The Independent View: A Queen’s Speech that liberals can get behind

ConservativeHome is busy putting out its own version of the Queen’s Speech. The point of the exercise is to map out what the Conservatives’ legislative agenda might have looked like had they won a majority in 2010.

The leading liberal think=tank CentreForum has done something similar. Last week, we came up with nine measures that we would like to see enacted by a big ‘l’ liberal government. I have listed them below, and placed in brackets the government department that each of them would fall under. With the exception of Lords reform, we don’t expect to hear any of these measures being read out by Her Majesty, but I guess there is always next time…

HM Government will:

  • Legislate to get all children reading by the age of 11 (DfE).
  • Tackle the housing crisis by liberalising the planning system and give leaseholders a better deal (DCLG).
  • Go further in relaxing controls on the number of students entering higher education, and introduce a bill for postgraduate loans (BIS).
  • Change Home Office visa rules so that overseas students who are studying in the UK on a temporary basis are treated differently to permanent migrants (Home Office).
  • Press ahead with legislation for a majority elected and smaller House of Lords (Cabinet Office).
  • Commit to changing water industry legislation to make hosepipe bans a thing of the past (Defra).
  • Push for a more diverse senior judiciary (MoJ).
  • Legislate to raise the state pension age by one month every year (DWP).
  • Go further in making the energy market friendlier to consumers (DECC).

Justification for each of these measures can be found on the CentreForum website. I won’t go into detail here. What I will say is that this is a liberal Queen’s Speech that all liberals, from all parties, can get behind.

Our speech is based upon the principles of freedom and fairness. It will help disadvantaged children escape their circumstances at birth. It will get more people into housing. It will cut youth unemployment immediately, promote consumer choice, and strengthen our democracy. It will boost the economy now and further down the line.

Tim Montgomerie describes the ‘majority conservatism’ of the ConHome Queen’s Speech as ‘popular, pro-poor, balanced and broad’. I would say the same about our ‘liberal’ Queen’s speech. It will be interesting to find out whether LDV readers agree.

* Tom Frostick is head of press and communications at CentreForum, the liberal think tank.

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30 Comments

  • Geoffrey Payne 8th May '12 - 1:08pm

    I am immediately struck by the lack of ambition in this list. We are legally committed to abolishing child poverty by 2020. It seems to me that to achieve that we have to take action now.
    What about meeting our targets for reducing carbon pollution? What policies do we need for that?
    What should we be doing about nuclear proliferation, the justification Paddy Ashdown used for keeping our armed forces in Afghanistan (not that it seemed to work).
    How do we stop the riots happening again next year?
    And of course what economic policy should we be supporting now that we know that the OBR keeps overestimating the growth rate by about 0.8%?

  • Richard Dean 8th May '12 - 1:42pm

    I agree with Geoffrey Payne. Also …
    Which items will “cut youth unemployment immediately”?
    What is the size of the economic boost, and will it be enough?

  • Tom Frostick 8th May '12 - 2:16pm

    @Geoffrey Our list is by no means exhaustive. It contains measures that we think could feasibly be implemented during the next parliamentary session. Measures for boosting the economy include community land auctions and student visa reform (short term) and widening access to higher education (long term).

    @Richard We can cut youth unemployment by relaxing controls on student numbers to get more young people back into education. The government has already done this for pupils who get ABB or above at A level. We want the government to go further. It should also introduce loans for people who want to study towards a master’s degree. This again reduces youth unemployment and is good for our economy.

  • Richard Dean 8th May '12 - 2:34pm

    @Tom. Thanks for the clarification. My sons and daughters left school without A-Levels – they’re right kids but aren’t really academic types. They can’t find work here, and one has travelled a couple of hundred miles to get a poorly paid waitressing job. Is anything being done for them?

  • Geoffrey, how can you say “I am immediately struck by the lack of ambition in this list” when one of the point is “•Legislate to get all children reading by the age of 11 (DfE).”

    This is far, far too ambitous – in the sense that I am not at all sure how you can wave a magic legislatory wand to “get all children reading”.

  • Tom – “This again reduces youth unemployment ” – not really; it only defers it.

    Richard – “they can’t find work here”. What sort of work were they looking for? Have they thought of starting their own business?

  • Tom Frostick 8th May '12 - 3:02pm

    @Richard You make an important point. The focus shouldn’t just be on getting more people into higher education. We should also be looking to expand other types of training (apprenticeships etc) and think about whether these could be supported by undergraduate style loans.

