Whitehaven News column – 5th June 2014

Public Money No Object
Westminster and Whitehall has been in lock down this week as the final preparations are made for the State Opening of Parliament, the ceremony that culminates in the delivery of the Queen’s Speech. It’s a lavish, regal affair. New security cordons are erected, extra police are brought in, makeshift tents and viewing galleries appear on the streets (washed especially for the occasion) and helicopters patrol the skies. Clearly, this is an expensive business.
All of which begs the question, ‘What happened to austerity?’
We can try to stretch and shape the answer in any way we please, but the truth is that one man’s historic ceremony of pageantry is another’s extravagant and expensive abuse of public money at a time when most people are finding times hard.
Latterly, our local Mayors have taken to trimming their offices to match the realities of the austerity being inflicted upon our Borough by the government – and this approach serves us and them well. At a time when people – we are told – are becoming increasingly disaffected with politics and the political process, every public body has a duty to address the public mood of alienation.
If you’ve lost your job, if you’re being hammered by the bedroom tax, if you’ve lost your family allowance, but the couple down the road who earn more than you have been allowed to keep theirs, or if you’ve been affected by the government’s austerity policies in any way – you can be forgiven for looking at the State Opening of Parliament and wondering if, how, or when most politicians will ever understand the realities of your life. And if those same politicians cannot understand the realities of your life, then how on earth can they ever produce policies that will address the problems you face in your life?
John Bercow is a superb speaker of the House of Commons – a reformer, a radical, the best speaker I have ever known and certainly the most important for the last century. He is changing Parliament, yet Parliament never seems to miss an opportunity to bring itself into disrepute. Of course, you may genuinely like the pageantry, you may be a vehement supporter of the traditions and practices that identify Parliament as an institution, but I never have been. Sadly, these practices are the foundation for Parliament’s dislocation from most people’s every day lives.  How refreshing, and potentially important, it would have been at this point for Parliament to recognise the pain so many people are going through and to have insisted upon an ‘austerity state opening’. What a missed opportunity.
Still, the ‘zombie Parliament’ rolls on. With a Queen’s Speech designed to run down the clock to the General Election as the coalition fails to understand the hard realities facing the lives of most ordinary people, and so continues to demonstrate that it doesn’t have any of the answers needed to make life better for people in communities like ours.

But Copeland is fighting back; our community has resilience hard wired into its DNA and our best days are ahead of us. More next week. 

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