The Queen’s Speech

The Queen on being told Boris Johnson has arrived

Today is the Queen’s Speech.  Perhaps Boris Johnson will actually win his first Commons vote as Prime Minister.  For a man who is so opposed to socialism, he spends a lot of time getting publicly owned. 

I don’t know why we still pretend that the speech belongs to the Queen.  I’ve never met her; I’m told she’s very polite, a quality I prize highly in people.  But the pretence that it’s Her Majesty’s Government is increasingly tenuous after the recent proroguing of Parliament for party political advantage, and the subsequent High Court confirmation that it was illegal.  And how can we possibly take the programme of legislation in the speech seriously?  The PM can promise whatever he likes, given that he intends to dissolve Parliament for an election within weeks. 

What’s in it?  I can guess – lots of noise about a clean break with the EU.  Which is impossible.  Even crashing out with No Deal we’ll still have to negotiate a future trade deal, just from a weaker position.  And lose 10% of all the jobs in the North East in the meantime. 

And there’ll be a lot of greenwash.  Claims about how they’re serious about reducing emissions by 2050.  Twenty years too late, but hey-ho. 

Unfortunately for him, this week saw the publication of every MP’s climate vote score.  Mr Johnson scored exactly 0% on his voting record over the past ten years, supporting fracking, opposing the solar and wind industry, and taking whopping donations from oil companies and climate-change-denying think tanks.  In 2013 he wrote that “wind turbines would not pull the skin off a rice pudding.”

All the parties are on election footing.  Last Saturday, Jeremy Corbyn was in Newcastle rallying the troops, his eighth event in five days.  I had a long meeting with him, to discuss how as Mayor I can deliver Labour’s national priorities.  How the North East can lead the way on green transport, on renewables, on building affordable housing, on rebalancing our economy to prioritise long-term sustainability over short-term profit seeking.  More than two-thirds of Labour’s national investment will be delivered by devolved government.  There’ll be 10,300 jobs in offshore wind alone, with profits reinvested in our coastal communities.  And long term, this investment all pays for itself. 

The contrast between the two men is remarkable – and I’ve spoken to both of them recently.   Jeremy’s depth of knowledge of the housing industry, and understanding of how to close the skills gap and create jobs to meet Labour’s housing target of a million new homes.  The facts he has at his fingertips on the capacity of rail lines, the details of high street banking, and despite being a Londoner, his knowledge North East communities.  To be fair, Boris Johnson’s jokes are better than Jeremy’s, but by that logic, we should appoint a comedian as Prime Minister.  Ah… 

Our region was built on coal and steel.  The phrase “coals to Newcastle” was used as far back as 1538.  We started the industrial revolution; at one point more coal was shipped from the mouth of the Tyne than was mined in the rest of the world put together.  Stephenson’s Rocket was built on Forth Bank in Newcastle.    We were in our innocence about climate change, and the fact that global sea level rises will submerge half of Tyneside, and threaten our food security. 

There’s an alternative.  We’ve always been innovators.  Hydro-electricity was invented in Northumberland.  The electric light bulb was invented in Gateshead. 

To all the cynics and misanthropes who say we should do nothing because climate change is a global problem, I say we should be the home of ambition.  We have the chance to reboot our economy.  To create thousands upon thousands of well paid jobs.  If we decarbonise by 2030, we’ll show the rest of the world it can be done.  Let’s lead the world with a Green Industrial Revolution.

This article was first published in The Journal and The Chronicle on Monday 14th October 2019

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