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Queen’s Speech: A personal problem

With all the talk about top-up fees, nobody mentions that the UK government wants to interfere with our babies, run our relationships and worry about our dead bodies.

Jennie Bristow

Topics Politics

The Queen’s Speech has been greeted with much bickering and Oppositioning on the issues of asylum and university top-fees. But the real danger in the UK government’s legislative programme is what lies beneath the headline controversies: the bills that look set to pass through on the nod.

Of course asylum and higher education are important issues. But the contentious proposals in the Queen’s Speech, and the kind of discussions these have provoked, reduce both issues to their most boring and banal. Far from being a discussion about global inequality and common humanity, for example, the asylum issue revolves around a consensus that the UK must keep ‘them’ out, with quibbling disagreements about the lengths to which it should go to achieve this.

There are some fundamental debates to be had about higher education. What does it mean when universities are turned into de facto secondary schools with the purpose, not of advancing learning, but social inclusion? What should be the role of academics – scholars and lecturers, or mentors and counsellors? What does it do to young people, to demand they spend three years learning very little in order to ensure that they earn not a lot?

Yet the big row about higher education over the past two years has been about top-up fees. The bete noir of the middle-class Consumer Parent has become the big issue to which all debates about the future of intellectual life in the UK has been reduced. As if the matter of a couple of thousand quid will make any substantial difference to students or universities; as if taking out a loan was the worst burden young people ever had to cope with. The fact that the government’s critics have so readily focused on top-up fees indicates the impoverishment of their own imagination, and their profound lack of alternative vision.

Beyond these headline controversies, there are over 20 other bills and draft bills – many of which have faced a remarkable lack of criticism, despite the worrying dynamic that they represent. The government’s legislative programme contains several bills designed to increase state interference in the most intimate areas of our lives, from birth through marriage to death, and push forward New Labour’s project to redefine the relationship between the defendant and the law, between the individual and the state.

These are the bills that have largely been categorised as ‘Low risk’ by the The Times (London), as the sentiment behind them is generally accepted and Opposition forces want to preserve their energies for the big issues like top-up fees.

The Child Trust Fund Bill represents a new way for the government to supervise parents’ personal savings habits. The Civil Partnership Bill is a new official form of regulating gay relationships. The Children’s Bill is yet another legal reform designed to bring the authorities into the home, which will fuel suspicion of parents and encourage the unhealthy obsession with looking for signs of potential abuse everywhere.

The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill will give police yet more powers to intervene in private disputes, and extend these powers to same-sex partners, unmarried couples and even couples who do not live together. The Human Tissue Bill will legislate for more emotion and confusion in the disposal of dead people’s organs and tissues, at the expense of medical research and medics’ autonomy.

The list does not end there. Fortunately, for all the important bills put forward in the Queen’s Speech, we have already published a critical analysis of these issues on spiked. The UK government might be fond of trigger-happy legislation, but the ideas it puts behind new laws regulating private life and personal choices are remarkably consistent. Read on for a taste of spiked’s take on the government’s big issues of 2003/2004.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics

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