Queen’s Speech 2008: Cameron response

Let me start by congratulating the proposer and seconder of the Loyal Address.

The Rt Hon Member for Coatbridge gave a moving speech about his constituency and about his family.

With his excellent work on disability and on international development he is admired on all sides of the House.

Now I’ve done my homework.

I gather the Rt Hon Member is a Brownite.

And I gather he paid the ultimate price – he was of course sacked by Tony Blair.

He was Film Minister from 1997 to 98 – and it is said that, on the day he was caught up in the Blair Brown blood feud and fired, he was actually having drinks on the terrace with Liz Hurley and Hugh Grant.

Early membership of the Notting Hill set perhaps.

The next day he was back in the tea room with his mates.

I suppose you could say that one minute he was hob-nobbing with the stars, the next he was starring with the hobnobs.

I feel sure the Prime Minister will offer him another job and I think I know what it will be.

As film minister he met the Spice Girls on the eve of their break-up.

He described the departure of Geri Halliwell as a “little local difficulty which they are perfectly capable of sorting out”

With PR skills like that there must be a job for him in the Downing Street bunker.

The Honourable lady the Member for Erewash who seconded the Loyal Address also did a great job.
It was a wonderful speech – witty, human, personal and powerful about what matters in politics to her.

She reminded us of the vital service she gave at the last election when she served all parties, and everyone in this House, and indeed the entire nation, when she defeated Robert Kilroy Silk.

She didn’t say much about her time in the Whips Office.

She once gave an interview to a group of school children.

When asked what whips do she explained “whips listen a lot to what other MPs think.”

I am sure the whips will be sitting and listening very quietly today.

We should record the passing of some very dedicated Members.

John MacDougall was a popular MP and a dedicated servant to the people of Fife.

Gwyneth Dunwoody was the very model of an independent Member of this place.

She would stick to her guns, challenge authority, and is missed on all sides.

Others have left Parliament.

Not least Boris Johnson, following his election as Mayor of London.

I know how much the Prime Minister enjoys working with him, and following him as he waves the flag for Britain.

I hope one day to be upstaged in exactly the same way.

There has been one spectacular return to Parliament.

I refer of course to the Business Secretary.

Or to give him his full title, Baron Mandelson of Foy in the County of Herefordshire and of Hartlepool in the County of Durham.

It’s good to know he’s not taken with the trappings of office.

On Saturday the Business Secretary said that the Prime Minister was like Moses, who was going to lead people “away from this economic mess to the promised land”.

I know I don’t have to remind the ‘son of the manse’ that Moses never actually made it to the promised land, and he wasn’t responsible for economic mess either.

The Peter Mandelson who described the Prime Minister as Moses on Saturday can’t possibly be the same Peter Mandelson reported on Sunday.

After long lunches with Peter Mandelson, we read that the late Hugo Young would write in his diary that senior Labour figures had described the Prime Minister as ‘niggardly, brooding, credit-grasping, impossible to work with and fatally flawed’

At some stage I am sure that the real Peter Mandelson will stand up.

As well as those who have left us and those who have returned, there is also one person who is only here in spite of the best efforts of the Government – My Honourable Friend the Member for Ashford.
I hope there is something we can all agree on.

Parliament is here to call the Government to account, to question, to challenge, and to publish information that is in the public interest.

That’s why we’re here.

Isn’t that what the ceremony this morning is all about, when we slam the door in the face of the Queen’s representative and assert the right of the public to challenge the Government and to know the truth about the country we live in?

That is Parliament doing its job.

I want to focus on one question that I think is being asked up and down the country.
Where does the Prime Minister stand on this issue?

Does he think it is right for a Member of Parliament to be arrested and held for nine hours; to have his offices searched by anti-terrorist police; and to have his house raided and his daughter reduced to tears.
If this approach had been taken when the Prime Minister was in opposition, he’d have spent half his time in prison.

It is no good hiding behind “I didn’t know” and “I support the operational independence of the police”
People want to know what the Prime Minister believes.

