The Queen’s Speech on Wednesday is David Cameron’s last chance to live up to his own PR hype. Instead of breaking his promises and letting people down, he has to try and show that he has the ideas and values to tackle the major long-term challenges we must face in our economy, society and politics. He has to explain how we can earn and grow our way to a prosperity that can be shared by all rather than just a few at the top. Judging by his record since 2010, I’m not holding my breath. He doesn’t have the answers because he doesn’t have the right values. He just doesn’t get it.
I’ve knocked on countless doors over the last few weeks, and people’s alienation from politics has never been more pronounced. People don’t understand why David Cameron is on their TV saying the economy is improving when they are still struggling to make ends meet. They don’t understand why George Osborne crows about unemployment statistics when their zero-hours contract won’t guarantee them a basic income, give them any security, or allow them to plan their life. And they don’t understand why if we are all in this together, millionaires have been given a tax cut while the rest of us pay more.
If politics has one job, it is to answer the concerns of the nation. People are clear that David Cameron’s government has not done so.
Recent months have shown that this is a government that has run out of steam and run out of ideas. Ministers should be bringing forward legislation to make work pay, to reform markets so they serve consumers and to increase the supply of affordable housing – but instead a lack of ideas and action has left Parliament twiddling its thumbs.
This government is now spending less Parliamentary time on legislation than at any point during the last Labour government. In the Parliamentary session 2012-13, just a third of time in the House of Commons Chamber was spent debating government legislation. The last session of Parliament had the fewest number of government Bills compared to any other year since 1950 – fewer than even John Major’s disastrous administration. The government is bulking out this years’ Queen’s Speech with a record number of “carry over” bills (bills they’ve already published). And MPs have been given the equivalent of an extra month off each year since 2010 because the government can’t come up with anything for them to debate – and because it would rather rebellious Tory MPs were not in London plotting.
David Cameron claimed he would “cut the cost of politics” but this is the biggest government since reliable records began, with 121 Ministers, 95 Special Advisers and 160 new peers since 2010. This makes the House of Lords the largest legislative assembly outside of the Chinese National People’s Congress in Beijing.
The government has grown in size but has seriously diminished in purpose. I’ve taken to calling this a zombie parliament because I’ve really not seen anything like it in my 22 years in the House. We have day after day with no legislation to discuss, and a government that seems completely unprepared to take the big decisions our country needs.
If this were Labour’s Queen’s Speech, we know exactly what we’d do. We’d tackle unfairness in the rental market by creating new long-term predictable tenancies. We’d tackle unfairness in the energy market by freezing gas and electricity prices until 2017. We’d tackle tax unfairness by cutting tax for working people. We’d stop jobs being undercut by foreign workers by enforcing the national minimum wage. We’d give unemployed young people a job guarantee. We’d help working parents with 25 hours free childcare. We’d guarantee an appointment with a GP within 48 hours. We’d back small business by cutting business rates and reforming the banks. We wouldn’t just ignore this crisis in our living standards, a Labour government would tackle it head on.
In 11 months time, the country will face a clear choice. A choice between an ineffective, out-of-ideas government that wants to just leave people to sink or swim and a Labour government that believes our economy and our politics should work for everyone and not just a few at the top.
Angela Eagle is shadow leader of the House of Commons