An alternative Queen's speech

A progressive agenda for the coalition.

On a couple of occasions when I worked at 10 Downing Street, I had the pleasure of drafting a paragraph or two for inclusion in the Queen’s Speech. If I could draft all of Her Majesty’s speech this year, it would read something like this:

“My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, my government’s overriding priority is to ensure sustained economic growth and increased job creation. Measures will be brought forward to boost demand in the economy, increase investment in British businesses, tackle long-term unemployment and help raise family living standards. Consistent with these measures to boost growth and employment, my government will remain committed to eradicating the structural deficit in the public finances in the first half of the next Parliament.

My government will legislate to purchase all remaining shares in the Royal Bank of Scotland and to allow it substantially to increase its lending to UK companies, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises. A Bill will be introduced to establish a National Investment Bank with a remit of lending for infrastructure projects. My government will temporarily cut National Insurance contributions in order to boost household incomes, paid for by the introduction of a Mansion Tax on properties valued at over £2 million.

A Bill to end long term unemployment will be introduced to guarantee work to any person who does not find employment during their time on the Work Programme. These will be newly created jobs, of at least six months in duration and paid the National Minimum Wage. The long-term unemployed will be under a duty to take up this employment or face withdrawal of their benefits. A Bill will be brought forward to create a new National Salary Insurance programme to improve income protection for working people who lose their jobs, providing anyone who had made sufficient contributions with access to up to £200 a week for up to six months while they look for a new job, repaid via an income-contingent loan, with a zero real rate of interest.

My government will legislate to devolve funding and responsibility for transport, skills and economic development to groups of local authorities or Metropolitan-area Mayors, depending on local preferences. My government will bring forward measures to increase substantially the supply of affordable housing. New Affordable Housing Grants, combining Housing Benefit and capital investment funds, will be devolved to local authorities, who will be under an obligation to ensure that more affordable homes to buy or rent are built in each area.

My government believes that improving services for the care of children and the elderly are vital to strengthening our society, increasing social mobility and sustaining full employment. A Bill will be brought forward to establish the legal framework for universal pre-school childcare, with a substantial amount free and a cap on the remaining costs for parents. As a first step, 15 hours of free childcare will be provided for all two year olds.  Draft legislation will be laid before you to focus child poverty targets on the under-fives in this Parliament and the next, and to establish greater flexibility in parental leave entitlements, reserving at least a month’s leave for fathers.

An Intergenerational Fairness Bill will restrict Winter Fuel Allowance, free TV licences and free bus passes to older people in receipt of Pension Credit, and abolish higher rate tax relief on pension contributions, to release resources to extend childcare for families with young children. Legislation will be brought forward to implement the recommendations of the Dilnot Commission on Social Care.

My government will further ease the pressure on family living standards by legislating to reform the energy market, with measures to end anti-competitive practices and protect vulnerable consumers, and to require greater transparency on the part of energy suppliers in accounting for retail and wholesale costs.

My government will continue to reform and strengthen public services. A Bill will be brought forward to establish school commissioners in England's 12 largest cities, with responsibility for raising school standards, using the school improvement powers which currently rest with the Secretary of State for Education.  A Personal Budgets Bill will be introduced to give all NHS patients with long term conditions entitlements to a personal health budget so that they have greater personal choice and control over their care. 

My government will act to strengthen democracy, regulate access to political power and ensure greater political equality. A Bill will be brought forward to introduce compulsory electoral registration so that all citizens come within the franchise, place a duty to vote on all first time voters, place caps on political donations and state funding for political parties, and enact a statutory register of interests for lobbyists. My government will proceed with plans to reform the House of Lords.

After receiving the final report of the Leveson inquiry, my government will bring forward legislation to enact its recommendations and ensure a diverse, responsible and free press.

My government remains committed to the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union and will work with its partners to help overcome the current economic problems in the Eurozone. Proposals for reforming the European Union and strengthening its democratic legitimacy will be laid before you for debate. My government will maintain its commitment to securing global agreement to tackle climate change and mitigate its effects on the world’s poorest people. My government will enshrine in law its commitment to meet the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent ODA/GNI spend by 2013.