He’s told us endlessly about the independence of the police – what about the independence of this place and these Members?

People want to know whether our democracy, our right to challenge, our right to question and to oppose are safe under this Government and this Prime Minister.

I hope when he speaks he will have the courage to get off the fence and tell us what he believes.
Mr Speaker we support the excellent work of our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I would like to pay tribute to the two Royal Marines who were killed in Afghanistan on Thursday – Marine Tony Evans and Marine Georgie Sparks.

And we should remember again the names of all those who we have remembered in this place over the last year and what they have done to serve our country.

In Iraq we support the drawdown of troops as conditions allow.

I am sure the Prime Minister has learnt that that drawdown should take place when appropriate, and not according to some pre-announced political timetable.

On Afghanistan, clearly the British Government will come under pressure to increase troop numbers as President-elect Obama plans a surge in US forces.

Does the Prime Minister agree with me that any proposal for an increase in British forces should be accompanied by an increase in troops from other NATO nations; an increase in helicopters to make sure they are properly mobile; and an increase in equipment and protection for our troops?

And I hope he agrees also that we won’t succeed in Afghanistan through military means alone.

We need better co-ordination of aid, less corruption, and better government.

I hope the Prime Minister will give us a realistic assessment of the situation.

The work of our Armed Forces also reminds us of the threat we face from global terrorism.

We saw it last week with the appalling attacks in Mumbai, and our thoughts are with the friends and families of all those who lost their lives.

We should be clear about what the terrorists are trying to do.

They are trying to rob India of her rightful place in the global economy.

They are trying to set one community against another.

And they are trying to set east against west.

And we should also be clear about this.

The terrorists will not stop trade.

They will not stop co-operation.

They will not break up the excellent relations that exist between Britain and India.

We must never give in to this sort of terror.

There are a number of things promised in the Queen’s Speech but haven’t appeared, and I want to ask the Prime Minister about just one of them: the draft Floods Bill.

The Secretary of State promised it in this session.

And I hope the Prime Minister will confirm it will be going ahead.

Now there are some things in this Queen’s Speech that we welcome.

Not least because we proposed them.

The NHS constitution – a Conservative idea.

An independent exam regulator. I proposed that one in 2005.

A saving scheme with matching contributions. That was in our 2005 manifesto.

More security for ports and airports. That was in our 2005 Manifesto.

He likes to accuse me of writing this Manifesto.

Now he’s introduced most of it.

Welfare reforms and direct elections for police accountability – both in my Conference speech last year.
The Prime Minister accuses us of no substance.

But without Conservative substance, there’d be almost nothing of any worth in this Queen’s Speech.
Let me tell him what is wrong with this Queen’s Speech.

There is no recognition in the Government’s programme of how the world has changed.

We are moving into an age when there is no government money left, so we need public sector reform to get better value for money.

We are moving into an age of massive debt, so we need to mend the broken society and reduce the demands on the state.

But in this Queen’s Speech there’s no serious reform.

Just bureaucratic bungling. And technocratic tinkering.

This speech is all about the short-term prospects of the Prime Minister – not the long-term future of the country.

It’s last year’s Queen’s Speech from yesterday’s Prime Minister.

And there is no change.

Look at the promises he made when he said “let the work of change begin”.

Ecotowns. He told us there’d be loads of them. In fact just one is still alive.

He promised zero carbon homes. I can tell the House there have been virtually zero of them. Just 15 in the whole country.

He promised three million new homes. In fact housebuilding fell by a quarter last year.

Free nursery education for all 2 year olds. Abandoned.

More maintenance grants for students. Granted last year. Collapsed in a complete shambles this year. Massive cuts for next year.

And then there’s his promise of a new constitutional settlement. Remember, he promised more powers for Parliament to question the Executive. That one ended up down the nick.

What about the Statement of British values? According to Government sources this will “never see the light of day.”

And what about “British Day”?

It’s a simple question. When is it?

