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[1st Day]

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 7:45 pm on 21st June 2017.

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Photo of Heidi Alexander Heidi Alexander Labour, Lewisham East 7:45 pm, 21st June 2017

It is probably fitting that I am following Sir William Cash as I have promised myself that in this Parliament I will become for remain what he has been for leave during his parliamentary career.

This is the first Queen’s Speech debate in which I have participated since 2010, the year I was elected. If I am honest, I have tended to find the speech itself and the political debate that follows somewhat formulaic. Now we cannot say that that is the case. Events in the past year have hit the British people with a speed and ferocity that is unprecedented in my lifetime: the murder of our beautiful colleague Jo Cox; the referendum; the terrorist attacks in Westminster, Manchester, London Bridge and Finsbury Park; and, of course, the horrific fire at Grenfell Tower just two weeks ago. When our country is in such an awful mess, this Queen’s Speech is exposed as dreadfully wanting. It is dominated by last year’s obsession, Brexit, and this reality is made all the worse by the Government’s commitment to the most complicated and disruptive type of Brexit imaginable. The questions raised with me by my constituents about jobs, policing, schools, hospitals, homes and elderly care barely feature.

The truth is, however, that it is not just the Queen’s Speech that is failing people, but our politics more generally. Take the general election that we have just had. The public witnessed an election being called because of the fallout from last year’s referendum, but they got a campaign that left them none the wiser about how Brexit would be dealt with. They saw a Prime Minister who ran away from the TV cameras and who, when she did appear, was shaky, nervous and wooden. They saw Conservative politicians who could not answer questions about police cuts and counter-terrorism when a suicide bomber had murdered young families at a pop concert. They saw a party that could provide no guarantees about the pound in their pocket or the funding of their public services, and they feared for the homes of elderly parents. It is no wonder that a lot of people in many different parts of the country voted for change.

The past two weeks have cemented public perceptions of a Government floundering, out of their depth and out of step with the reality of life in Britain in 2017. There is no answer as to why it has taken four years to implement recommendations on fire safety in high-rise blocks. There is no ability to quickly rehouse people whose homes have burned down because of London’s appalling and acute housing crisis, and there is no prospect of quick answers about responsibility for that horrific fire because such a long supply chain was involved. The opportunity to squeeze profit and evade accountability may yet prove dangerously significant.