This Wednesday, Queen Elizabeth II will take to the throne in the House of Lords and deliver the last Queen’s Speech of this functioning, if occasionally fractious, Parliament. In it, the Coalition will set out the legislative programme for its last year of power before next year’s uncertain election. They have a chance to deliver a lasting legacy for taxpayers – but will they?
We particularly hope to see the Coalition deliver on one of their first promises – to enshrine a “right of recall” in law. Currently, voters have little recourse when they feel an MP has let them down other than to circle the date of the General Election in their calendar. Giving the public the right to petition for a ballot when they’re aggrieved by their MP’s behaviour would be a fantastic way to increase the accountability of our elected representatives. Voters across the world, who have been given the right of recall, have acted sensibly and appropriately, only using it on rare occasions. There is no reason to fear British voters having the same power. Concerns that it would create “kangaroo courts” – most notably expressed by our Deputy Prime Minister – only reflect how far the gap has grown between the political elite and the people they represent.
On a similar note of accountability and transparency, if Britain is to reduce a £1.3 trillion debt burden, it will have to wage war on waste across local and national government. The Coalition’s insistence that government at all levels publishes spending details online has meant that waste is more obvious and easier to identify, and that transparency is vital if we are to hold politicians to account for how they spend our money. However, the Coalition won’t be in power forever, and a future administration may not share its commendable commitment. A short bill, to enshrine in law that all departments, quangos and local authorities have to continue publishing how they spend our money, would guarantee that transparency in the long term. Similarly, there has been unwelcome speculation that the Coalition might weaken the Freedom of Information Act; this should be avoided.
Whilst these measures would encourage transparency in how our representatives spend and act, the Coalition should also do more to introduce transparency into the tax system. A merger of National insurance and Income Tax wouldn’t cost the Treasury anything, but it would allow hard-working Brits to see quite how much of their money is being taken by the taxman.
The Coalition has a last chance to set out a radical vision for a more accountable political class and a more honest tax system. Let’s hope they take it.
You can read a fuller list of the TPA’s proposals for tomorrow’s Queen’s Speech here.