Just how long does it take to set a date for a new Bank Holiday? Given he’s just about to cancel happy hour, we need cheering up.

It wouldn’t matter if they were all just gimmicks.

But some of them really raise people’s hopes.

What happened to Social Homebuy?

Launched in a blaze of glory, by now it was supposed to help 10,000 families to buy their homes. In fact it has helped just 235.

With this Prime Minister it is always about short term politics – and never about real long term change.

Most of the Bills replace one set of failing quangos with another set of failing quangos.

Let’s just take one measure.

The thing he’s banged on about year after year, Budget after Budget: skills.

Seven years ago they set up the Learning and Skills Council.

Then they created 47 local Learning and Skills Council branches.

Four reorganisations followed.

In 2006 the 47 branches were replaced by nine regional centres with 148 local partnership teams.
And the result?

The Learning and Skills Council’s own report this year said this: “unnecessary duplication abounds” – one arm doesn’t know what the other is doing.

So what is he doing in this Queen’s Speech?

He’s scrapping the Learning and Skills Council altogether, and passing responsibility for education and training for 16-18 year olds back to where it came from – to local authorities.

What a waste of time, money and effort.

But instead of killing off a quango there are three new ones – the SFA, the YPLA, and the NAS.

Millions spent on redundancy, reorganisations and rebudgeting.

Administrative costs through the roof.

And in the middle of this the number of people actually being trained has gone down.

So now they’ve abandoned public sector reform.

There’s no social reform.

The promised change never happened.

And they were on the verge of getting rid of the Prime Minister.

So they cling to the one thing they think they’ve got left: the economy.

So let’s look at the state of the economy after the Prime Minister has been in charge of it for the last decade.

So far we’ve focused on the claims he’s made over the last ten years, and how hollow they sound today.
His claim of prudence – when we entered the recession with the largest budget deficit in the industrialised world.

His claim of stability – when unemployment is rising more quickly than in any other major economy.
And his ridiculous claim to have abolished boom and bust.

Ridiculous because under him we had the most unsustainable debt-fuelled boom followed by one of the biggest busts in our history.

So much for the claims of the last ten years.

Now let’s look at the claims of the last ten weeks.

They’re just as threadbare.

He’s told us Britain is better prepared for this recession.

Now we’re forecast – including by his own Treasury – to have the worst recession in the G7 next year.
He’s told us Britain’s debt is more sustainable.

Just yesterday Britain’s credit worthiness slipped behind Portugal, Belgium, and even behind HSBC.
And he’s told us the whole world is following his plan for fiscal stimulus.

Well this week-end the German Finance Minister said this: “Since I’ve been dealing with economic stimulus packages, that is, since the end of the 1970s, they’ve never had the real effect that was hoped for. In the end, the state was just more in debt than before” and “Just because all the lemmings have chosen the same path, it doesn’t automatically make that path the right one”.

I thought the Prime Minister would have listened to his fellow Socialist, but he’s too much of a lemming.
Everything the Prime Minister has told us, not just in the last ten years but in the last ten weeks, has completely fallen apart.

Now the Prime Minister’s latest claim is that the political division is one between action and inaction.
It’s just typical of his approach – he can’t handle a real argument with a real alternative, he can only ever set up a straw man.

He takes a set of beliefs that nobody holds, a set propositions that no one agrees with, usually a set of things that no one has said – and then proceeds to attack it.

It’s a sign of his weakness, not a sign of his strength.

This recession was brought about by run-away borrowing and a massive failure of financial regulation.
Yet the Prime Minister’s answer is more discretionary borrowing – and a complete refusal to admit any mistakes in the regulatory system that he created.

The real solution should lie in lower interest rates, massive government insurance guarantees for bank lending, and support for families and businesses that doesn’t permanently impair the public finances and the chances of a recovery.

That’s the answer.

Only some bone-headed whips plant could argue that that is inaction.
It plainly isn’t.

The real division is between the right action and the wrong action.

Between our long-term action that will really make a difference, and his short-term action to get through tomorrow’s headlines.

