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Keir Starmer has accused the government of failing to grasp “the urgency and the scale of the transformation that is needed” after the Covid pandemic in his response to the Queen’s speech.
The Labour leader pointed to Joe Biden’s programme for rebuilding the US economy as he claimed Boris Johnson was “papering over the cracks” and too focused on “short-term gimmicks and distant promises”.
“The government still doesn’t understand what went wrong in the past decade, and has no plan for the next,” Starmer said. He lamented the lack of a jobs plan in the speech, and of the long-promised employment bill to bolster rights at work.
“Even before the pandemic, Britain needed transformative change: to reset our economy, to rebuild our public services, to strengthen our union and our democracy for decades to come,” he said.
Responding to Starmer, the prime minister insisted his plans for the next parliament would help the UK to “bounce back better” from the pandemic, saying: “This government won’t settle for getting back to the way things were.
“Though we cannot for one moment minimise the damage that Covid has done: the loss of learning, the NHS backlogs, the courts delays, the massive fiscal consequences, we must use this opportunity to achieve a national recovery. So that jabs, jabs, jabs becomes jobs, jobs, jobs,” he said.
With the Tories keen to hold on to the former Labour heartlands they won in 2019, Johnson promised that the government would create “superb infrastructure”, boost home ownership and “level up across the whole of the UK”.
That message was the central theme of the Queen’s speech, which she delivered in the House of Lords accompanied by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.
Announcing the list of planned new bills in a relatively minimalist ceremony with only 74 people in the Lords chamber and much of the usual pomp pared back, the Queen began by saying the overall aim was to “level up opportunities”.
“My government’s priority is to deliver a national recovery from the pandemic that makes the United Kingdom stronger, healthier and more prosperous than before,” she said. “To achieve this, my government will level up opportunities across all parts of the United Kingdom, supporting jobs, businesses and economic growth and addressing the impact of the pandemic on public services.”
Promised legislation will create new state aid rules on subsidising businesses, mark out the next stage of the HS2 rail link from Manchester to Crewe, and extend high-speed broadband and 5G mobile coverage. There would be moves to create eight new freeports, a flagship element of Johnson’s post-Brexit economic offering.
Other planned bills will shake up the NHS, tackle obesity by banning some junk food ads, and create the scientific research agency envisaged by Johnson’s former adviser Dominic Cummings.
There was a string of populist measures aimed at culture war issues, including a controversial plan for a bill guaranteeing free speech in universities, which could allow speakers who are uninvited to sue for compensation.
As expected, there was still no formal plan to reform social care, however, despite Johnson’s pledge to do so in his first speech as prime minister. The speech simply said proposals on social care “will be brought forward”, with no detail or timetable given.
Starmer said that was unforgivable, 657 days after the prime minister claimed he had his own clear plan ready. “Failing to act for a decade was bad enough, but failing to act after the pandemic was nothing short of an insult to the whole nation,” he said.
The debate began shortly after the new Conservative MP for Hartlepool, Jill Mortimer, was officially sworn in. Starmer welcomed her, but said he hoped she wouldn’t represent the town for very long. The loss of the byelection on Thursday sparked recriminations in the Labour party.
Starmer was accompanied on the front bench in the Commons by his deputy, Angela Rayner, after a prolonged standoff between the pair stalled a planned reshuffle, eventually resulting in a significant promotion for her.
Johnson teased the pair. Mentioning that an earlier speaker, South Ribble MP Katherine Fletcher, was a trained safari guide, Johnson claimed the lioness is “the most dangerous beast,” telling Starmer: “The more titles he feeds her, the hungrier I fear she is likely to get.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Starmer accuses Johnson of ‘short-term gimmicks’ after Queen’s speech | Queen’s speech