Beyond satire: the Tory right's "alternative Queen's Speech"

Bills to privatise the BBC, restore the death penalty, ban the burqa, leave the EU and introduce Margaret Thatcher Day are among the 40 proposed by Tory MPs.

Six weeks too late, the Tory right has launched an "alternative Queen's Speech" - but it was well worth the wait. The list of 40 proposed bills reads like something from a Chris Morris satire. You can view them all below, but here's my quick guide to the most egregious/bizarre.

- Ban the burqa (1)

- Bring back national service (2)

- Leave the EU (3)

- Make parents legally responsible for crimes committed by their children (4)

- Reintroduce the death penalty (10)

- Decriminalise the non-payment of the licence fee (16)

- Rename the August bank holiday as Margaret Thatcher Day (18)

- Hold a referendum on equal marriage (23)

- Privatise the BBC (27)

- Abolish the office of Deputy Prime Minister (also known as "kill Nick Clegg") (28)

- Leave the EU - again (they're not taking any chances) (30)

- Ban sexual harassment claims unless the alleged offence is illegal and has been reported to the police (34)

1) Face Coverings (Prohibition) – Bill to prohibit the wearing of certain face coverings; and for connected purposes.

2) National Service – Bill to provide a system of national service for young persons; and for connected purposes.

3) European Communities Act 1972 (Repeal) – Bill to repeal the European Communities Act 1972 and related legislation; and for connected purposes.

4) Young Offenders (Parental Responsibility) – Bill to make provision for the parents of young offenders to be legally responsible for their actions.

5) Foreign National Offenders (Exclusion from the United Kingdom) – Bill to make provision to exclude from the United Kingdom foreign nationals found guilty of a criminal offence committed in the United Kingdom.

6) Asylum Seekers (Return to Nearest Safe Country) – Bill to facilitate the transfer of asylum seekers to the safe country nearest their country of origin.

7) Prisoners (Completion of Custodial Sentences) – Bill to require prisoners to serve in prison the full custodial sentence handed down by the court.

8) Fishing Grounds and Territorial Waters (Repatriation) – Bill to make provision for the Government to designate certain fishing grounds and territorial waters as sovereign territory of the United Kingdom outside the control of the Common Fisheries Policy.

9) School Governing Bodies (Adverse Weather Conditions) – Bill to require school governing bodies and headteachers to make provision to keep schools open in adverse weather conditions.

10) Capital Punishment – Bill to allow for capital punishment for certain offences.

11) Government Departments (Amalgamation of Scotland Office, Wales Office and Northern Ireland Office) – Bill to make provision for the amalgamation of the Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland Offices.

12) Residential Roads (Adoption by Local Highways Authority) – Bill to require the handover of residential roads built by developers to local highways authorities within certain time periods; and for connected purposes.

13) Equality and Diversity (Reform) – Bill to prohibit the use of affirmative and positive action in recruitment and appointment processes; to amend the Equality Act 2010 to remove the special provision for political parties in relation to the selection of candidates; and for connected purposes.

14) Sentencing Escalator – Bill to provide that a criminal reconvicted for an offence on a second or further occasion receives a longer sentence than for the first such offence.

15) Leasehold Reform (Amendment) – Bill to amend the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993 in relation to the permitted signatories of notices; and for connected purposes.

16) BBC Licence Fee (Civil Debt) – Bill to make provision to decriminalise the non-payment of the BBC licence fee.

17) Smoking (Private Members’ Clubs) – Bill to make provision to allow smoking in a separate ventilated room in a private members’ club if a majority of the members of the club so decide.

18) Margaret Thatcher Day – Bill to make provision that the annual Bank Holiday Monday in late August be known as Margaret Thatcher Day.

19) Department of Energy and Climate Change (Abolition) – Bill to make provision for the abolition of the Department of Energy and Climate Change and for its functions to be absorbed into the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

20) Married Couples (Tax Allowance) – Bill to make provision for a tax allowance for married couples.

21) Foreign Aid Ring-Fencing (Abolition) – Bill to make provision for foreign aid and development not to be linked to a specific percentage of Gross National Income, but to be set yearly, by Parliament, in relation to need.