My government will continue to work closely with the devolved administrations in the interests of all the people of the United Kingdom.

Other measures will be laid before you.

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may rest upon your counsels.”

Nick Pearce is the director of IPPR

Queen Elizabeth II prepares to deliver her speech in the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament. Photograph: Getty Images.

Nick Pearce is Professor of Public Policy & Director of the Institute for Policy Research, University of Bath.

Photo: Getty
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UnHerd's rejection of the new isn't as groundbreaking as it seems to think

Tim Montgomerie's new venture has some promise, but it's trying to solve an old problem.

Information overload is oft-cited as one of the main drawbacks of the modern age. There is simply too much to take in, especially when it comes to news. Hourly radio bulletins, rolling news channels and the constant stream of updates available from the internet – there is just more than any one person can consume. 

Luckily Tim Montgomerie, the founder of ConservativeHome and former Times comment editor, is here to help. Montgomerie is launching UnHerd, a new media venture that promises to pull back and focus on "the important things rather than the latest things". 

According to Montgomerie the site has a "package of investment", at least some of which comes from Paul Marshall. He is co-founder of one of Europe's largest hedge funds, Marshall Wace, formerly a longstanding Lib Dem, and also one of the main backers and chair of Ark Schools, an academy chain. The money behind the project is on display in UnHerd's swish (if slightly overwhelming) site, Google ads promoting the homepage, and article commissions worth up to $5,000. The selection of articles at launch includes an entertaining piece by Lionel Shriver on being a "news-aholic", though currently most of the bylines belong to Montgomerie himself. 

Guidelines for contributors, also meant to reflect the site's "values", contain some sensible advice. This includes breaking down ideas into bullet points, thinking about who is likely to read and promote articles, and footnoting facts. 

The guidelines also suggest focusing on what people will "still want to read in six, 12 or 24 months" and that will "be of interest to someone in Cincinnati or Perth as well as Vancouver or St Petersburg and Cape Town and Edinburgh" – though it's not quite clear how one of Montgomerie's early contributions, a defence of George Osborne's editorship of the Evening Standard, quite fits that global criteria. I'm sure it has nothing to do with the full page comment piece Montgomerie got in Osborne's paper to bemoan the deficiencies of modern media on the day UnHerd launched. 

UnHerd's mascot  – a cow – has also created some confusion, compounded by another line in the writing tips describing it as "a cow, who like our target readers, tends to avoid herds and behave in unmissable ways as a result". At least Montgomerie only picked the second-most famous poster animal for herding behaviour. It could have been a sheep. In any case, the line has since disappeared from the post – suggesting the zoological inadequacy of the metaphor may have been recognised. 

There is one way in which UnHerd perfectly embodies its stated aim of avoiding the new – the idea that we need to address the frenetic nature of modern news has been around for years.

"Slow news" – a more considered approach to what's going on in the world that takes in the bigger picture – has been talked about since at least the beginning of this decade.

In fact, it's been around so long that it has become positively mainstream. That pusher of rolling coverage the BBC has been talking about using slow news to counteract fake news, and Montgomerie's old employers, the Times decided last year to move to publishing digital editions at set points during the day, rather than constantly updating as stories break. Even the Guardian – which has most enthusiastically embraced the crack-cocaine of rolling web coverage, the live blog – also publishes regular long reads taking a deep dive into a weighty subject. 

UnHerd may well find an audience particularly attuned to its approach and values. It intends to introduce paid services – an especially good idea given the perverse incentives to chase traffic that come with relying on digital advertising. The ethos it is pitching may well help persuade people to pay, and I don't doubt Montgomerie will be able to find good writers who will deal with big ideas in interesting ways. 

But the idea UnHerd is offering a groundbreaking solution to information overload is faintly ludicrous. There are plenty of ways for people to disengage from the news cycle – and plenty of sources of information and good writing that allow people to do it while staying informed. It's just that given so many opportunities to stay up to date with what has just happened, few people decide they would rather not know.