employment relations, TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady accused the Prime Minister of "turning his back" on workers.

"After the P&O scandal, dragging our outdated labour laws into the 21st century has never been more urgent," she said. "Enough is enough. This is a government that just doesn't get it - from the cost of living emergency to the insecure work epidemic. People can't wait for greater rights and security at work - they need it now."

Police powers


A protester in Parliament Square earlier this year demanding government action - Photo: Belinda Jiao SOPA Images LightRocket via Getty Images

In fact, it could be said that rule by police powers is what characterises the legislative programme, the centrepiece of which is its so-called "Bill of Rights". The Bill will repeal the Human Rights Act 1998, which incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into British law. The government has used Brexit as impetus, though the Convention is not an EU matter as such. The new Bill will replace that Act with legislation that aims to "ensure our human rights framework meets the needs of the society it serves". The back to front manner in which this poses matters itself exposes its intent. Rather than society being organised to provide objectively-existing rights with a guarantee, it sets out to define "rights" according to the demands of a society based on privilege.

Further, the Public Order Bill - aimed ostensibly at direct action organisations such as Insulate Britain and Extinction Rebellion - introduces prison terms and unlimited fines for "guerrilla tactics" including interfering with or "locking-on" (using glue or other means) to key infrastructure such as transport, and extends stop and search powers. The Bill also introduces Serious Disruption Prevention Orders to criminalise such protest.

Related to this, though presented as aimed at terrorism, the Draft Protect Duty Bill will require various public venues and locations to have new security measures in place. And ominously, the National Security Bill will carry out the "biggest overhaul of state threats legislation for a generation", with mention made of barring access to civil legal aid and damage payments.

At the same time, the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions Bill, will stop public bodies "engaging in boycotts that undermine community cohesion", with reference to boycotts against Israel, but aimed at enforcing control over public bodies and preventing them from taking independent stands.

Similarly, the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill will legislate that "for the first time, students' unions will have to take steps to secure lawful freedom of speech for their members and others, including visiting speakers". The Office for Students (OfS) will gain powers to investigate matters relating to this conception of free speech, and will institute a new role of OfS Director of Free Speech.

Paying the rich and politicisation of private interests

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill represents the government's flagship programme, described as aiming to "drive local growth, empowering local leaders to regenerate their areas, and ensuring everyone can share in the United Kingdom's success", part of which is to make changes to the planning process.

As part of this, the UK Infrastructure Bank (UKIB) Bill will institute the (existing) UKIB as a statutory body with "clear objectives to support regional and local economic growth and deliver net zero, and ensure it has the full range of spending and lending powers". Established in June last year, this bank enables pay-the-rich schemes providing money to invest in the large infrastructure projects demanded by big business.

The Energy Security Bill is connected with this in its aim towards the government's conception of what it calls a Green Industrial Revolution. The Bill includes setting up a Future System Operator to manage the energy system.

Such politicisation of private interests, being termed "renationalisation" by commentators, is also evident in the Transport Bill, which will create Great British Railways as a new public authority to oversee the rail network.

The Brexit Freedoms Bill is further aimed at making those regulatory reforms demanded by big business - in this case, using Brexit to make Britain a haven for business, that "encourages prosperity, innovation, entrepreneurship and the cutting of £1 billion of burdensome EU red tape for businesses".

The Schools Bill is relevant in this regard, which is aimed in part at furthering the capital-centred agenda for the school system through academisation. This Bill will also change funding arrangements and establish a registration system for children not in school.

All in all, the Queen's (or Prince's) Speech outlined a programme of politicising private interests, including paying the rich, and strengthening rule by police powers to this end. It certainly presents no solutions to the matters of serious concern to the polity, such as the deepening economic crisis, or war. The programme is aimed at blocking people from even speaking in their own name, let alone playing any role in deciding matters that affect their lives, key to which are the direction of the economy and the need for Britain to be a factor for peace in the world. The programme, with its so-called Bill of Rights, underscores the need for real democratic renewal where people themselves constitute the governing authority.

Notes
1. The full text of the Queen's Speech is available at:
https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/queens-speech-2022
For a full list of Bills with summaries, see:
Alain Tolhurst, "All The New Legislation Set Out In The Queen's Speech", PoliticsHome, May 10, 2022
https://www.politicshome.com/news/article/government-promises-to-grow-and-strengthen-economy-and-ease-cost-of-living-crisis-with-38-new-bills-in-queens-speech
For a useful description of then probable Bills made before the Speech, see:
Dods Political Consultants, "What to expect from the Queen's Speech in 2022", PoliticsHome, May 6, 2022
https://www.politicshome.com/thehouse/article/what-to-expect-from-the-queens-speech-in-2022
Our article also makes use of the following commentaries:
Eleanor Langford, "Government Insists Money Is Finite After Queen's Speech Announced No New Cost Of Living Support", PoliticsHome, May 10, 2022
Tim Lezard, "Queen's Speech, unions accuse government of turning its back on working people", UnionNews, May 11, 2022
Katie Neame, "How the labour movement reacted to the 2022 Queen's Speech", LabourList, May 10, 2022
2. Eleanor Langford, "Government Could Struggle To Get All 38 Bills Announced In The Queen's Speech Through", PoliticsHome, May 10, 2022
According to this article, the average number of new Bills introduced has been 22 in recent years.


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