Emma Does Politics

There is such a thing as society. It's called politics.

Archive for the month “January, 2014”

Left Unity, and a Manifesto of Sorts

So I was recently contacted by a member of Left Unity, possibly because we might share some common cause. I thought it might be interesting to go through their founding statement to see just how much common cause there is. For reference, here is their founding conference statement:

I strongly agree with points #1, #2, #4, #5, and #6 of statement one. Regarding the other points,

#3: I’m not fundamentally opposed to capitalism, although I am opposed to the excesses expressed by the neo-liberal agenda.

#7: Unions have certainly be weakened too much by the past several governments. However, too strong can be just as problematic as too weak. Just as with capitalism, unionism too needs to be in moderation. Compared to the present, they do need to be made stronger. Alternately, the need to make them stronger should be reduced or removed.

#8: What about ‘classes’ other than the working class? Personally, I’m not a fan of the class war rhetoric. What Cameron said with cynicism, I say with conviction: We really are all in it together. I’d rather have everyone on the same page working together.

#9: Again, I’m not a fan of the left-right paradigm rhetoric. Thanks to the slide to the right from Labour and Liberal parties, what the mainstream calls left is now really just what used to be called right. I’d rather talk in terms of policies than wings. Agree that coalitions damage the sincerity of any party that enters them. I do believe in cooperating with other parties on an issue-by-issue basis though. Make common cause where there is a genuine agreement, but never at the cost of selling out on another issue.

#10: Generally agree. Most places have some good ideas and some bad ideas. I fully believe in the idea of interacting with other groups to gather together and spread the best ideas from everyone.

In terms of immediate action that needs to be done,

Economic Crisis:

The austerity measures have proven fatal to many people, and created levels of poverty and need unheard of in this country since WWII rationing ended. They need to be ended.

Despite many popular calls for it, I don’t think the bankers should be charged with crimes. Any such crime would have to be added to the law books and enforced retro-actively, which sets a very dangerous precedent, and probably goes against an international convention or two. That said, such laws should be added to the books and enforced.

I’d like to see proper investment in restoring the national stock of public housing. This could be used to train up an army of expertise in construction, which would then be a tradeable asset when bidding for international construction contracts, strengthening the economy at the same time as fixing the housing crisis.

I’d like to see some proper research done into the Swiss idea of a “basic income,” to replace the current complex benefits system.

Ownership of essential “key industries” (public transport, roads infrastructure, energy utilities, and healthcare) should be managed carefully. At a bare minimum, ownership should be limited to UK citizens or companies 90% owned by UK citizens (by restricting sale of shares). Serious consideration should be made into either nationalisation or employee-customer ownership models. Usually, the “profit motive” does provide the best interests of the nation. But when taken to excess, or when deliberately abused, or when a company is asset-striped in line with capitalist “rules,” it can be devastating for the nation and people. The USA and other countries carefully control ownership of key industries for a reason. We should be doing likewise.

Public Services:

Just as with Left Unity, I believe the NHS is a key industry that should be preserved under national ownership, not sold off to the highest bidder and starkest cost-cutter. I’m less emotionally attached to the royal mail; given the rise of the internet and a number of express delivery companies, it’s no longer the key industry it once was. Nonetheless, it still serves a vital function in maintaining communications with more remote areas, and the post office network (which should be preserved and restored) provided a useful focus to rural life.

I believe education should be free up to age 18. Students should be free to choose vocational training instead of a university-focused “A-level” route, and it should be presented as a viable option.

I am not entirely convinced that free university education is necessary or desirable. Most jobs that currently ask for a good university education plus experience used to be taken up by people who “only” had good O-levels. The inexpensive access to university education has created a qualifications inflation, where employers now have to ask for qualifications way in excess of what the job actually requires in order to whittle down the candidates to a manageable number. Conversely, the glut of university graduates has created false expectations of having fabulous jobs straight from graduation, creating massive levels of disappointment, and large numbers of graduates in vacancies that often don’t really require much more than basic literacy and numeracy. I think more research is definitely needed in this area. Too many graduates is a problem in its own way as too few.

At the same time, for many years there has been a stigmatisation of non-university paths to higher education. Practical skills (e.g., in construction) are just as valuable. The country needs builders and hairdressers as much as it needs mathematicians and chemists.

Environment:

Fracking in heavily populate areas is stupid. Stop that. Sincere efforts to switch to renewable energy sources should be made.

Employment Rights:

A proper national living wage should be set. There are some professions where zero-hour contracts are standard, so a straight ban on such contracts is infeasible. However, no one should ever be required to accept such a contract, and any such contract should be subject to minimum hourly wage laws far higher than the general national living wage level. For example, if the minimum wage for a normal (16+ hours per week) is set to £7.50 per hour, the minimum wage for a job with fewer contracted hours would be £22.50 per hour. This ensures that such contracts will be primarily used with traditional “professional” jobs, the traditional primary users of such contracts.

Tax and Welfare

It’s long been known that the unemployment benefit isn’t actually enough to live healthily on (based on government guidelines about what constitutes a healthy lifestyle). By sanctioning people, the government is in effect saying that these people don;t even deserve to live unhealthily. And quite often, sanctions have happened for trivial reasons.

The so-called bedroom tax should be abolished, ideally replaced by incentives to downsize to smaller properties. At the very least, councils should be required to show that the person has refused multiple offers of suitable properties to move to; quite often, people are in a “too large” property because the council literally does not have any smaller properties, because they were all sold off thanks to Thatcher’s right-to-buy policy. This is yet another reason we need to rebuild the housing stock.

The growth in the need for food banks is a national disgrace brought about by austerity measures. It’s shameful that in a supposedly developed nation, a quarter of a million people regularly go hungry.

Equality

Fairly straightforward really. I am fully in favour of the 2010 Equality Act.

Foreign Policy

I want to see an end to military interventionism and military adventurism. Britain’s military is kept up mainly to ensure we can play with the big boys in the global military intervention arena. We don’t need to be that. By all means maintain a military for genuine national defence and security. Anything more than that is a waste and promotes bad feeling in those countries where we intervene. I’d like to see the “peace dividend” invested in a body similar to the  VSO or Peace Corps. Getting a reputation as “the country that sends people to help” rather than “the country that sends the gunners” would do a lot to enhance our reputation abroad, and decrease threats of terrorism to boot.

I am also in favour of self-determination for all peoples, although ideally within the framework of international bodies to aid cooperation for mutual benefit of the people.

Election Reform

I strongly believe the following are needed to restore faith in the British democratic tradition:

  • Some form of proportional representation.
  • A valid and meaningful None Of The Above” option on ballot papers.
  • A means for voters to recall their MP and force a by-election.
  • A general reduction of MP salaries to bring them in line with typical middle management incomes, and stricter controls over “expenses.”

And the Rest…

I’d like to introduce St George’s Day as a bank holiday within England. Wales and Scotland have days to celebrate their national identity, and so should England. While the far right have done much to make it a distasteful thing to celebrate, there is still something to be said for it. Equally, I’d like a referendum on whether to have a separate parliament for England, similar to the devolved Welsh and Scottish parliaments.

That “English Parliament” could then be a prelude to reforming the UK as a federation instead of the present system where everything revolves around London. If that English Parliament is based in a second city (I’d suggest Birmingham due to its central location), then that would be a powerful spur to develop that city as a second global city, eventually on a par with London. For too long London has been invested in to the cost of the rest of the country. If we have two global cities, we can be twice as good; it’s not a zero-sum game, and the split would also enable the transport within each city to function better, because the population density in each hub would be lower.

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