Queen’s Speech “merely papers over the cracks”, Starmer tells Johnson

© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Keir Starmer has told the government that the Queen’s Speech delivered today “merely papers over the cracks with short-term gimmicks or distant promises” and “misses the urgency and the scale of the transformation needed”.

Addressing MPs this afternoon, the Labour leader argued that “this is the time for a transformative agenda to rebuild Britain’s foundations after a decade of neglect, and a year of national sacrifice”.

He told parliament that the Queen’s Speech, which is written by the government and sets the legislative agenda for parliament, should have included a plan for social care to “invest in the future”.

“Britain needed transformative change to reset our economy, to rebuild our public services, to strengthen our union and our democracy for decades to come. And that is because, even before this pandemic, there were 5.7 million people in low pay or insecure work and 4.2 million children growing up in poverty,” Starmer said.

“The pandemic has showed that if you live in low quality, overcrowded housing, if you’re trapped in insecure work, if you’re one of millions of people who are one pay check away from hardship, this pandemic will have been harder for you than most.”

The opposition leader told MPs that the Queen’s Speech “misses the urgency and the scale of the transformation that’s needed in our economy and our public services and our society, and it lacks the ambition or a plan to achieve it”.

He compared the plan for investment to that in the US. “Just look across the Atlantic. There we see the kind of plan that’s needed. A plan for long-term investment. A plan to make the economy more resilient, greener and more dynamic,” he said.

“What do we see on this side of the Atlantic? A Queen’s Speech that pits regions against each other in a fight for limited funding. An economy still driven by chronic short-termism.”

Starmer also criticised the failure to include a plan to “fix” the social care crisis, promised by Boris Johnson two years ago: “Failure to act for a decade was bad enough. But failure to act after the pandemic is nothing short of an insult.”

Johnson told parliament that the government would bring forward plans for adult social care reforms later this year “so that every person receives the dignity and security they deserve in old age”.

The Labour leader condemned plans for an ‘elections integrity bill’, requiring people to show ID to vote, and warned that it would “suppress turnout in elections and weaken our democracy”. “Labour will have no part in that,” he added.

Starmer also reminded MPs that the government has failed to act on the cladding crisis, despite four years having passed since the Grenfell tower fire. “There is no excuse for the Prime Minister’s inaction on cladding,” he said.

The opposition leader criticised the government for failing to include the employment bill in the Queen’s Speech, promised by the government in 2019, telling Johnson that the address should have “provided a plan for better work”.

“For too long, millions of people across Britain have been working longer and for lower pay. But where was the employment bill we were promised in the last Queen Speech? And repeatedly promised by ministers? Nowhere to be seen,” he said.

“What was needed was a game-changing employment bill to end fire and rehire, to give proper rights to every worker from day one and to raise the living wage to at least £10 an hour, and go further as quickly as possible.

“That measure alone would have boosted pay for 8.6 million workers, that’s what a Labour Queen’s Speech would have delivered. Alongside a green stimulus to create 400,000 jobs. And a jobs promise for all 16-24 year olds.”

Johnson highlighted the pandemic response in his contribution, saying the vaccination programme is “bringing life back”, but adding that the government now intends to focus on its ‘levelling-up agenda’.

“We must use this opportunity to achieve a national recovery so that jabs, jabs, jabs becomes, jobs, jobs,” he told MPs. “That is our plan, to address the decades old problems that have held us back.”

The Prime Minister indicated that the long-awaited public inquiry into the government response to the pandemic would be launched within the year, telling MPs: “I can certainly say that we will do that within this session, yes.”

He also joked to Starmer that “in any pride of lions it is the male who tends to occupy the position of nominal authority, while the most dangerous beast, the prize hunter, is in fact the lioness”, in reference to Labour’s reshuffle.

Angela Rayner had been removed as party chair and national campaign coordinator following poor local election results. She was later appointed as Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Shadow Secretary of State for the Future of Work.

While he was speaking, she gestured to say ‘I’ve got my eye on you’, interpreted as ‘your job’. In response to Johnson’s comment, she tweeted: “The only title I’m hungry for, Boris Johnson, is Deputy Prime Minister.”

Below is the full text of the speech delivered by Starmer today.

Thank you Mr Speaker. Before I turn to the address, I want to pay tribute to Her Majesty. This is Her Majesty’s 67th Queen Speech. At a time of incredible personal loss for Her Majesty, this must have been one of the hardest to deliver.

I congratulate the mover and seconder for what were both fine speeches. The address was moved by the Hon Member for North West Cambridgeshire. He was typically erudite and engaging. I shouldn’t be surprised – I’m told he’s a former winner of the coveted “rising star” accolade at the Conservative Party conference. Though, as that was in 2000, perhaps his star has risen once again today. I’m also told that he has a black-belt in Tae Kwon-Do – so I now I know who to call on at the next shadow cabinet meeting. The seconder of the address – the honourable member for South Ribble – showed why she is also tipped as a rising star. She gave a fine and passionate speech. She is surely the only member of parliament who’s also a qualified safari ranger – and to have survived once being charged by a rhino. Today, she showed those skills have transferred nicely to the Westminster jungle.

We also remember those members of this House who have passed away in the last session. In April we lost Cheryl Gillan – who served Chesham and Amersham with such distinction. As a new backbencher in 2015, I had the privilege of working closely with Cheryl on a cross-party basis. We quickly developed a mutual respect and friendship. I know many Hon Members will say the same. And will remember Cheryl, as I do, with warmth and affection. It is also tradition during these debates to welcome new Members to this House, so, of course, congratulate the new member for Hartlepool on her victory. She now has the huge honour of representing that great town. I hope she won’t mind me saying, though, that I hope that’s for not too long. And I’m not sure what she plans to do with the 40ft inflatable of the Prime Minister.

Turning to the address, Mr Speaker, after a year of sacrifice this is a seminal moment in our national story: even before the pandemic, Britain needed transformative change. To reset our economy. To rebuild our public services. To strengthen our union and our democracy for decades to come. That is because, even before the pandemic – before this pandemic – there were 5.7 million people in low paid or insecure work and 4.2 million children growing up in poverty. Class sizes that were at their highest for 20 years, one in seven adults unable to get the social care they need and Britain has one of the worst levels of regional inequality in Europe. Most shocking of all, Mr Speaker, life expectancy had stalled for the first time in a century.

That is the record the Prime Minister is trying to run from today. And you can see why. Because in the last year, the pandemic has brutally exposed the consequences of that decade of neglect. Tragically, the pandemic has showed that if you live in low quality, overcrowded housing. If you’re trapped in insecure work. If you’re one of millions of people who are one pay check away from hardship. This pandemic will have been harder for you than most. So, today we needed a Queen’s Speech that rose to scale of the moment. That rewarded the sacrifices of the last year. And rebuilt the foundations. But instead, this Queen’s Speech merely papers over the cracks with short term gimmicks or distant promises.

This government is never short of those. But it misses the urgency and scale of the transformation that’s needed, in our economy, our public services, and our society. And it lacks the ambition – or a plan – to achieve it. At the heart of this Queen’s Speech should have been a jobs plan. A plan to tackle unemployment – particularly the shocking levels of youth unemployment. But also to change how our economy works. That isn’t impossible. Just look across the Atlantic. There we see the kind of plan that’s needed. A plan for long-term investment. A plan to make the economy more resilient, greener and more dynamic. A plan to halve child poverty. To deliver a fairer tax system. And to grow the economy from the middle out, not top-down.

But what do we see on this side of the Atlantic? A Queen’s Speech that pits regions against each other in a fight for limited funding. An economy still driven by chronic short-termism. A government preparing to take money out of the pockets of working people. And a Chancellor saddling businesses with debt when they need to invest. This Address spoke of plans to increase infrastructure spending. Well, about time. Britain should be leading in the world on investment. But after 11 years of Conservative government, we’re 124th out of 147 countries when it comes to capital investment in our economy. And the scale of what was in this address won’t turn that around.

This Queen’s Speech should also have provided a plan for better work. For too long, millions of people across Britain have been working longer and for lower pay. But where was the employment bill we were promised in the last Queen Speech? And repeatedly promised by ministers? Nowhere to be seen. What was needed was a game-changing employment bill to end fire and rehire, to give proper rights to every worker from day one and to raise the Living Wage to at least £10 an hour, and go further as quickly as possible.

That measure alone would have boosted pay for 8.6 million workers, that’s what a Labour Queen’s Speech would have delivered. Alongside a green stimulus to create 400,000 jobs. And a jobs promise for all 16-24 year olds. This address should also have included a clear, long-term recovery plan for our NHS. But with waiting lists at a record high of 4.7 million, what we heard today will come nowhere near the scale of the change needed. And it is unforgivable that there is no clear plan to fix social care.

Mr Speaker, I remind the House that it’s now 657 days since the Prime Minister stood on the steps of the Downing Street and said: “We will fix the crisis in social care once and for all with a clear plan we have prepared.” We. Have. Prepared. Yet 657 days on from the Prime Minister’s promise, what did we hear in this Address? “Proposals on social care reform will be brought forward.” No legislation. No new funding. No details. No timescale. Failure to act for a decade was bad enough. But failure to act after the pandemic is nothing short of an insult.

It’s a similar story on skills and education. This is something I care passionately about. My dad was a toolmaker and worked in his factory all his life. It’s only through world-class skills training, sustained investment and by changing the whole way we think about vocational training that Britain can compete in the 2020s and 2030s. The Prime Minister’s rhetoric on lifetime skills suggests the Government has finally woken up to this but the reality is different. Over the last ten years, funding in adult education has been slashed by a fifth and the number of apprenticeships fell by nearly 200,000 in the three years to 2020. So we will judge the government on its record – not the rhetoric we hear today.

Mr Speaker, it’s the same story on crime and policing. Since 2015 recorded violent crime has doubled. Anti-social behaviour has gone up in every area in England and Wales and our courts now have a record backlog – meaning victims are waiting years to get justice. Yet the Queen’s Speech will do nothing to address this. The promise of a Victims’ Law has been in the last three Conservative Manifestos. Six years ago, I introduced a private member’s bill for a Victims Law with legally enforceable rights. It had cross-party support then. There’s cross-party support now.

The address also promised much on housing. But for many, homeownership is further out of reach than ever. Among the under 45s homeownership has fallen by 800,000 in the last decade. A decade of neglect. House building targets are almost never hit. And rough sleeping has more than doubled since 2010. I see nothing in today’s Address to buck that trend, or even to repair the damage of the last decade.

If the Prime Minister wanted to act, there’s one area where he’s guaranteed cross-party support: the cladding scandal. The Grenfell tragedy was four years – and three Queens Speeches – ago. Yet thousands of people are still trapped in unsafe buildings. Hundreds of thousands are leaseholders caught up in homes they can’t sell or afford. People are facing bankruptcy and great anxiety. And if anyone needed any reminder of the dangers of this – look no further than the fire in a block of flats in East London last week. Mr Speaker, there is no excuse for the Prime Minister’s inaction on cladding.

Mr Speaker, at a time when our United Kingdom is divided and public trust in our democracy is shaken. This Queen’s Speech was an also opportunity to rebuild the foundations of our democracy and our Union. Instead, what does it do? The “Electoral Integrity Bill” would make it harder for people to vote. It tramples over civil liberties. And it discriminates. The Prime Minister must know that introducing compulsory voter ID will supress turnout. It will disproportionately impact ethnic minorities. And it will weaken our democracy. Labour will have no part in that.

We also oppose plans in the Judicial Review Bill to weaken the power of our courts and to curtail the right of judicial review. This government simply fails to understand that our independent judiciary are a strength in our country, not a weakness. And where’s the legislation to fix the broken lobbying laws? The Prime Minister has chosen instead to put his faith in the 2014 Lobbying Act – the Cameron Act. And where did that end? With a Conservative Prime Minister being paid huge sums of money by dodgy companies almost immediately after leaving office. Come to think of it, given the state of the Prime Minister’s current finances, I can imagine why he’s reluctant to change that bit of legislation.

Mr Speaker, there are parts of this Queen’s Speech we will look to work with the government. Legislation to ban conversion therapy is long-overdue. Conversion therapy is always wrong. And indefensible. So we will look very carefully at the legislation when it’s brought forward, which must be done soon. We will also look closely at the draft online safety bill. This has been much delayed and we need urgent and effective legislation. And we are always willing work on a cross-party basis to end violence against women and girls. We will bring forward our own proposals on this in the coming days, but of course we will look at any legislation the government brings forward in this area. Action on Russian and hostile-state interference is also long overdue and progress has been promised for nearly two years. So we also will look closely at the promised Counter State Threats Bill – to see if we can work constructively to bring about the change needed.

But these are small glimmers in a Queen’s Speech that showed this government still doesn’t understand what went wrong in the last decade – and has no plan for the next. This is a time for a transformative agenda, to rebuild Britain’s foundations after a decade of neglect and a year of national sacrifice, to change the foundation of our economy. To invest in the future. To solve the social care crisis. To clean up our politics. And to clean up the mess this government has created over the last decade. But Mr Speaker, once again, this it’s a chance that has been squandered.

Everything Labour.
Every weekday morning.

By clicking ‘subscribe’ you confirm you have read and agree to our privacy policy

More from LabourList