The Queen’s Speech: What should be in (but isn’t)

Here are five announcements we would have liked to have seen today.

Here are five announcements we’d have liked to have seen today

Actually this is not strictly true: there may be some kind of recall bill in today’s Queen’s Speech. Apart from that, however, none of the following will be announced today.

Instead, the key themes with be parents, plastic bags and planning for retirement. To stick with the theme of threes, the government is promising that today’s announcements will be pro-work, pro-aspiration and pro-business.

As is to be expected, though, a Tory Queen’s Speech is not our ideal Queen’s Speech. Here are five announcements we would have liked to have seen today (and still might in the case of the first one):

A proper right to recall bill

Proper right to recall bill would mean that if an agreed percentage of constituents signed a bill calling for an MP to be recalled then a referendum would have to be held. No ifs not buts.

A proper reform bill would:

  • give the electorate the power to deselect MPs who failed to perform their duties or got embroiled in scandals around expenses;
  • do so without having to wait one, two, or even five years for a General Election;
  • increase accountability and democratisation as a result.

According to a 2012 YouGov poll, 79 per cent of the electorate would support the measure. Three-fifths even thought the rule should apply to MPs who failed to respond to their constituents’ correspondence.

A commitment to digital democracy

We’re getting close to a point in Britain where we can genuinely say that there is a crisis of democracy. Turnout in recent European elections was just 36 per cent. In 2010 in was 65 per cent. As Areeq Chowdhury argued on these pages yesterday, whilst most other areas of our lives have entered the digital age, the democratic process remains mired in the past. The introduction of secure online voting would help drag democracy into the 21st century.

‘Supply side’ funding of childcare

Under government plans parents are to get a 20 per cent rebate (per child) on the annual cost of childcare of £10,000. The government’s plan is to regulate the childcare market rather than control prices for parents. The policy is a welcome one for parents struggling with the cost of childcare, but it will likely do little to solve the problem of expensive childcare in the long-term. Indeed, similar reforms that took place in Australia in the 1990s show that this kind of ‘demand-led funding’ can actually lead to an increase in the costs of childcare – without increasing quality.

A better policy would mean state support for childcare going to providers (nurseries and after-school clubs) who have met certain quality criteria. As a result, parents would then be provided with low cost or free childcare by that provider.

A reform of council tax banding

With house prices surging once again, it’s a reminder of just how badly we need to reform the council tax system. Indeed, the current out of date banding is an archaic absurdity. At present, someone who owns a house worth tens of millions of pounds can pay the same amount in council tax as a person living in a modest family home. This is because council tax banding is at the same level it was in 1991, with the top band stopping at £320,000 – all houses worth more pay the same.

Progressive council tax reform would mean additional bands at the upper level so that those owning property that has made them very rich are paying their fair share.

The railways brought under public ownership

Sorry, but enough is enough. Some rail fares in Britain have now risen by as much as 250 per cent since British Rail was privatised in 1994. The success of the government-owned East Coast Mainline shows that another model can work on our railways. It isn’t as if privatisation saves the taxpayer any money. In 2010/11, Network Rail was subsidised by the taxpayer to the tune of £3.96 billion. This compares with an average of £1.4billion over the 10 years leading up to privatisation.

Even most Conservative supporters support the idea of bringing the railways back into public ownership.

And also…

An energy price freeze.

A rent cap.

A mandatory Living Wage for employees of companies with a high enough profit threshold.

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