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Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II. Photo: UK Parliament / Roger Harris / Flickr / cropped from original / CC BY-NC 2.0, license linked at bottom of article

The Tory agenda revealed in the Queen's Speech sets out a road to cuts and a clampdown on democratic rights, writes Terina Hine

Today’s Queen’s speech reveals the government’s authoritarian instincts and empty promises. Bills proposed include attacks on the right to vote, the right to protest and the right to legally challenge the government. And whats excluded is as damning as whats included.

Included is the immigration bill, which denies the right to settle to anyone who entered the UK illegally, even if they are then granted asylum, in clear breach of our international legal commitments. It is a bill which has been criticised by both the UNHCR and the UK’s Law Society as being a serious threat to the rule of law” undermining the rights of refugees.

Excluded is legislation on social care. Johnson told us long ago he had a plan for social care, saying in 2019 "I am announcing now on the steps of Downing Street that we will fix the crisis in social care once and for all with a clear plan we have prepared.” But the plan remains illusive two years later.

This morning the Health Secretary insisted that action would be taken at some point, but was unable to say when that point would be. It is rumoured Rishi Sunak has vetoed what plans may have existed as too expensive, with concerns about repaying Covid-induced debts trumping looking after our elderly parents and grandparents.

It appears austerity has not been consigned to history. Instead, we have no social care plan, a public sector pay freeze, a miserly pay “rise” for nurses, cuts to benefits, and an “efficiency review” of public services.

There has been constant talk of levelling-up, yet the Levelling-Up white paper remains unpublished. Apparently it will come “later this year” - perhaps in tandem with the social care plan? It seems the government is struggling to put meat onto any of its vacuous soundbites.

The Tories will no doubt big up their plans to expand access to education - although this access is based on taking out student loans. They will also promote the planning bill - to achieve the goal of building hundreds of thousands of new homes - although who will be able to afford these homes is a question that remains unanswered. In keeping with recent precedent government investment will be directed at developers, big business, and no doubt friends and family of ministers.

Included are attacks on democracy: a bill on judicial reform making it more difficult for the government to be challenged in court - as happened when Johnson illegally prorogued parliament; the authoritarian Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which increases police authority and severely restricts the right to protest, and voter ID legislation intended to exclude the most marginalised from even voting.

The legislation is expected to mandate photo ID (a passport or driving licence) and represents a direct attack on the right to vote. ID of this nature is expensive, and for those without a car or money to take a foreign holiday, not necessary - at least not until now. It is legislation directed against the poorest in society - and those least likely to vote Conservative.

US civil rights groups have compared the Tory’s proposals to the voter suppression seen in the southern states of America. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), and Commons Cause, have all said that the introduction of such laws, without evidence of significant voter fraud, undermines democracy. In the UK in 2019 there was just one case of voter fraud.

The voter ID bill will prevent 3.5 million citizens from voting, will target older people, ethnic minorities and the homeless. It will do nothing to address a voter fraud problem as no such problem exists.

Repealing the Fixed Term Parliaments Act along with introducing voter ID hints at the possibility for an early election – rumoured to be in spring 2023.

Starmer has proved unable to hold the government to account and as Labour moves further to the right, the party is unlikely to do so any time soon. The Labour Party is in disarray - Starmer’s leadership, never strong, is weaker now than ever; opposition to this authoritarian government cannot be left to parliament. If it wasn’t clear before it certainly should be now - if we want to protect our hard-won rights it will be through extra-parliamentary action.

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