This is what I want from politicians – though mostly I mean that the Labour Party needs to step up with policies, as the current Government is not going to provide the support that people need:
Animal welfare and the environment. A focus on the environment should be at the core of all policies. Not least because the Green Party gained so many votes from the Labour Party – about 1 million in the last election. (The Greens are not in a position to form a Government because of our First Past the Post electoral system, they were only able, along with the votes for SNP, and the massive swing to the Conservatives, to thwart a progressive Government from being formed). Climate change, environmental degradation, air pollution, land grabs, deforestation, cycling, new environmental technologies, solar power, wind power, better animal welfare, preserving the Green Belt, bans on hunting or trapping animals. Policies on these areas should equate to clear water between the Labour Party and the Conservatives.
Better regulation for the environment has too often been seen in the Labour Party as something that would hamper job creation. But it can now be a source of jobs if money is put behind new clean technologies, and in becoming a centre of excellence /a source of expertise that can be exported to the rest of the world. Zac Goldsmith may do well in the London Mayoral elections on the back of his green credentials – but where is the ambition of the Labour Party for our shared environment?
Reducing our intake of meat would lead to a healthier population (cutting obesity, heart disease, colon cancer, diabetes and even the risk of Alzheimer’s as well as the cost to the NHS of treating these illnesses) and would contribute to reducing CO2 emissions. I can’t make the whole of the UK turn vegan overnight! But we could start by pushing healthier food choices in schools and hospitals, and by lobbying for lucrative EU farming subsidies to go towards organic or sustainable farming initiatives.
Arts and Culture. Artists are a great barometer for how cities are doing, and by extension the whole country. At the moment a few of the YBA’s like Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin are doing very nicely. Rich sons and daughters of rock stars can set up a gallery in London and make a tidy living. You don’t need me to point out that many Bafta and Oscar winners are now Eton educated, just like the Tory Government. Where are the new Julie Walters, the new Ken Loach, the new Albert Finneys? Struggling with student debt, zero hours contracts and sky high rents.
Libraries have lost a quarter of their workforce, museums are closing, artists can’t afford to be artists any more – we all have side jobs just to pay the rent and bills.
Or, the ones that make it through, that are time and money rich – are the rich – skewing the kind of culture that will be produced in this country. The great music that came out of the UK is working class – plenty of bands have spent time on benefits, but would now be forced into stacking shelves or a job in a call centre. The Tories have brought out their White Paper on Culture and it has nothing to say about cuts to council’s budgets leading to library/museum closures, about the forced academisation of schools, or the squeezing out of the arts in the Ebacc.
All politicians tend to regard the arts as an add-on – nice to have. But they are essential. Without music, art, film, theatre, photography, dance, fashion – we have no identity. Isn’t it time that we reasserted our identities? I don’t mean a narrow, constricted, Downton Abbey view of what it is to be British. Nor do I mean the poverty of vision that was ‘Cool Britannia’ – annexing culture to improve the popularity of an elitist leader, and thinking of arts as the ‘creative industries’ to be tapped into and exported globally. There is a joy in making, in craftsmanship, that seems to have gotten lost in our globalized and plasticized world. We could return to thinking about small local scale production – artists want studios that are affordable and nearby. Not every artist wants to conquer the market – there are plenty that want to be in equilibrium with their local community – giving something back and not just making mega bucks. And we could all learn a great deal from William Morris…
Artists and musicians want to be self-sufficient, not dependent – but to do this they need both time and an income – makerspaces may be one answer. Another idea is for there to be artists, writers, musicians in residence across a whole range of organisations and institutions – from schools to the NHS to libraries, workplaces, and even job centres!
Cooperation, collaboration, community ownership of resources. There are some amazing projects afoot – that invert power relations and that put communities in charge of their own destinies and purchasing power – they should be supported and replicated across the country – as a way to counter the entrenched power inherent in land ownership and banking.
