Cameron losing confidence

by Daphne Liddle

THE QUEEN’S Speech, delivered at the opening of Parliament last Wednesday, was a fairly muted affair in the run-up to the European Union referendum, which, according to the opinion polls, is likely to be a close run thing.

The Queen began reading the words Cameron had prepared for her, speaking of a “growing economy” and an “increase in life chances” for people through a programme of social reform, which must have had some MPs wondering if she’s picked up a “happy-ending” novel instead of a Government document. For once, the words “austerity” and “cuts” were missing.

Nevertheless it carried proposals for new measures to shunt our society further along the road to the privatisation of everything and the erosion of our civil and human rights.

There were 20 new bills and three left over from the last session of Parliament but only a few that would have a significant impact on our lives.

Our prisons are to get the same treatment that our hospitals and schools have been enduring — they are to be made effectively self-governing. Prison governors are to be given wide powers to agree new service contracts “with the emphasis on training, rehabilitation and education”. Sounds great but there’s no mention of money to implement these ideas.

Obviously it will mean more privatisation as well but when things go wrong and the private contractors cannot be paid and debts start to spiral the blame will fall on the governor and not on the Department of Justice — just as with hospital trusts and academy schools.

Courts and tribunals are to be “modernised”, with greater use of technology to reduce delays — verdicts delivered by robots?

Still with the criminal justice system police are to get new powers to restrict “extremist” activity and Ofcom to have the power to regulate internet-streamed material from outside the EU. Will this cut us off from the news bulletins from Sputnik, Xinhua, KCNA and other sources that are generally more reliable and less biased than the BBC?

There is to be a Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill to speed up and streamline housing developments. It says local communities are to have more say over neighbourhood planning but there is a contradiction there. We cannot have more powers to decide what we want in our own neighbourhoods and speed things up.

And there is to be a consultation on privatising the Land Registry — shades of the enclosure movement of the 18th century where the government of the day decreed that only landowners should be involved in decisions about their seizure of common land — because only they really understood what was at stake.

The NHS Overseas Visitors Charging Bill will force overseas migrants and visitors to pay for NHS services “they are not entitled to”. This could lead to doctors and nurses from other countries working in British hospitals to have to pay the full cost of medical treatment at the place where they work for a pittance. And a lot of time-consuming bureaucracy before sick people can receive urgent care.

There will be a Digital Economy Bill to give every household the legal right to a fast broadband connection -- ironic while thousands do not even have the right to a roof over their heads or food on the table.

There will be measures to encourage investment in driver less cars, commercial space planes and drones, more powers to local authorities to control local bus services and powers for local authorities to retain 100 per cent of local business rates levied.

The Education for All Bill, affecting England only, will give the new Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, powers to convert under-performing schools in "unviable" local authorities to academies, with a goal of making every school an academy but no compulsion to do so.

The Higher Education and Research Bill (England only again) will remove barriers for new universities to be set up and for existing providers to get university status.

Many Tories are not happy with the package. Ian Duncan Smith, the Eurosceptic former Work and Pensions Secretary, accused Cameron of diluting potentially controversial changes, to avoid confrontation in the run-up to the 23rd June vote.

It does reveal that Cameron is losing confidence after being knocked back so many times by a real opposition.