22) Charitable Status for Religious Institutions – Bill to make provision for a presumption that religious institutions meet the public benefit test for charitable status.

23) Same Sex Marriage (Referendum) – Bill to make provision for a referendum on whether same sex marriage should be allowed.

24) Wind Farm Subsidies (Abolition) – Bill to make provision for the cessation of subsidies for the development of wind farms.

25) Withdrawal from the European Convention of Human Rights and Removal of Alleged Terrorists – Bill to make provision for an application to the Council of Europe to withdraw from the European Convention of Human Rights and to deport alleged terrorists subject to approval by the British courts.

26) Romanian and Bulgarian Accession (Labour Restriction) – Bill to make provision for restrictions on the residence in the UK of Bulgarian and Romanian nationals to continue.

27) BBC Privatisation – Bill to make provision for the privatisation of the British Broadcasting Corporation by providing shares in the Corporation to all licence fee payers.

28) Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Abolition) – Bill to make provision for the abolition of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, and its responsibilities to be allocated to other Departments of State.

29) Prime Minister (Replacement) – Bill to make provision for the appointment of a Prime Minister in the event that a Prime Minister is temporarily or permanently incapacitated.

30) United Kingdom (Withdrawal from the European Union) – Bill to make provision for the Government to give notice under Article 50 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union; and for connected purposes.

31) Asylum (Time Limit) – Bill to require that asylum claims in the United Kingdom be lodged within three months of the claimant’s arrival in the United Kingdom; and that persons who have already entered the United Kingdom and wish to make an asylum claim must do so within three months of the passing of this Act.

32) Benefit Entitlement (Restriction) – Bill to make provision to restrict the entitlement of non-UK Citizens from the European Union and the European Economic Area to taxpayer-funded benefits.

33) Illegal Immigrants (Criminal Sanctions) – Bill to make provision for criminal sanctions against those who have entered the UK illegally or who have remained in the UK without legal authority.

34) Sexual Impropriety in Employment – Bill to require that claims by employees alleging sexual impropriety be limited to cases where the alleged misconduct is contrary to the criminal law and has been reported to the police.

35) Collection of Nationality Data – Bill to require the collection and publication of information relating to the nationality of those in receipt of benefits and of those to whom national insurance numbers are issued.

36) Foreign Nationals (Access to Public Services) – Bill to restrict access by foreign nationals to United Kingdom public services for which no charge is made.

37) House of Lords (Maximum Membership) – Bill to provide for a maximum limit on the number of Peers entitled to vote in the House of Lords, and to provide for a moratorium on new appointments.

38) Control of Offshore Wind Turbines – Bill to restrict the height, number, location and subsidies of wind turbines situated offshore within 20 miles of the coast.

39) Employment Opportunities – Bill to introduce more freedom, flexibility and opportunity for those seeking employment in the public and private sectors; and for connected purposes.

40) EU Membership (Audit of Costs and Benefits) – Bill to require an independent audit of the benefits and costs of UK membership of the European Union.

A Conservative rosette worn by a supporter in Loughborough's Market Place. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP’s echoes of New Labour

The fall of Blair should be a set text for anyone wishing to know what happens next to the SNP.

If there was one thing the SNP and New Labour had in common, it was the hope. Both offered themselves as a burning torch of optimism to publics that had become tired of the same old gang running things in the same old way. Both promised a fairer, more equal society and fearless embrace of the modern world with an appealing freshness and energy. The voters bought it: both won big, repeatedly.

The thing is, if you’re elected on a mandate to be different, you’d better be different. In many areas, for a long time, New Labour managed to be just that. The smiling PM with the huge majority pushed through bold policies, some of which even worked. Tony Blair’s strategy was so successful that the Conservatives and the Lib Dems reshaped themselves in his likeness.

But, as some say, it’s the hope that kills you. When the inevitable attritional realities of governing start to weigh; when you make, as you will, bad decisions; when the list of enemies grows long; when you’ve simply had your time; you’ll fall like all the rest. Only, when you’ve soared so close to the sun, you have that much further to plummet.

