As parliament begins its next session today, the queen gave her usual speech outlining the various bills the government would be tabling over the coming months. There’s a summary of them here, and there are some welcome ideas – banning cluster munitions is long overdue, the bribery bill is important, and the energy bill includes protection for poorer households. The draft International Development Bill is also good news, requiring that 0.7% of our income goes to development from 2013. That’s only what we promised anyway, so let’s show we mean it by making it legally binding.
The Financial Services Bill is harder to get excited about. It should be an opportunity for sweeping reform of the banking sector, but instead appears to create a new level of financial oversight, a Council for Financial Stability. The FSA will have the power to control banker’s wages, but won’t have to. The Fiscal Responsibility Bill seems equally vague, promising a load of things that no government can actually guarantee in real life. So it is with the education bill, that would attempt to make a good education a legal right – what does that mean, exactly? Can that ever be enforced? I can’t see how we’d be either better or worse off if these bills went through – they are promises to do something about problems, rather than actually doing something.
Potentially good news is the Equality Bill, which would prioritise equality across the whole of the public sector, making the gap between rich and poor a consideration in every decision. This is a really positive step, although the devil will be in the detail and I might need to read the bill rather carefully. The equality gap, in economic terms, is not the same thing as equal opportunities in identity politics terms. This bill attempts to do everything at once, and I reckon the whole lot will fail together – a shame, because you won’t find the Conservatives proposing to close the gap between rich and poor.
Equality, poverty, employment, education – all kinds of worthwhile things here, but let’s not forget the main priority of the government. The Queen put it in no uncertain terms, in the very first words of the speech:
“My government’s overriding priority is to ensure sustained growth to deliver a fair and prosperous economy for families and businesses, as the British economy recovers from the global economic downturn.”
Really? The government’s overriding priority is to ensure sustained growth?