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A New Deal for the UK

January 30, 2010

A Manifesto: Making great again is possible

Someone once said that the British Prime Minister is a democratically elected dictator; that in exercising the will of the people, the leader has the ability to make a great impact on the country as a whole. Harry hopes this is true, as the country has been battered and bruised both by external events but, more worryingly, by weak policy. Like a sclerotic disease, bad policy has accumulated in the UK to a point where a major rethink is needed.

With a general election forecast for this summer, Harry wonders if any of the political parties are capable of delivering anything like a required vision. The Labour party manifesto offers all the fiscal imprudence the country doesn’t need, while the Conservatives are trying to tap collective frustration by playing the alternative ticket: ‘we are not these guys’. LibDem policy appears to form in a muddle.

So into this vacuum, it’s only appropriate to suggest some priorities for policymakers in the new Parliament. The intention behind these proposals is threefold: first, to reinforce the country’s competitive advantage, second, to more ably protect that advantage, and lastly to raise some civic pride into the country.

Here is what I think government should be focusing on in the new year:

  • Defend Liberty. Root to this manifesto is the idea that the government should promote freedom and protect liberty; while the British government claims to do this, excessive regulation has instead eroded personal freedoms. Well intentioned legislation can sometimes be manipulated; Harry can think of several areas where the current legislation is perverted from purpose. Britain’s libel laws, often used to suppress the media, are just one example. There are others: use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act by police seeking to suppress street photography is another needless byproduct of an increasingly Orwellian society. Freedom of speech is not a byproduct of a rich society; it is the very underpinning of that society. As part of these reforms, introduce a written constitution, and make it easily understandable for everyone. An unwritten constitution has been too easily malleable by the nefarious; a more clear enunciation of rights and process will provide a sustainable platform to defend liberty – and the country.
  • Embrace Russia. Russia represents the single largest growth opportunity in Europe, one so large that it equates to America’s Louisiana Purchase in scale. Business already understands this, while politicians appear stuck in rhetoric left over from the cold war. A stronger relationship with Putin – arguably Europe’s greatest modern statesman – can only help the UK recover from the current recession.
  • Check the power of government by firmly vesting oversight in the judiciary. Labour was right to introduce the idea of a Supreme Court; the next step is the proliferation of judicial review to end the daily injustices encountered by ordinary people every day – whether at the hands of overzealous traffic wardens or devious public officials. Watching the government lose a few cases would be fun for the electorate and healthy for progress. It sounds boring but a traffic court not run by the people doing the ticketing is an acute need.
  • Restore accountability in government. End the practice of protecting the government from its own people by enacting legislation to allow public participation in municipal decisions. If a public official makes a mistake with the public purse, then that person should be sacked; doubtless not a pleasant experience. It should not be illegal to encourage participation in government.
  • Actually improve schools. It is absurd that a G7 country is overly reliant on private education to produce an elite. The debate needs to shift from  away from ‘privilege vs not privilege’ and instead to one of enhancing state education to the point where it is a point of national pride. The existing method flatly doesn’t work. Generations of political waffle have resulted in ineffective curriculums, poor quality facilities, and the reduction of outdoor space in most British schools. Reducing exam standards is a poor policy response. It is no longer acceptable in a knowledge economy to forsake the future for the cash flow demands of the present. Parents should be invited to participate in school government in a more meaningful way; it is acceptable that richer areas will outperform poorer areas, but not acceptable that this situation is tolerable. Harry supports magnet schools and busing. Harry believes council asset stripping of schools (selling off sports fields, for example) is a criminal practice and should be stopped.
  • Invigorate local government. British local government is a soporific joke, dominated by dinosaurs while serving as a reservoir of backward thinking. Councils should be smaller; in larger areas, they should be complemented with a mayor. Where a mayor is present, multiple councils should be integrated into a single city, and that city should be allowed to borrow to fund projects. Mayors should be given a broader scope of control over legislation in their particular area, with reference to a council. Tired satellite cities will soon reinvigorate if their leadership are given platform for vision.
  • Embrace Federalism. The idea of common values shared by different people has been successful in the United States and elsewhere. Devolving power to local legislation emancipates the subject population, in turn generating both economic and social progress. This is as true for Scotland as it is for Maine, and as relevant for places like Liverpool too. Local politics attracts interest and participation when it is meaningful; local community leadership should be able to actually improve their communities, something which appears difficult to do in the current structure.
  • Attack poverty with enterprise. The UK underperforms in the assimilation of immigrant communities, themselves essential to the nation’s wellbeing. Failure to assimilate immigrant populations results in higher crime rates and ultimately terrorist threats. The welfare state – which costs £150 billion per year to operate – holds back progress in its current form. A reassessment of the continuity of resource provided to the unemployed, as well as the form of that resource, is an urgent requirement. This extends to tabloid issues as well, such as healthcare tourism – an endemic problem that the NHS cannot quantify because it isn’t trying, which is theft nonetheless. The UK was once a nation of enterprise and small business; it would be good to see this sector flourish again. To make this happen, resources need to be allocated away from subsidies that allow indolence and instead focused on constructive activity. The practice of underpricing alcohol, which is widely practiced in UK retail, should also stop. The introduction of an equity culture could do more for the Midlands than billions of income support.
  • Spend more on protection than policing. Policing currently costs the UK taxpayer more than defending the country (3p on the pound versus 2p on the pound) reflecting both the degree to which the Armed Forces are overstretched and the extent to which the country is over policed. Readiness is an essential component of military planning; spending less on the military now invites more trouble later and is therefore bad value.  Meanwhile, Brits are videoed more often than any other nation on earth, as law enforcement aims to extract revenue from an ever more unwilling group of taxpayers. Using a legal apparatus to raise revenue reduces civilian confidence in law enforcement. Invariably defended by dubious health and safety claims, this practice of stealth taxation should be curtailed.
  • Spend some money on London infrastructure. A new airport in the Thames Estuary will reduce pressure on Heathrow and reduce some of the endemic noise pollution in the city. Improved rail networks will extend the city’s prosperity further into the countryside – and invigorate tired cities like Reading. Allowing high-rise development in the City is good; encouraging equivalent residential development in the East End is better. Attacking the valuation disparity between the East End and West End should be a policy objective. One way of reducing congestion on rail networks is to develop attractive residential options closer to where people work; London’s East End stands out as one of the biggest development opportunities in Europe.

It is doubtful that any party would have the courage to deliver this manifesto, which is a tragedy. Because ‘more of the same’ isn’t really going to help. And the country undeniably needs help.

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From → The Local Ethic

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