    This is what the party says: http://www.libdems.org.uk/siteFiles/resources/docs/policy/Education/Further%20and%20Higher%20Education.pdf

  • I agree with Dan. If you legislate to have all children reading by age 11, what happens if they don’t? Are you going to fine the parents? Jail the teachers? Have a target, properly resourced and with support for the poorest readers, certainly, but legislating for it is simply unworkable.

  • It’s just a “Wish List” all “Mom and apple pie”.

    Phrases like “Go Further” and “Push for” are completely meaningless.

  • Keith-Dan: legislating that all children must be able to read by 11 could, for example, allow post-11 schools to require govt to fund catch up programmes for those who can’t read when they start secondary school. Let’s be honest: if you can’t read when you start secondary school, you are not likely to learn much.

    Pupils spend around 7000 hours in primary school. So if you wanted to be really radical you could ask a school which kids cannot read what they did with 7000 hours, and require them to pay for the remedial work to cover their own failures.

    Going to univ does not delay your unemployment, it increases your chance of employment, reduces your chance of being made unemployed later, and reduces the duration of unemployment if you are later made unemployed. The Resolution Foundation have done very good work in this area.

  • Tim Leunig : whilst there is some merit in your proposals, I don’t think that education can ever be solely the preserve of the state. What role do parents play in the failure of their childrens’ educational attainment? Sometimes what schools try to be acheive in their 5 hours per day of contact time can be totally undone in the 17 hours when they are outside of this contact time.

    Similarly, going to University only prepares someone for a different type of job; it does not necessarily create jobs. There is an argument which says that far too many students come out of University expecting graduate level jobs and remuneration without there being the supply to satisfy this demand. There is a structural problem within the UK labour market as a result.

  • Richard Dean 8th May '12 - 4:42pm

    @Tabman. Its not so easy for a 16-year old without much idea of how the world works or how to do accounts to actually start a business! And anyway, should we really be asking 16-year olds to shoulder those kind of burdens? Shouldn’t they be thinking of other, young society things?.

    @Tom Frostick. Thanks for the info. It’s virtually impossible to understand or live in this modern world if you can’t read, write, or understand how to count shopping costs, and virtually the only viable career move would be into gangland and/or crime or the army, so legislation to support teaching standards and create bodies to help this would be welcome. But Europe and Debt have to be on the agenda somewhere.

  • Richard – they should be doing apprenticeships. But this needs a rebalanced economy.

  • @Tim – I understand where you’re coming from. But the problem is that if you put something in law that has to be done, then there has to be a consequence for not doing it which is effective, and I just don’t think that you could. For example, a school fails for a year to get all its pupils reading [as an aside – to what standard?] because of a “blip” in the year group – not every year is the same and there’s always going to be variations in achievement. So the school gets punished financially as you suggest – what then of the pupils who are still there? Do they not then get a lesser degree of teaching? How do you ensure that children in subsequent years don’t suffer?

    Targets are fine if they are properly resourced. But you can’t legislate for something which is intrinsically a moving feast.

  • Can’t we have something to enforce open government, say a freedom of information bill ?? Oh no, I forgot this is only important when in opposition…..

    Sorry can’t resist the irony as another belief I felt was shared by the party I voted for goes by the wayside…

  • Since Steve Way mentions the Freedom of Information Act, can we have a strengthening of that Act in order to stop what Andrew Lansley has just done – ignore it? [the Risk Register]. I am wondering what the official LibDem position is re. Lansley’s secrecy. Do LibDem support him or not? It is a fair question in view of the LibDems enthusiasm for ‘open government’ pre the General Election.

  • Chris Riley 8th May '12 - 7:13pm

    @Tabman

    “There is an argument which says that far too many students come out of University expecting graduate level jobs and remuneration without there being the supply to satisfy this demand.”

    Yes, there is, and it is an argument made by people who haven’t noticed that the labour market has changed profoundly since the 70s, and haven’t looked at any evidence about structural changes in the economy, skills demand and labour market – or indeed any research into the structure or reality of graduate careers, the way young people make career choices or the options available to them. Nevertheless, they’re pretty sure there must be too many graduates, and things would be much better if we went back to the 60s model.

    It is a bad argument. It is wrong in almost every particular – the one tiny way in which is might conceivably be even slightly right is that there may be a mismatch, exacerbated by recession, between the actual supply of specific qualifications and the demand from industry, but even then, because the UK degree is so flexible (a significant USP for the UK HE system, as it happens), this is only a minor mismatch and overcome, in a kinder labour market, with better training for graduates in how they articulate their skills – or, alternatively, by massive Government central planning and quotas for each degree, of course.

