Nick Clegg responds to the Queen's Speech
Nick Clegg writes:
"After today's Queen's Speech we now know that the opportunity to do the right thing has been squandered, yet again, by this Government"
All the pageantry in the world cannot cover up the fact that this is a fantasy Queen's Speech from a government that has run out of road in a Parliament that has lost the people's trust.
This Queen's Speech won't give people the help and jobs they need in this recession and it won't fix our rotten politics.
After 12 long years, in which this government has passed nearly 500 different laws, along with countless thousands of statutory instruments, it is right to stop and ask the question: what is this Queen's Speech really for?
When backed into a corner, when unsure of what to do, this government always reaches for its pen and starts drafting a new law. Legislation is Labour's comfort blanket - it makes them feel good.
Yet in these dying days of the Labour government, when people desperately need help, the government should legislate less and focus on getting things done.
That means creating jobs beyond the reannouncements of today for the two and half million people who are unemployed. It means drawing up plans for a fair tax system, closing loopholes at the top to cut taxes for everybody else. It means getting the banks to start lending again so businesses can survive. It means setting out a new and workable strategy in Afghanistan.
These should be the government's priorities, not fantasy bills that we know won't even make it into law. Of the bills proposed in last year's Queen's Speech, just two had made it onto the statute book by May. This year won't be any different.
The legislation promised today is just a political displacement activity for real action to help people. How absurd is it to have a fiscal responsibility bill making it law for the government to halve the deficit over four years?
It's like passing a law promising to get up early every morning.
You don't pass a law - you just do it. Does the PM have so little faith in his own self-discipline?
Then there's the child poverty bill - it sets a legal target, but it doesn't put a single penny in the pocket of a single struggling family. If laws could feed and clothe children, there wouldn't be a single family in poverty in Britain after 12 years of Labour. Another law will do nothing. We need action.
Then there are the laws that are simply unnecessary, because the government could act without them.
The financial services bill: supposedly to crack down on bonuses. But everyone knows the FSA already has most of the powers the government is promising in this bill.
Real radical action would be taking the advice of the Governor of the Bank of England and splitting up the banks to separate retail and investment banking and so protect consumers. And - until that can be done - imposing an extra levy on the profits of the banks so they pay for the taxpayer guarantee by which they've been propped up and we get a return on our investment.
Today's bill does none of this. Just more displacement activity to make it look like the government is sorting out the banks.
Next, we have an improving schools bill: which is highly unlikely to improve schools. Because if the government wanted to improve schools, they would take bureaucracy away from teachers, not impose more. This is the twelfth education bill in as many years: why do they imagine this one will work when none of the others did?
Then there's the Policing, Crime and Private Security Bill that will yet again tweak the ASBO regime. Is it not time for this government to accept that passing laws doesn't cut crime - more police officers out on the beat do.
Worst of all, in this Queen's Speech, we have some bills which cynically raise expectations but which the Government knows will deliver far less than they are promising.
The bill to outlaw cluster bombs - which will actually outlaw only some cluster bombs. And the bill supposedly to deliver free personal care. After the Prime Minister's interviews this morning, there will be tens of thousands of elderly people who have been led to believe that they will be properly looked after from now on. Yet it won't happen.
He has raised the hopes of some of the most vulnerable people in the country. When he knows perfectly well that this bill will only offer free personal care for a fraction of those struggling to pay for the help they need.
So what should this Parliament be doing in its final weeks? The Queen's Speech should have been replaced by an emergency programme of political reform. After the expenses scandal, this Parliament has destroyed its own legitimacy.
The one gift this failed Parliament can give its successor is a fresh start. When you move out of a house, you clean it for the people moving in. This must be the last and final task of this rump Parliament.
Let me set out, in just a few words, what real reform would look like.
What the focus of the last 70 days of this Parliament should have been.
We should introduce a Power of Recall so people can sack any MP found guilty of serious misconduct. All candidates in the next election should declare their financial interests, as Sir Christopher Kelly demanded.
We should have real action to reform the House of Lords - not yet more delaying tactics. And changes to House of Commons procedure to reduce executive power.
We should agree total change to party funding so big money and the whiff of corruption it brings are removed from politics for good.
And introduce fixed term Parliaments so the voters can never again be toyed with by a Prime Minister planning an election timetable to save his or her own skin.
And finally - we should have real action on electoral reform, so every citizen knows that their vote counts.
These changes would be a tall order but with political will they could transform our threadbare democratic institutions. Instead of being just a sorry footnote to a shameful year at Westminster, these months could have been a moment of important change in British political history.
But after today's Queen's Speech we now know that the opportunity to do the right thing has been squandered, yet again, by this Government.