The fall of Blair should be a set text for anyone wishing to know what happens next to the SNP. The debate on 21 May between the Scottish party leaders was, I think, a foretaste of a sure outcome – a public that until recently was politically and emotionally invested in the Nats is growing restive. In time, this will turn to disenchantment, then anger, then revenge at the ballot box. That is the unbreakable cycle of democratic politics.

Some of us have warned since the start that the SNP had over-promised and could only under-deliver. Its raison d’être is independence; everything else is just another brick to build the path. And so its education reform cannot be either brave or unpopular, even if it needs to be so to work, because the SNP cannot afford to alienate teachers or the teaching unions, or parents.

The same goes for the NHS, and doctors and health unions and patients. All the separatists have done – all they could have done, given their nature – is deploy the rhetoric of the radical while body-swerving hard choices and conflict at any cost. And where they have found themselves taking flak, they’ve pointed south to Westminster: “It’s no’ our fault, it’s theirs.”

Yet the voters show signs of wearying. Middle Scotland is either ignored or maligned by the middle-class socialists who drive the nation’s political debate, but it is where elections are won. The SNP has secured the support of enough of these people to win every recent election in style, but somewhere along the way the party seems to have forgotten this was a mandate not for independence, but for good government. Ten years in to SNP rule, each new audit of public services seems to wail like a warning siren.

So, during the debate, it was Nicola Sturgeon, not the Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, or Labour’s Kezia Dugdale, who found herself in the audience’s cross-hairs.

There were the teachers, who complained about the damp squib that is the Curriculum for Excellence, the SNP’s flagship education policy; who pointed out that a fifth of primary pupils are leaving without basic literacy and numeracy skills; and who warned that lowering the standard of exams in order to push up the pass rate was not a mark of success.

Then there was the nurse who said she had been forced to use food banks (the existence of which has been used repeatedly by the SNP as a stick with which to beat the Conservatives and Westminster). “I can’t manage on the salary I have [which is set by the Scottish government],” Claire Austin told the panel. “You have no idea how demoralising it is to work in the NHS.” She delivered the killer line of the evening: “Do you think your perceived obsession with independence might actually cost you . . . in this election?”

The list of reasonable criticisms of the SNP’s governance is growing. The ideological obsession with free university tuition for Scottish students is increasingly seen as a sop to the better-off. Sturgeon’s demand for a quick second independence referendum, when a worried Middle Scotland was focused on what Brexit might mean for its future, was tone deaf.

The SNP has another problem (one that New Labour, for all its flaws, didn’t face): its doctrine of infallibility. The Nationalists’ constitution explicitly prohibits SNP elected members from criticising the party, its policies or each other. Although total unity is useful when you’re on the climb, it starts to look bonkers when the cracks are showing.

The word “cult” has long dogged the SNP. The party has tried hard to normalise its electoral appeal while keeping the flame of independence burning, but this has been a difficult balancing act. The pro-independence mob is an ugly thing when unleashed (and it has suited the leadership to open the cage door at times). After the debate, Claire Austin found herself at its mercy as the Nats briefed – wrongly – that she was the wife of a Tory councillor. The SNP branch in Stirling said, Tebbitishly, that if she was having to use food banks, “Maybe she needs to tighten her belt a bit more?”

Joanna Cherry, a QC, MP and the SNP’s home affairs spokesperson, was forced to apologise for spreading “Twitter rumours” about Austin. The ravening horde has largely kept its head down since the 2014 independence referendum, but it hasn’t gone away – it is not enough for the SNP’s critics to be debated: they must be destroyed. This isn’t the behaviour of a normal political party.

I have a feeling that when the SNP does fall, it will fall quite quickly. Its belief in its infallibility, and its inability or unwillingness to do self-deprecation or apology, will increasingly exasperate voters. There is nothing to suggest the current public policy failings will be addressed, and many signs that things will get worse.

How then do you arrest your fall? The SNP offered hope and promised it was different, and the voters believed it. The sense of betrayal could make for a very hard landing indeed. 

Chris Deerin is the New Statesman's contributing editor (Scotland). 

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

0800 7318496