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.

Reuters/New Statesman composite.
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When it comes to social media, we all have a responsibility to avoid sharing upsetting images

If Twitter is the new journalism, we are all editors – and responsible for treating our fellow humans with dignity.

“I wish I hadn’t seen that”, my colleague says from across the desk. It’s been an hour since the first reports came in of a shooting outside Parliament, and the news agency Reuters has started posting photographs of injured people, knocked down by the terrorist as he drove across Westminster Bridge.

In one, a brunette woman leans over a victim whose blood is beginning to stain the wet pavement. Lying on her back, she is framed by scattered postcards sold for tourists which have been knocked to the floor. She is clutching the arm of the woman helping her, but her eyes are staring dead into the photographer’s lens.

Another photograph – the one that my colleague is referring to – disturbs me even more: a man who has fallen (or been pushed?) off the bridge onto a stairwell. He is face down in a pool of blood, his left leg at an unnatural angle. It is impossible to tell if he is alive or not.

Briefly, before I scroll past, I wonder if someone, somewhere is seeing the same picture and experiencing a shock of recognition as they recognise their friend’s clothes.

And then there is one picture which I now cannot find on Twitter, but which, lying in bed last night, I could not stop thinking of: a woman’s legs extended from under the wheel of a bus, her skirt hiked up to show her underwear, her shoes missing.

We are a desk of journalists covering an attack on the Houses of Parliament, so I keep scrolling. It is only later, in an article by the Telegraph, that I learn a junior doctor has declared the woman dead.

Of course, the shock of seeing images like these is nothing compared to what war reporters, doctors or police go through on a regular basis. But a 2015 study at the University of Toronto found that extended exposure to violent or disturbing material can have a severe effect on journalists’ mental health.

The impact can be particularly confusing when one does not anticipate seeing violence.On social media, we increasingly encounter images this way: without warning and without a chance to steel ourselves. This is particularly a problem when it comes to members of the public, whose jobs don’t require them to look at shocking material but who can nevertheless be exposed to it just by virtue of using a social media network.

It is for this reason that, shortly after Reuters published their photographs of the Westminster victims, prominent journalists began posting asking their colleagues not to retweet them. Some protested the fact that Reuters had published them at all.

In today’s media landscape, news moves fast and social media faster. Where a picture editor would have previously had until their print deadline to decide which images to run, now photographers are able to send their work back to the office almost instantaneously, and editors must make a snap decision about what to release.

Deciding what images to use can be a difficult call – especially under pressure. On the one hand, there is the urge to not turn away, to bear witness to the full magnitude of what has happened, even if it is shocking and upsetting. On the other, there is the need to treat fellow human beings with dignity, and particularly to avoid, where possible, showing images of victims whose families have not yet been informed.

Social media makes this process even more difficult. Once released online, photographs of the Westminster attack were quickly saved and re-posted by private individuals, stripped of context or warning. One can choose not to follow the Reuters Pictures account, but one cannot necessarily avoid seeing an image once it is being retweeted, reposted and recycled by private accounts.

As the line between traditional news and social media blurs and we increasingly become participants in the news, as well as consumers of it, our sense of responsibility also shifts. On Twitter, we are our own editors, each charged with making sure we extend dignity to our fellow humans, even – especially – when the news is dramatic and fast-moving.

I was glad, this morning, to encounter fewer and fewer photographs – to not see the girl lying under the bus again. But at 3am last night, I thought about her, and about her family; about them knowing that journalists on desks across Britain had seen up their loved one’s skirt during the last moments of her life. It was, without putting too fine a point on it, no way to encounter a fellow human being.

Over the next few days, we will find out more about who the victims were. The media will release images of them in happier times, tell us about their jobs and careers and children – as is already happening with Keith Palmer, the policeman who we now know died on the Parliamentary Estate.

It is those images which I hope will be shared: not just as a way to resist fear, but as a way of acknowledging them as more than victims – of forging a different connection, based not in horror and voyeurism, but in a small moment of shared humanity.

There is no shame in being affected by graphic images, however removed one “ought” to feel. If you would like someone to talk to, Mind can provide details of local services.

The BBC also provides advice for those upset by the news.

Find out how to turn off Twitter image previews here.

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland