Jim O’Neill thinks the Queen’s Speech was a damp squib and Nicola’s reshuffle wasn’t much better.
Last week’s political focus was on two key events. First the Queen’s Speech at Westminster, and second the reshuffle at Holyrood.
What a damp squib the Queen’s Speech turned out to be! Cameron, afraid of introducing anything that might be really controversial or drive more of his backbenchers into the Brexit camp, produced a hash of a programme which does nothing to address the real issues of the failure of austerity. And this at a time when business is beginning to predict a further slowdown in the economy.
It was interesting that the first area mentioned in the Speech was “infrastructure to allow business to grow”. Nothing was said about making the banks invest for growth. The economist Rana Foroohar, in her new book Makers and Takers, points to a change in banking behaviour (summarised in an excellent article in Time magazine). Rather than investing in business and being an engine for growth, banks now invest in existing assets for short term return. She notes research that points out that in the United States only 15% of funds are invested in new business where in the past over 50% would have been. Adair Turner confirms a similar trend in the UK.
However, it is not all the fault of the bankers. Foroohar points out
“this revolution is often blamed on the bankers. But it was facilitated by changes in public policy, from both sides of the aisle, and crafted by the government leaders, policy makers and regulators entrusted with keeping markets operating smoothly”
However, despite much rhetoric from Cameron and Osborne, and indeed their coalition partners in the past, little improvement has come in financial investment in growth. This Queen’s Speech does not even mention the issue.
There was mention of anti-corruption and tax evasion, but until we see transparency action in the British territories mentioned in the Panama Papers we will take Tory promises with a very large pinch of salt. Cameron has said much about this but the public response of the Chief Officers in these territories has not been encouraging.
In English legislation, there was no mention of the “A” word in the education proposals – academies. They have run into a wall here. And, using weasel words, the Tories have done little to help people out of poverty, only offering “indicators into life chances” whatever they are, and savings opportunities for low income families, ignoring all the evidence that low income families cannot afford to save.
And finally, proposals for a British Bill of Rights. We already have one. It is called the Human Rights Act, built into Scottish Devolution and the Northern Irish settlement. It looks like, after rejecting Brexit, the next fight will be to protect our Human Rights. What a great cause to fight for!
Turning to the reshuffle, Nicola’s life was made easier by Richard Lochhead and Alex Neil standing down. It is right at this point to send best wishes to Richard, his wife and children in facing their fight against breast cancer.
The big news was the demotion of John Swinney from Finance to the Education portfolio. This has been spun by the SNP as putting the best minister in charge of the biggest priority. However, Gordon Brown and George Osborne have shown that whoever controls the finances controls the policies in the spending departments. Surely the use of all the new powers of finance is much more important than any individual department, because their power to improve things depends on improving finances?
We also saw the demotion of Fergus Ewing from Energy to the disaster that is the Agriculture portfolio. To make it easier on him, he has also been given transport and infrastructure and we have all seen what a pothole that can be. But does this mean a change in the SNP stance on fracking? The fracking companies do not seem to think so, gearing up as they are for developing their businesses. This is wait and see!
So, interesting times both at Holyrood and Westminster. Politics never seems to disappoint us and I am sure that Labour Hame will be full of blogs and comment over the next year.