Our political life is in a terrible state. It would be interesting to speculate how we got here – with a worthless, leaderless Conservative government whose Cabinet members fight like ferrets in a sack leading an unimpressive Labour opposition with a domestic policy based on nostalgia for the 1940s (nationalise, tax, free universities) and a foreign policy based on being anti-Israel, and not much else. It isn’t possible to join either party and influence things locally, for each are in the hands of people who would be called extremists in any normal political world.
What therefore should the ordinary decent voter – the one who thought battles against fascism were over, who bases economic views on evidence not dogma, who though food banks and means tests were in the past, who believes in an efficient public sector and adequate welfare provision for the poor, but knows they are easier to achieve with a lively and prosperous private sector: what can such a person do in today’s politics ? I think it means selecting the best candidate locally, regardless of party. If widely adopted, this would create a coalition of common sense in Westminster. A movement could publish a list of essential moderates to support.
I say this in the knowledge that there are good people (pace Trump) in all parties, and also some dreadful ones. Where I live, in Sheffield, we have a fine local member, and an absolute shit in the constituency next door. Within the Tory party, there must remain the moderate majority that supported Major, and voted Remain in the referendum. They are keeping their heads down now, but they cannot all have disappeared. So here is my proposal – that we list the characteristics we want in a member of Parliament, and see who fills them the best. This might involve making some political decisions you’ve never faced before. I’ve never voted Tory, but give me Nicky Morgan ahead of Jared O’Mara any time. This is no time to be tribal.
What would such a checklist involve ? Here’s my suggestions, and any additions, subtractions, or comments are welcome. The main priority is evidence based policy, and new initiatives launched with clear and measurable objectives. That would enable us to assess progress in the following areas:
- We need members who recognise that there are factors at work in our economy pushing the distribution of income and wealth in an unwelcome direction. So, set a target for greater economic equality, with sensible measures to get us there. This will avoid the silly 95% ‘soak the rich’ taxation of the past, but include progressive income tax, and an inheritance tax (probably best based on recipients’ income).
- An intelligent understanding of environmental issues. These are more important to our children and grandchildren than some microscopic shaving of the national debt, or restriction on productive immigrants.
- Vigorous action on tax avoidance and evasion. Governments of all hues get enthusiastic about this now and again (Panama Papers, anyone ?), then the trail goes cold. A suggestion: we need at least as many officers working on this as on welfare fraud.
- Public and private sector links are essential – for both sides – and so we must see the crude PFI of the past replaced, and public service potential and skills recreated. Read Marina Mazzucato if you don’t understand.
- Staunch support for NATO, and a realistic attitude to Putin’s Russia. Other than that, keep us out of external entanglements apart from supporting democrats and refugees.
- We are one of the most centralised states in the advanced world, and this cries out for strong regional government, with powers on education, transport and economic development. While that happens, we must seek a generation of local government, with a sensible land/property tax to provide the resources that have been stripped over the past decade.
- Substantial, long term investment in transport infrastructure, with a priority to reducing private carbon based journeys. Our transport system at the moment is inadequate, and some parts (trans-Pennine roads, northern commuter rail) are a disgrace. Actually, governments recognise this, but then do nothing (and obfuscate when challenged). Any investment needs to look at ownership issues. Public money must come back to those who put it in.
- We need a unified state education system. There is little evidence that the patchwork of free schools, academy chains, faith schools, home schooling and so forth are any improvement on a well-supported and coherent state system. There is plenty of evidence that selective schooling is worse. Have you ever tried to explain our system to a foreigner ?
- Recognition that the NHS is underfunded: any international comparison, or even assessment of the past ten years in the UK show plainly that it needs a substantial increase in money based on simplified organisation and evidence based medicine.
- Attitude to national debt that respects the above priorities. It is not a major target that should dominate government policy (it was always a bit of a red herring, but useful to those who wanted to cut public spending anyway). Of course government finance needs to be managed well, and on the whole spending lots of taxpayer money on interest payments to foreigners is not a good idea. But the way to have a buoyant public finances is to have a buoyant economy, not cutting capital projects. In passing, quantitative easing should be aimed at supporting the poor and our development needs, not providing cheap reserves for banks. A recent BBC radio programme showed less than 1% of the cash created for quantitative easing went to productive investment: the bulk just drove up asset prices.
- Vigorous action to reduce the influence of the rich and other undemocratic bodies on the democratic system. The right complains about George Soros, the left about the Murdochs. They are both correct. If corrective action means public funding political parties and making donation illegal, so be it. There is work also to be done on the bias in the media, but that can wait.
Above all, (as George Orwell might say) break any of these rules rather than support someone awful. This implies some idea of the moral strength and decency of our candidates. We don’t want an expense-fiddler, or someone with an array of private businesses, or who makes appearances on the TV channels of dictators. We need members who can bring us together, who will not blame the poor for being poor, expel unsupported teenagers to countries they’ve never seen or prevent NHS GPs from re-entering the country. Sexists not welcome (this might mean raking through Twitter), nor anti-semites (especially those who look into the far distance and say “I’m against all racism”).
Well – could this be the basis of a national movement. I have more than 100 Twitter followers, so plainly, in the words of the old song, as soon as this pub closes, the revolution starts.