Wednesday, 30 July 2008

More thoughts about things at the top of our great party...

I'm a Labour member and have been since I was 16. I worked for Ann Clwyd for 3.5 years in the Commons. I am very sorry to say that while I believe we need a new leader, I'm not sure that I see anyone with the necessary vision, although David Miliband's article in today's Guardian ( suggests that at last, Government Ministers are beginning to come out from beneath the shadow of the Prime Minister, and offer some light at the end of a very long tunnel. Thank heavens someone is starting to do that thing which top politicians worth their salt should be able to to - offer vision!

However, perhaps we should be saying something truly radical that will distinguish us from the Tories? Here are a few suggestions, which I admit, are rather radical, but hey, I feel like stimulating a debate with all 10 people who read this blog! Please post a comment! The Government have to worry about getting re-elected, so I understand that they cannot be quite as radical as this, but I'm allowed that luxury...!

Here are some suggestions from a man who is becoming more radical with every day (maybe it's being a father to a little girl which makes you ponder whether the old certainties are so solid?...)

- scrap holding the 2012 Olympics, write off the money that has been spent, and spend whatever can be saved on small scale, local sporting projects in communities throughout the UK.
- re-nationalise the entire railway network and pledge to build a high-speed, subsidised network (as in France, Germany and Spain. This will reduce commuting by car and will encourage people to live outside London and the South East (thus redistributing economic wealth to poorer parts of the country). The knock on effect of this will be to reduce pressures on housing and services in the South East and to allow more people to enjoy lower house prices and more countryside.
- challenge the assumption that the Green Belt is sacred. Why should people be bundled up into grotty towns and cities, or the suburban sprawl?
- scrap the replacement of Trident and spend the vast sums saved on cutting class sizes in the state sector, or matching private spending on education to finally tackle the gross inequalities of opportunity within our education system, perpetuated by the public school system. Or spend the money on employing youth workers in EVERY ward of the country, or by building more facilities for young people.
- offer tax cuts for anyone earning less than £50k in return for their volunteering in their local communities. People earning more can of course volunteer (and often do), but by doing this, we will offset the imbalance in status derived from salary, whereby a teacher or ambulance driver earns a fraction of the salaries of those in the private sector. We need to be seen to be respecting those who earn less but do more for society.
- offer discounts on graduates' loan repayments if they offer to become a mentor to youngsters from deprived areas
- establish a system of mentoring whereby graduates from top universities are given paid holiday jobs tutoring young people from deprived areas on how to get into Oxbridge or other top universities (so that these children receive the same level of expert coaching as is provided by public schools)
- state unequivocally that it is not big money that transforms communities, but the bonds people create and build through actually helping one another in their communities. Not top down, but local. Not macro, but micro. The best thing the Government could do is to be on the side of those who wish to work fewer hours, earn a little less, but have the time and the enthusiasm to contribute more to their communities and to their family life
- stamp on the statist tentacles of the Treasury, which the Prime Minister has seemingly transplanted into No 10. A recent example of which is the Treasury's efforts to oppose feed in tariffs and other measures which would encourage local communities, businesses and individuals to sell energy generated through renewable methods back to the grid at a preferential rate (as happens in Germany)
- Why not be truly radical in allowing all employees the right to go part time in order to look after their children? Why not state that consumerism and materialism are not necessarily good things per se?
- spend some of the money saved by scrapping Trident on reinforcing the infantry so that we can carry out more humanitarian interventions where necessary. Perhaps instead of being a member of the nuclear club, we could become world leaders at expeditionary intervention and peace keeping (perhaps we are already). Surely 500 more helicopters is better than 1/10 of a nuclear-armed submarine which will never be used?
- I'll leave reference to foreign policy until another time. Readers may be surprised to know that I was and remain in favour of the Iraq war...

Of course the charge against many of these suggestions is that they're impractical. So was founding the NHS! I stand for pragmatic idealism. Where that takes me is somewhere a little more radical than where the party is at the moment.

Thousands of activists, like me, are wanting to go out there and campaign for a Labour Party which offers more than good (or bad) technocratic government. We must offer hope for a better future, based on fairness. To spread fairness and equality of opportunity throughout the land, we need more than 'new' new Labour. Now is the time to debate what it is which drives this party. Until we have that debate, and are led by someone who can articulate a convincing vision and actually deliver it, people like me will become more and more disillusioned. Please note, I am a very loyal Labour Party member, so if I am typing this, we are in deep, deep trouble.

All the best, John

PS if any of you are in Coventry next Monday (4 August), my band is playing at the Kasbah Club -

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