A ‘One Nation’ Queen’s Speech?


This week I listened to David Cameron set out his ‘One Nation’ Queen’s Speech for ‘working people’. After having heard him deliver it, I’m not convinced that the Prime Minister quite understands what either of those phrases mean.

A ‘One Nation’ Britain would be a country where everyone has an opportunity to succeed and play their part in society. It is one where all children, regardless of their postcode, grow up with the same chance to a good education, a good job and a good future. One where everyone – rich or poor, male or female, young and old – have free access to high quality healthcare in our NHS. One where, whether we live in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, we all have a say in the decisions that matter to us.

Sadly I did not see much in the Queen’s Speech to help achieve that. Yes, the Queen read out a few welcome announcements. Some action to boost apprenticeships, give strong cities more powers over transport, housing and skills, and to enshrine the rights of crime victims into law.

But will a Bill that freezes tax credits help hard pressed families here in Northfield? Will using taxpayers’ money to give 800,000 people already living in affordable, secure housing the ‘Right to Buy’ help solve a housing crisis in which millions of people struggle to rent a decent property – or get a foot on the property ladder at all? Is a Finance Bill that fails to reverse a tax break for millionaires really one that works for working people? Is a Government that wants to break up the Human Rights Act one who that will protect freedoms for all of us?

And will a Cities Devolution Bill that sets out an ambitious programme of powers for Manchester actually benefit communities across the country, including here in Birmingham – where we face cuts to our Council triple the national average?  I have continued to be a strong campaigner for devolving power to local people. But we need devolution across the whole of the UK – not just a series of one-off deals from George Osborne. And, as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party Harriet Harman said, local government simply cannot be empowered while it is being impoverished.

A ‘One Nation’ Government would make a real difference to people’s lives now, in every community. That means action on skilled and productive jobs, urgent support to tackle the crisis facing our health service, and constitutional reforms that unite people across our country. It is not a Government that prioritises attacking unions, removing workers’ rights and introducing gimmicks on tax and welfare. And it will not be led by a Prime Minister who spent the Election scaring people in Birmingham and Midlands that a vote for Labour here was a vote for Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP.

I will judge this Queen’s Speech on the impact it has for people in the Northfield area – and the opportunities and support it provides to them. Sadly, that does not seem to be very much.

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Richard Burden

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I was Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Northfield between 1992 and 2019 and a former Shadow Transport Minister. I now chair Healthwatch in Birmingham and Solihull, and the West Midlands Board of Remembering Srebrenica. I also work as a public affairs consultant. I am an effective community advocate and stakeholder alliance builder with a passion for human rights. I am a trustee of the Balfour Project charity and of Citizens Advice Birmingham, and a former Chair of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

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