Yesterday the Conservatives led a debate on the economic, pensions and welfare portions of the Queen’s Speech.
Shadow Chancellor George Osborne kicked things off. The Tory amendment indicated humble regret that:
"the Gracious Speech fails to deliver a clear direction for British economic policy, does not contain measures to assist in building a low debt and low tax economy, and lacks any radical action to unblock the credit channels of our banking system; note that many individuals have seen returns on their savings severely reduced as a result of the economic downturn and regret that the Government has no plans for emergency protection of pensioners with a suspension of annuity rules; further regret the absence of a clear strategy on value added tax; and further regret the absence of measures to avoid the United Kingdom undergoing the worst recession in the G7 next year.”.
Mr Osborne then turned the screw:
"What has been the judgment in the last week alone on the Chancellor’s claim? The pound has fallen against the euro, hitting a record low earlier today and demonstrating again the Prime Minister’s maxim that a weak currency is a reflection of a weak economy and a weak Government. The loss of international credibility has sent the cost of insuring British Government debt higher than insuring the debt of those two homes of French fries, Belgium and McDonalds. An independent survey out today says that the drop in the VAT rate seems to have made little difference in lifting consumer confidence and encouraging consumers to spend. The head of Barclays bank says that despite the measures announced by the Government over the past few weeks, such as those on stamp duty, house prices will fall by at least as much next year as they have this year.
This lunchtime, the Minister for the Olympics has contradicted every statement made by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor over the past six months by admitting, in her words, that Britain is facing a recession
“deeper than any that we have known”.
So, what about all that talk about the 1980s and 1990s now? The Finance Minister of the world’s third largest economy has described the Government’s approach as “crass” and “breathtaking” and raising debt to a level that will take “a whole generation” to pay off. That is the problem with saving the world—sometimes the world answers back."
Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Chris Grayling wound up the debate for the Conservatives.
Mr Grayling was acerbic too:
"This Queen’s Speech has all the hallmarks of a Government who have been in power too long. It has all the characteristics of a Government who have run out of ideas, and we now have a set of Ministers who no longer have the ability to distinguish between the national interest, their party interest and their own personal interest. At a time of national crisis, we have a Government who are solely interested in securing their own re-election. Never has that been more apparent than during this year’s debate on the Gracious Speech.
What we have is a motley collection of Bills assembled not through some great vision of a different future for our country, but out of pure political expediency, such as the child poverty Bill. We all share the goal of eliminating child poverty and we will support the Bill, but we all know why the Government have chosen this moment to bring the measure forward. They hope that by setting in statute a child poverty target for 2020, we will all now forget that they have effectively abandoned their child poverty target for 2010. Well, I tell them today that we will not let them get away with that one.
Then there is the welfare reform Bill. We all share the goal of radical reform for our welfare state, but we know why the Government have chosen this moment to bring forward that measure, as well. They hope that by rushing to copy Conservative welfare policies, they can deny us an opportunity to challenge them over their wasted decade: 11 years when the number of young people not in education or employment has risen, not fallen; when most of the millions of new jobs they are always reminding us about have gone to migrant workers, not to British people living on benefits; when countless billions of pounds have been thrown at the social problems we face and have made virtually no difference; and when in the good years, the Prime Minister blocked radical reform, when so much more could have been done. Well, we will not let them get away with that one, either. As the hon. Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris) said on his now famous blog last week,
“what a pity we weren’t more radical in our first or second term.”
So instead, what do we get? We get a Gracious Speech that is little more than a diversion; bad news buried; unpopular plans dropped; good ideas pinched; and embarrassing failures masked by high-sounding announcements about the future; and a Gracious Speech with only a handful of measures, compared with those we have come to expect from this Government. This was not a plan for our futures—it was a public relations exercise, and a pretty poor one at that."