- Community ownership of assets – asset transfer is not new. It started as a policy under Hazel Blears MP, when she headed DCLG, and is now carried forward by this Government. It can lead to undesirable outcomes in some places – a white elephant local authority property that is too expensive to modernize is offloaded onto a local community without capacity or finance. But it can also work incredibly well. State ownership/maintenance may be desirable for national infrastructure, but at a local level – community cohesion can be fostered by genuinely taking on the challenges of running and maintaining an asset for the whole community:
- Community Land Trusts – the housing market is partly to blame for the financial crisis which has led to this climate of austerity. Most people cannot afford to get on to the housing ladder – this is even more acute in London. But community land trusts could radically alter the housing market landscape if replicated across the UK – and not just in isolated pockets.
- Blockchain energy systems – the big utility companies have us chained to making profits for fat cat directors and consumption of gas, oil and coal. But if each individual household had solar power they could trade their energy with each other. Social housing should be roofed with solar panels. Energy bills cripple the poorest. Fuel poverty leads to deaths every winter. But if the poorest in society could trade energy, then they would have the ability to remove themselves from fuel poverty, possibly have an income source, and also be helping the environment. And unchaining the UK from dependence on oil/gas might have some interesting and positive repercussions for foreign policy.
- Creation of regional banks – Josh Ryan-Collins of the NEF suggests that ‘Breaking up one of our part-nationalised mega-banks in to a network of regional banks, owned by local stakeholders and focused on local business relationship lending, seems like an obvious option’.
Education, Parenting and Caring. The Scandinavian/Nordic model produces world class results. Children don’t go to school until 7 years old and are encouraged to play, not just to pass tests.
However, in order to have smaller class sizes, there would need to be more teachers. In order for children to only go to school at 7 years there would need to be a massive increase in family friendly working practices, a more supportive welfare system for parents, and more nursery places for the children of those in work. Nursery provision needs to be a universal right, affordable, and high quality – with staff that have proper training.
The same could be said for all caring roles – we currently completely undervalue caring roles – from nurses to special needs learning assistants, support workers, and social workers. It’s no accident that these are seen as gender-stereotyped roles – with a mostly female workforce – and the low pay to go with it. Caring roles should be rewarded. Unpaid carers save the UK Government £132 billion a year.
And I say this against the backdrop of the proposed cuts to disability benefits of course…
The failure to promote a right to social security, is what has fed the current benefit scrounger rhetoric we see in the press and politician’s speeches.
Labour campaigned on a platform of an economy that works for ‘working people’ – or the idea of rewarding ‘hard work’. I would like to see a platform that focuses on people full stop. People who work and people who don’t. People who are not in work are not less valuable. They may be contending with life changes (parenting, ill health, caring responsibilities, homeless, disability, refugees, mental health), they may be trying to get a business up and running, or they might be returning to study. Our economy should work for all people. If the labour market asks us to be flexible and lose the expectation of a job for life – then we should also expect the social security system to flex to cope with this.
I’m in favour of staying in the EU because of the protections it offers citizens for their human rights and their rights as workers. However if we pull out of Europe after the referendum, then it could be interesting to pursue a closer relationship with the Nordic countries.
A rights based approach to welfare would require either or both fundamental changes in the labour market and taxation. To pay for the system, taxes need to be equitable – and that means taxing the richest at a higher rate – whether individuals, corporations or other money/asset holding organisations (i.e. landlords who hold their property in a company). However the introduction of more flexible working patterns, or a shorter working week, would also allow many to combine parenting and work more effectively. Leadership on flexible working needs to come from the Government – how about some of the brain power of the ‘nudge‘ unit being applied to how to incentivise companies, and not simply how to push individuals about to make better (aka cheaper to Government) choices?
However, what are we up against?
George Osborne has shown that the Tories do not stand for caring. They frankly couldn’t care less so long as their mates continue to get rich. How are they going to do this? Subsidies, privatization, fire sales…
Sell the land registry
Sell Government property and land
Cuts to the NHS
Cuts to local authority budgets
Cuts to disability benefits
Cuts to subsidies for renewables
Parks and green spaces under threat
Repeal animal welfare codes
Widening the gulf between the North and South
Perpetuating the gender pay gap