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Editorial: The Queen's speech is a prescription for an authoritarian, unaccountable state

THE very day the Ballymurphy massacre victims are confirmed to be entirely innocent civilians shot dead in cold blood by the British Army, the Prime Minister has stressed he still intends to bring forward amnesty plans for soldiers who killed during the Troubles.

His pledge to “end the cycle of investigations” will leave a bitter taste in the mouth, given the five decades that families of the Ballymurphy victims have had to fight to see their names cleared.

Boris Johnson’s insinuation that the Tories are pursuing some even-handed reconciliation process is disingenuous.

As Maura McGee — one of the daughters of Joan Connolly, a mother-of-eight gunned down by members of the Parachute Regiment in 1971 — puts it: “I don’t agree with an amnesty for anybody.

“If the evidence shows there was foul play, whether you were wearing a uniform or a paramilitary uniform or you were wearing a T-shirt and jeans — if you killed someone, you should answer for it.”

Yet the government’s determination to ensure its soldiers can get away with what Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill rightly terms “British state murder” is not aimed at turning the page on a historical conflict.

It is of a piece with legislation it is already pursuing to stop British troops being prosecuted for war crimes.

It involves ripping up agreements with the Irish government. But concern for international law is not likely to bother a Tory administration that pushed ahead in today’s Queen’s Speech with its war on refugees despite calls for an urgent rethink from the UN refugee agency.

The government’s contemptuous attitude to the rights of refugees and war-crimes victims applies more widely.

Most Labour and trade-union criticism of the Queen’s Speech has focused on what it did not include. 

Despite promises, the Conservatives have not announced any action on employment rights. No details on the long mooted social-care overhaul were available either. Even suggestions of leasehold reform have been watered down to irrelevance.

But we should be equally alert to what is on the agenda. Buoyed by its rout of Labour at last week’s elections (in England, at least), the government is charging ahead with a raft of legislation that will make Britain a less democratic and more authoritarian country.

From the US Republicans it has lifted the wheeze of raising the bar to vote by requiring photo ID, a step that will suppress voter numbers and disproportionately affect ethnic minorities and the young: categories less likely to vote Conservative.

Limits on judicial review are presented as an effort to stop judges making inappropriate forays into politics. In effect they will simply make it harder to challenge the government when it breaks the law.

And the policing Bill that has prompted angry demonstrations across Britain since the spring gives the police the power to decide when, where and for how long — and at what volume — we are allowed to exercise our right to protest.

Like the proposed amnesty for soldiers who commit atrocities such as the Ballymurphy killings, this is about one thing: empowering the state and its agencies and reducing our power as citizens to hold them to account.

The authoritarian politics is combined with a willingness to invest in job-creating infrastructure schemes so long as these are delivered by the private sector and provide another avenue to enrich the government’s patrons and friends. 

Though this will not stop the race to the bottom on pay and conditions at work, the Tories are confident it will be enough to see off any challenge from an ideologically confused Labour Party that has no coherent alternative to offer.

It is an ambitious and far-reaching agenda from a ruling party that is aware of the collapse of confidence in the system in recent years, and determined to shut down challenges to it.

It requires an equally ambitious response from the left.

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