WHEN David Cameron rose in the House of Commons yesterday to speak in the debate on the Queen’s Speech, he claimed his government’s legislative programme for the coming year was designed to boost economic recovery.
Sadly, this is not what it delivered.
The Prime Minister’s stated aim was undoubtedly correct. All levers of power – economic, executive and legislative – must be used to the full to drag Britain out its economic malaise and back into growth.
There were some small nods in this direction. The proposed National Insurance Contributions Bill will make it easier and cheaper for small firms to take on new staff. A new Intellectual Property Bill will hopefully act as a spur to innovation. And the draft Deregulation Bill takes on unnecessary red tape – especially excessive restrictions in the name of health and safety – in the workplace.
All of these are welcome. What they do not come close to amounting to is a legislative spur to growth.
What we got yesterday was a Queen’s Speech that, instead, seemed to be more preoccupied with the Tories’ own party political concerns, with an eye to their positioning in the fast-changing world of centre-right English politics.
The success of the UK Independence Party in the English local elections last week has spooked many Tory MPs in marginal constituencies – and a few ministers too. The Ukip tanks are on their suburban lawns, and they do not like it one little bit. The political imperative for the Conservative Party at the moment seems to be to do as much as possible to stem the Ukip rise.
This is why Lord Lawson’s comments earlier this week backing British withdrawal from the European Union were greeted with growls of approval from the Tory back-benches. And it seems to be the explanation for the emphasis in yesterday’s Queen’s Speech on immigration.
The Prime Minister tried to keep his focus on illegal migrants, but the practical implication of these new measures – including landlords checking on tenants’ immigration status – will inevitably cause difficulties for genuine incomers, who simply seek to make a new life in Britain.
What Mr Cameron seems to be forgetting is that curbs on immigration will make it far harder for him to drag the British economy back into growth.
Economists agree that one of the drivers of economic activity – and the reason why the United States has often enjoyed an advantage over the rest of the world economy – is that immigration is good for the economy. It brings in people of talent and entrepreneurial zeal and is a recognised engine of greater prosperity for all.
Mr Cameron has his political battles to fight, that is true. But here and now – and especially in the Queen’s Speech – his priority should be getting Britain moving, not shoring up his party support.
Sir Alex, a true living legend
WE CAN forgive him the “hairdrier” rants, the occasional hurled football boot during a post-match pep talk, and even the now-infamous kicking of a dressing-room tea-urn when he was manager of Aberdeen.
The truth is that Sir Alex Ferguson will go down in sporting history not just as one of the Scottish greats, but one of the giants of world football.
Manchester United has an extraordinary place in the hearts of millions of fans worldwide – in barefoot matches in shanty-towns in the developing world you will inevitably see a few faded red strips of various Old Trafford vintages.
This is a football club like no other. Many legends of the game nurtured that flame in the past, and Sir Alex has been a guardian of it since 1986.
His skill as a tactician – as a reader not only of the game, but also of players as human beings – is without parallel. And there is, perhaps, no greater exemplar of a certain Scottish archetype: a tough, straight-talking man with working-class roots and unimpeachable integrity.
He has never forgotten his Govan upbringing and has been assiduous in charity work, including his role as an ambassador for the Street Soccer organisation that does such good work in Scotland’s most deprived areas.
Many fans of rival teams have had cause to curse his name down the years, but for the most part that has been accompanied by a deep respect for his skill, his shrewdness and his strength of character. At the age of 71, it might be assumed he is heading for a quiet retirement, but with Sir Alex Ferguson, who knows?
Whatever the future holds for him, he has our best wishes.