Whilst those of us gripped by the political cycle and the daily machinations of what is still all too often, the discourse of the Westminster bubble, are very well aware that the next General Election is now just 12 months away, little of it barely registers with a cynical and sadly disinterested public. As increasing millions face an uncertain future, weighed down by the daily grind of higher bills, insufficiently regulated working conditions, falling or stagnant incomes and an economic recovery, which for most, is no recovery at all, against which political parties name they should place their cross (if they bother at all) is simply never discussed amongst those who I work with (unless I deliberately stimulate the conversation), nor amongst those who I share a street.
Some may be tempted to say that people are apathetic about politics. That they don’t really care, or even that they simply don’t understand what is being said or projected by politicians, who often seem more intent on not offending a particular nuanced ‘focus group’, than being plain and clear in their beliefs. In my experience, with both work colleagues and my 15 year old son, who is engaged and very aware of the world around him, this is not true; they merely don’t see the issues as those of us above a certain age do, namely in terms of left and right, Labour or Tory.
As someone who increasingly despairs of this mean spirited, small minded and divisive government, if the Labour Party are to be successful on May 7th 2015 in returning to power, they must offer a clear, bold, radical and credible programme to not only those who presently vote, but also in order to enthuse those who no longer do, along with, dare I say it, those who have never bothered. They must continue Ed Milliband’s agenda of challenging the economic consensus, offering policies that can be both easily explained and sold on the doorstep, policies which offer real hope and lasting change, not simply a pale replica of the status quo.
So here is a plan:
1) Return the failed market driven services, such as our rail network and energy providers, to public/co-operative ownership, run on behalf of the country and its public, bringing to an end the scandals of profiteering bonus laden private business.
2) Build homes that people need and can afford, rather than allow big national property developers to dictate to local authorities the sort of homes that they are willing to build, simply to satisfy shareholder demand. That means permitting council’s, who are best placed to know what sort of homes are required, the same borrowing rights as others. We have construction workers sitting idle whilst hundreds of thousands wait for homes to be built. Labour’s promise of cracking down on the worst excesses of rogue landlords are welcome, as is their plan to build 200,000 homes a year by the end of the next parliament, but let’s go further. Our property market is broken. Let’s be bold and fix it.
3) Remove ALL private business from our NHS and integrate the service, publically funded, with decent respectable levels of social care. Pay those who look after our most vulnerable a wage which reflects the critically important job they do. After all, would you want your mum, dad, or child with a disability, cared for by someone with insufficient training, barely paid the minimum wage. We all deserve better than that.
4) Stop pretending that the route to sustainable balanced economy is one laden with cuts. Fewer full-time skilled jobs, largely those that have emerged since 2010, are bad news for us all. A transient zero hours lifestyle makes us all both materially and holistically poorer. We can afford much better by simply insisting that those who can pay more do so and that those who should be paying their taxes, are compelled to. Over £100Bn in owed taxes is dodged every year in the UK. A state of affairs that is as morally indefensible as it’s economically unsustainable if we are to have the public services we rightly demand. We could start by promising to support and implement the pan-European Robin Hood Tax, a small levy on financial transactions that could alleviate the tax squeeze on the majority of us who earn modest incomes.
5) Enforce and pay people a living wage. Put the power in the hands of local authorities to enforce it, with a three strikes and you’re out rule and fines that make a real dent in the profits of unscrupulous employers. Putting cash into the pockets of those who need it most means they’ll spend it, stimulating local demand which in itself helps create employment. Austerity, along with the consequences of that policy, as led to insatiable demand for foodbanks. A truly shameful state of affairs in a country such as Britain, still one of the richest in the world.
6) Refuse to play to the gallery of prejudice and smears on immigration and Social Security. Most of our social security spending goes to the elderly, whilst a tiny proportion goes to the sick, the vulnerable (yes, that includes immigrants) and those with disabilities. The language of hate daily spewed out by the right-wing press is eagerly swallowed by a dispirited public who are deliberately led to believe that they are getting poorer because the already poor are somehow depriving them of a better life. It’s not and has never been true.
7) Finally, speak loudly and often of hope, opportunity, aspiration, fairness and equality. Ignore those siren voices of caution. A sense of optimism is critical if Labour is to succeed. Be radical and credible and the British people will positively respond, just as they have in the past when faced with the most profound question of all. Namely, who do you trust?