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I am reluctant to join those claiming the Queen’s Speech was “thin”. For a start the list of proposed new laws was rather long. What is meant of course, is that some of the eye-catching, controversial measures have been shelved (or abandoned). Yet even this claim has the caveat “Apart from Brexit…”

Of course unraveling ourselves from EU law was always going to be a huge task. That rather brings home the point about how widespread such impositions have become. So saying: “Apart from Brexit, The Queen’s Speech is a bit thin..” is a reminiscent of the Monty Python sketch:

“All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”

On the other hand, nobody is disputing that the lack of an overall majority has made a difference. Here I think it is regrettable if the Government is unduly risk-averse. In 1974 the Labour Government might have faced a few defeats with some embarrassing headlines. I am reminded of Harold Wilson’s speech to the 1975 Labour Party Conference:

“In the four and a half months in which the House was sitting during the Short Parliament of last year, 35 Bills became law, and I ask you to bear with me for a moment while I list them.

“We passed the Trade Union and Labour Rela­tions Act which repealed the 1971 Industrial Relations Act, preserved and extended existing unfair dismissals provisions and extended trade union immunities; the Health and Safety at Work Act setting up the Health and Safety Commission; the Prices Act which abolished the Pay Board, provided £500 millions for food subsidies on key essential foodstuffs and strengthened the Price Code; we ended the sticky labels racket by prohibiting upward re-pricing of goods already on the shelves in the shops, and we restricted the frequency of implementation of price increases. In the National Insurance Act 1974 we fulfilled the Manifesto pledge to raise pensions to £10 for a single person and £16 for a couple; the Finance Act introduced major changes to eliminate tax dodgers. The Rent Act gave security of tenure to those in furnished accommodation. We doubled the Regional Employment Premium which Labour had introduced in 1967 and which the Conservatives were committed to abolish.

“That was the Short Parliament. With a minor­ity Labour Government.”

It is not necessary to agree with those reforms to acknowledge that they were radical, important changes.

Furthermore some of the measures that have apparently be discarded would have been awkward for Labour and the LIb Dems to oppose – even before we get into the question of SNP MPs voting on English matters.

Localism would seem to be a good example. Moving towards 100 per cent Business Rates retention is important both on the grounds of local democracy and to offer incentives for economic growth. Claire Kober, the Labour chair of London Councils, says she was “deeply concerned” it wasn’t included in the Queen’s Speech.

More generally the Manifesto stated:

“With devolution now established in London and other parts of England, we will consolidate our approach, providing clarity across England on what devolution means for different administrations so all authorities operate in a common framework. We will support those authorities that wish to combine to serve their communities better.”

Would Labour and the Lib Dems vote against?

Then on housing it said:

“We will enter into new Council Housing Deals with ambitious, pro-development, local authorities to help them build more social housing. We will work with them to improve their capability and capacity to develop more good homes, as well as providing them with significant low-cost capital funding. In doing so, we will build new fixed-term social houses, which will be sold privately after ten to fifteen years with an automatic Right to Buy for tenants, the proceeds of which will be recycled into further homes.”

Labour councils are keen to do deals. Would Labour MPs be thanked if they did manage to sabotage the process?

So why not be bold and press on with the programme? I would also include some of the more contentious ones such as cutting the planning delays on fracking but providing greater community rewards for it taking place.

It might not be possible to get everything through. But Labour and Lib Dem MPs can be held to account for how they vote.

4 comments for: Let’s keep up the battle for localism

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