The Guardian view on the Queen’s speech: sins of omission | Editorial

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The occasion was unusually austere, pared-down and sombre. But though the form of the Queen’s speech ceremony on Tuesday was dictated by Covid, the substance was all about moving beyond it. As the country gradually but steadily reopens, after 15 months of total or partial lockdown, this was the first major opportunity for Boris Johnson to fill out his vision for post-pandemic Britain.

That a single, prevaricating sentence was devoted to the country’s broken social care system represents a shamefully missed opportunity. Covid, in the most tragic manner imaginable, has focused public attention on the myriad flaws in the way that we look after elderly people and the vulnerable in society. The sector’s cinderella status in relation to the NHS; the woefully inadequate and unjust arrangements to fund it; the grotesque undervaluing of those who work in it: all are scandals that the nation recognises and wants fixed.

After the ordeal of the past year, and ahead of hopefully better times, a mood of social solidarity still endures. The prime minister himself hails the “extraordinary spirit” in the population. Now should have been the moment for this government to screw its courage to the sticking place, as others have not, and introduce radical reform. Instead, there was yet another desultory promise that proposals would be in place sometime soon. It has been suggested that the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has balked at the cost of imposing a Dilnot-style solution to care costs, capping individual payments and pooling risk. This government may be less good at reading the public mood than it believes itself to be.

The speech focused instead on the post-Brexit “levelling up” agenda that was derailed by the pandemic. Buoyed by another memorable set of election results in the north and Midlands, an ebullient Mr Johnson is determined to shore up the Conservative party’s dominance in non-metropolitan England. The new commitment to expanding opportunities for adult education, vocational training and lifelong learning is welcome. But if good jobs are to come back to the post-industrial regions, an emphasis on skills and training – and the uncertain benefits of freeports – will not be nearly enough. So far, the government has shown no willingness to support its rhetoric with the huge levels of public investment necessary in, for example, green technologies. Similarly, it is right to prioritise the building of affordable housing. But new planning laws designed to achieve this are likely to demolish layers of local democracy that protect communities from rapacious developers. The failure to introduce a bill to improve the regulation of social housing, following the cladding scandal, was an egregious omission.

It is possible to sympathise with the government’s overall goals in such areas while questioning its methods and level of ambition. More troubling are the illiberal undercurrents that ripple through this programme. The Trumpian move to legislate for compulsory voter ID, despite no meaningful evidence of fraud at polling stations, will depress the vote among ethnic minorities and the most marginal in society. Democracy will be diminished thereby. The forthcoming police, crime, sentencing and courts bill will lead to draconian restrictions on protest. Likely changes to the judicial review process will take away checks and balances to Mr Johnson’s power. The planned overhaul of the asylum system, ostensibly directed at people smugglers, will mean cruel treatment for desperate people in need of our help.

Mr Johnson no doubt relishes the principled criticism that such policies will generate; his plan is to consolidate his post-Brexit base and fight a culture war against those who will never be part of it. This divisive vision of post-Covid Britain risks wasting this exceptional moment of national solidarity and optimism.

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: The Guardian view on the Queen’s speech: sins of omission | Editorial

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