Take the situation with the banks.

When is the Prime Minister going to accept what the whole country knows: that his bank recapitalisation isn’t working?

It rescued the banks, but it hasn’t rescued small and medium sized firms.

They can’t get loans, can’t get overdrafts and are having charges levied that are frankly outrageous.
The Government’s response is endless meetings with bankers conveniently briefed to tomorrow’s newspapers to make the Prime Minister look good.

But it’s not making any difference.

That’s why we need – in this Queen’s Speech – a government insurance scheme to get banks lending.
That’s long term change, not short term politics.

Take the VAT cut.

The Prime Minister wanted a stimulus. So we had to have a stimulus.

There’s only one problem: borrowing money when you’re already virtually broke in order to cut prices when they are already falling – and then warning of tax rises down the road – that’s not exactly stimulating.

Instead what we need in this Queen’s Speech is a plan to reduce the future growth of public spending, to show how we can keep taxes down in the future.

Again, long term change, not short term politics.

And what is the long-term consequence of his failed Budget and his short-term approach?

A black hole in the public finances, which everyone knows means taxes going up under Labour.
They’ve already told us about National Insurance.

That’s not just a tax rise on anyone earning over £19,000. It’s also a tax rise on every job in the country.

Can anyone think of any tax more stupid to levy than a tax on jobs when the economy is struggling to recover.

And we all know what the “secret” tax rise is. VAT up to 18 per cent and a half and then on to 20 per cent.

We’ve all seen the Government order.

This wasn’t some leak to the Tory front-bench.

It was the Financial Secretary to the Treasury signing a document and putting it onto the Treasury website.

Who’s he going to arrest for that one?

The Prime Ministers approach – endless announcements to try and win short term advantage – depends on one crucial assumption.

And it’s one I think he always gets wrong.

He assumes that the British people are stupid.

That they won’t realise he’ll have to fill the black hole with higher taxes.

That they don’t notice when you do a tax con Budget, not a tax cut.

That they’ll believe him when he says all this comes from America.

He thinks that they don’t see through him when he goes a visit troops in Iraq in the middle of the Tory Conference.

If he takes the people for fools, they will never take him for their Prime Minister.

A proper Queen’s Speech would be honest about the state this country is in.
And the truth is this.

He’s borrowing so much, because he has spent so much.

And he has spent so much because he has done so little to solve our social problems.
Just look at them.

Welfare dependency – worse.

In Britain today there is more youth unemployment than when the Government took office.

That’s why we need the Conservative plan for radical welfare reform, by giving the voluntary sector the power to go into our most deprived communities.

Family breakdown – one of the worst records in Europe.

That’s why we need the Conservative plan to strengthen families to end the couple penalty and to back marriage.

What about health inequality?

Surely a Labour Government – a Labour Government – would do something about this?

Wrong. The gap in life expectancy between the richest and poorest in our country is greater than at any time since the reign of Queen Victoria.

That’s why we need the Conservative plan to scrap top-down targets and stop doctors answering to Whitehall and get them answering to patients.

All of this will need to be underpinned by our plan to reconstruct our battered economy.

A new, powerful, independent Office of Budget Responsibility so government never, ever again ends up with such a massive deficit.

A new Debt Responsibility Mechanism, so the Bank of England can call time on the levels of private debt in the economy.

We live in a country with national debt doubling under Labour, to one trillion pounds, putting us on the brink of financial bankruptcy.

We live in a country with over a million violent crimes a year, almost doubled under Labour, on the brink of social bankruptcy.

We live in a country where counter-terrorism police are used to arrest MPs who hold the Government to account – and that’s what I call political bankruptcy.

This Prime Minister is wrong in a recession, wrong for the recovery.

Largely responsible for the collapse of the economy, he’s absolutely clueless about the collapse of our society.

He’s yesterday’s man.

Will he get on and call an election so the people of Britain can put this dreadful Government out of its misery – and start the long-term change our country needs.