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Volume 46 Number 14, May 28, 2016 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Government's 2016/17 Legislative Programme:
A Continuation of its Neo-Liberal Austerity Agenda

With barely a pause, the Conservative government has launched into its 2016/17 legislative programme as a continuation of its anti-social programme of its first 2015/16 term.

The "Queen's Speech" at the end of a parliament is not so well-known or publicised as the one which commences it. It is one that the Queen herself does not attend, but MPs are summoned to the Lords to hear what had been accomplished in the previous year. On May 12, Royal Assent was given to a number of Acts, including the Immigration Act 2016, ending the first session of the 56th Parliament which had opened on May 18, 2015. The Trade Union Act had been passed on May 4. WWIE is carrying reports on these two Acts in this issue.

The May 12 Queen's Speech declared that the government's legislative programme had "pursued a one nation approach". It went on to list policies and measures from the previous year in such self-serving terms that it was difficult to separate fact from fiction. What is evident from the comparison of the May 12 and May 18 speeches is that the government will continue its neo-liberal austerity agenda. The "one nation approach" translates into: "My Government will use the opportunity of a strengthening economy to deliver security for working people, to increase life chances for the most disadvantaged and to strengthen national defences. My Ministers will continue to bring the public finances under control so that Britain lives within its means, and to move to a higher wage and lower welfare economy where work is rewarded." It is a gloss that working people will find it difficult to recognise, and emphasises that the government is sorting out no problems in the economy, in the security of the people, but are pursuing the austerity agenda under the hoax that Britain must live within its means. This is a false and misleading analogy, both because the government is not investing in the means to generate wealth, neither is it cutting back on benefits to the rich.

Map of the carving up of the Ottoman empire between Britain
and France, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, signed May 8, 1916

In opening the debate on the Queen's Speech, leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, had this to say what is absent on covered over in the government's programme: "July will mark the centenary of the battle of the Somme, an episode of needless carnage and horror. This week marked the centenary of the Sykes-Picot agreement, in which Britain and France divided up the Ottoman empire into spheres of influence, arbitrarily establishing borders that have been the cause of many conflicts ever since. Those two events should remind us in this House of two things: first, the decisions that we take have consequences, and secondly, it is our armed forces that face the consequences of failed foreign and military policy. Our duty to our armed forces is to avoid the political mistakes that lead to their being sent unnecessarily into harm's way. As Dr Lee pointed out, the effects of war go on for the whole lifetime of those who take part in it."

The issue facing working people in the face of the 2016/17 legislative programme is how to effectively block the government acting in the interests of the most powerful monopolies and placing the burden of the crisis onto the backs of working people. The government sees no end to the crisis, and its rhetoric is that of "making Britain great" through being competitive on the global market, as well as big power intervention, in alliance or alone, in the affairs of sovereign nations. It is a matter of dictate of the ruling elite over the interests of the working people. The crucial thing to oppose this dictate, as well as holding the government to account, is for the working people themselves to chart the way out of the crisis, holding in their sights the necessity for a new society. In the first place, this means working for a change in the direction of the economy and society. It is not true simply that "austerity is a political choice, not an economic necessity". Problems are not sorted out in the political and economic spheres through policy objectives, through wrong choices. Rather the issue is to build on the necessity to turn things around, to engage the working people in analysing and working to solve the problems in society: in the economic sphere by building sovereign national economies; in the political sphere by democratic renewal and working for the empowerment of the working class and people.

Jeremy Corbyn in his opening to the debate summed up the reality of the deprivation facing working people: "Perhaps the most worrying proposal of all is the decision to try to redefine poverty and deprivation. Apparently, it is all about instability, addiction and debt - all things that can be blamed on individuals about whom Governments like to moralise. Well, no! It is about 1 million people in our country using food banks, record levels of in-work poverty and the fact that absolute child poverty, after housing costs, is up by half a million. Poverty is up in disabled households on the same basis. Homelessness has gone up every year since the Prime Minister took office, and 100,000 children spent last Christmas in temporary, insecure accommodation. The causes of that are cuts to welfare benefits, cuts to employment and support allowance, the bedroom tax, the benefit cap, wages being too low, insecure jobs, and housing - whether to rent or to buy - being too expensive. We will not tackle poverty by moving the goalposts. Poverty and inequality are collective failures of our society as a whole, not individual failures."

It is clear that the working class movement must say No to this anti-social assault on the people, refuse to take the blame or be scapegoated, and instead fight to hold the government to account, and crucially work for a change in the direction of society and the economy. This involves the fight to safeguard the future of the health service and education, the fight to defend the rights of all human beings, and to frustrate the doctrine of "free-trade" which puts the right of the monopolies over the rights of peoples and governments. It is a vital necessity that the working class and people take up and strengthen the struggle to determine the future of society.


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