  • Richard Dean 8th May '12 - 7:44pm

    Tom. Thanks, the party seems to say some interesting things. But is it too late to discuss alternative solutions? How about giving everyone a 6-year training voucher at 16? They would be free to use it whenever they want in their lives, but not to transfer it to someone else. Something a bit wider that the Youth Contract, and different in effect to what is provided at the moment.

    To use it, people would need to be accepted in some form of training scheme, which could be a school, an apprenticeship, vocational. a university. Different schemes would have their different entry requirements, and it wouldn’t necessarily be a doddle getting accpted – popel might need to do some significant preparation. On using it, they’d get some form of government support – at a minimum equivalent to jobseeker’s allowance, plus a mixture of apprenticeship or fee support and/or interest loan?

    This gives everyone an equal opportunity and the freedom to choose when and how to take it. It would boost the economy by providing demand for trainers. It boosts training through the support element. People would have a real interst in ensuring that the training they got was relevant and good quality, and would be able to express their opinions through their choices. Some people might even decide to use it as a cushion, using a year here or there whenever times get too tough.

    It would not necessearily be chaotic for educators, but they might need to modularize their multi-year courses so that people could take them in bits. Places like the Open University would have the experience to help otjher educators de-design courses to cope. And it would be feasible to arrange things so that givernments would be able to plan a little ahead regarding costs.

  • Joseph Donnelly 8th May '12 - 8:55pm

    @ John Roffey

    Read your blogpost, what your proposing is much discussed in academia for the past 300 years since Paine and Burke.

    Have you actually read the counter-arguments?

    If not I’d recommend Noberto Bobbio’s ‘liberalism and democraxy’ for a brief overview of the clash between liberal values and democracy from a political philosophical standpoint. There’s also then the political theory side of things but it’s not as accessible to read.

    If you have read around the debate and know the arguments then your blogpost, and argument in favour of a system where the electorate can easily unseat their MP every 6 months, really needs to go into a bit more depth,

  • Keith: you **might** be right that occasionally a school would have “bad” group, BUT, the age 11 literacy target is not that hard, and any small and occasional injustice to a school would be trivial compared to the current constant injustice of allowing many 11 year olds to leave primary school unable to read, and effectively condemned to a life time of underachievement.

  • why doesn’t it say ‘legislate for the rest of the LibDem Manifesto to be introduced within a parliament’..?

  • Joseph Donnelly 9th May '12 - 1:10pm

    Going to avoid getting into this debate too much as it could go on forever and all over the place.

    Having said that…the concept of superior men is a silly one. First of all I think you present a very romanticised view of some foreign systems that without looking into them I assume had their ups and downs and secondly, yes you do indeed get benevolent dictators and evil elected presidents.

    With democracy however you have the ability to chuck those out who do badly and when a particular group holds power indefinitely then it will become more corrupt and less ‘superior’ so there is a need for an ability to chuck them out.

    However, coming back to your original view, that we need the ability to recall MPs every 6 months easily and replace them. The debate you are getting into is that of delegatory vs representative democracy; if MPs are held to account every 6 months then they do have to be very responsive to their constituents wishes, well at least make their constituents feel that way.

    It virtually creates a system where all MPs have to be populists, its impossible to take a stand on something that in the short run will be bad but in the long run bad because you will be kicked out of office in the short run. It makes MPs delegates to the fickle will of their electorate.

    Why is the problem? Well because most of their electorate arent full time politicians who spend all day in detail looking over what is proposed and making an educated decision, in reality the electorate give 1 hour at most to properly thinking over their choice at an election every 5 years, every 6 months they might be making their mind up after 10 minutes, seeing a few attack advertisements and reading the editorial in a paper, this is not an informed decision.

    Whereas in representative democracy, the electorate are electing someone who they broadly think shares their views and then then entrust him for 5 years to make their own decisions based on a greater understanding and time given to the issuse, then after a reasonably long period of reflection, 5 years etc, the public can decide whether they’ve done a good job.

    mps getting sacked every 6 months would make it virtually impossible for any difficult decisions to be taken, would make governments very unstable and would make our laws populist and majoritarian; minorities would be persecuted by the tyranny of the populist majority

  • While the queens speech is a good moment to take stock, it is a mistake of the westminster village to confuse a programme of legislation with actions that government needs to take. The big issue remains the economy, and its not at all clear that you can create growth by acts of parliament…..

    Similarly the westminster village believes the Health issue has now been put to bed, just because legislation has been passed. In fact it is the implementation on the ground that will determine how people react in 2015.

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