50 ideas for Brown's Britain

We ask the five leading think tanks of the left to suggest ten-point plans for the Brown premiership

How will Gordon Brown make his mark as prime minister? After the long-drawn-out departure of Tony Blair, his successor will have to dispel the scepticism felt about a government gone stale after ten years in office. Iraq overshadows Blair's achievements; Brown needs striking ideas to prove that New Labour is doing more than merely clinging to power.

The media are often accused of unthinking oppositionism, so the New Statesman asked the five leading think tanks of the left to suggest ten-point plans for the Brown premiership. Their answers ranged from constitutional and tax reforms to changes in environmental and foreign policy; an array of influential public figures added their personal views.


1 Have it out

Argument and conflict are a part of building understanding across cultures and institutions. The next government needs to embrace this uncomfortable truth. Spin is dead – long live debate.

2 Beyond Britishness

Political and social identities today are too complex and fluid to fit under this umbrella. Solidarity matters, but we won’t get it through a small-minded debate about who’s in and who’s out. The left’s leaders need to focus on supporting and reassuring the vulnerable no matter what their ethnic and social background.

3 Write it down

Produce a bill of rights and freedoms. Citizens in a democracy deserve to be

able to refer to the basis on which they’re governed.

4 Participate

The effective way to link personal behaviour to collective responsibility is to encourage participation in the institutions that shape our lives. Start with a participatory Budget for 2009, then work out how to deliver a more inclusive, less corporate Olympics.

5 Open up foreign policy-making

This is a key point of frustration for the whole population. The government should develop new ways to engage the public in this crucial area.

6 Make science democratic

From genetically modified foods to MMR vaccines, science policy has a problem connecting with the public. We need to unplug it from industry, remove it from the DTI and create a Ministry of Science.

7 Use retirees as teachers

A generation of baby boomers is getting ready to retire. They are a huge resource. Develop programmes that let retirees become part-time childcare workers, teachers and volunteers. Give basic training and let them teach what they did in their professional lives.

8 Homes to DIY for

Corporate volume housebuilding is failing. Instead of zero carbon, we get zero choice, low standards and not nearly enough. To raise environmental and design standards and speed up planning we to need bring people’s producer power back in. Target: one-third of new properties to be self-build by households or communities.

9 Power to the people

Centralised nuclear and gas-fired power stations dominate energy supply. For sustainability, affordability and security, this needs to change. Households should not just consume energy, but produce it via micro-generators. Consumer-based energy production needs to become mainstream.

10 ID cards

Expensive. Useless. Drop them.

The Fabian Society

1 Discuss inheritance

Life chances should not be inherited at birth, nor depend on who your parents are. Challenge populist opposition to inheritance tax by using the revenue to help increase the assets of those who have none and by investing in more affordable housing.

2 Meet the 2010 target to halve child poverty

Put an extra £4.5bn into tax credits by 2010 to make this the great, progressive domestic campaign of our age.

3 Address inequalities at birth

Social justice should start before the early years. Child benefit should be supplemented with a health strategy to reduce the incidence of low birthweight by focusing maternity services on those who need help. This would have a long-term impact on health.

4 Use education to fight inequality

Extending opportunity depends on narrowing the class attainment gap. At present, schools have an incentive to focus on richer children at the expense of other pupils. This policy would have a particular impact on groups such as white working-class boys and Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Afro-Caribbean children.

5 Drop ID cards

The case for them remains opaque.

6 Persuade us to pay to go green

The government needs to take on and win the argument for road charging – and extend the agenda to domestic rubbish, water and other green taxes.

7 Sign the EU mini-treaty

Europe needs institutional reform to play the global and environmental roles that it should. A good deal would be in Britain’s interests. Isolation would not.

8 Legislate for religious equality

A new constitutional settlement should renegotiate the public role of religion in a society of many faiths and none. A British compromise could see the Established Church share its privileges across faiths.

9 Promote human rights

Use our embassies and civil society to promote human rights from below: dialogue with Iranian reformists would be a good start.

10 State funding for political activity

Democracy needs parties – but state funding should be at local level.

The views above are those of Sunder Katwala, general secretary of the Fabians, rather than the formal position of the organisation


1 Education, Education, Education

Introduce a “three Rs guarantee” that all children will achieve the necessary levels by the time they leave primary school. Set up a local fair-choice admissions system.

2 Pay as you pollute

National road-user charging scheme and and “pay-as-you-throw” for non-recyclable rubbish. Tax hard-to-recycle products such as razors and batteries. Water companies to improve efficiency. Cigarette packet-style warnings on carbon impact for airline adverts.

3 Streamline unemployment benefits

A single working-age benefit to replace existing out-of-work entitlements, so that there would be no financial gain in claiming one benefit over another or remaining on benefit for a long period.

4 Reform the civil service

More powers for parliament to hold both ministers and civil servants to account; a new Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to co-ordinate policy development. A strong civil service executive, plus a new governing body for the civil service, parliament-appointed, all enshrined in a new Civil Service Act.

5 End exploitation of illegal workers

They should be eligible for temporary work permits when ID cards become mandatory for foreign nationals in 2008. This would help end exploitation, protect the minimum wage for all, and net the Treasury £1bn in extra taxes.

6 Focus on serious crime

The police should focus on the most harmful crimes and be set fewer targets. Strengthen police at neighbourhood level and make them accountable to local authorities. Serious drug addicts, those with mental health problems and female offenders on short sentences – 12,000 prisoners in total – should be rehabilitated outside of prison.

7 Put children first

Aim for a Scandinavian-style system of early-years education and childcare. Extend the school day to provide at least an hour a week of extra-curricular activities.

8 Give the NHS independence

Health service to be more independent, but also more locally accountable. Review the cost-effectiveness of all NHS activity and remove ministers from individual hospital decisions.

9 Make Darfur a priority

New financial sanctions against the Sudanese government. Get a UN force deployed in Darfur, enforce a no-fly zone and strengthen efforts to broker a lasting political settlement.

10 Voting to be compulsory

In the last two general elections, the voting gap between manual and non-manual workers more than doubled, while young people were only half as likely to vote as older citizens. Inequality of participation is almost eradicated when turnout is made obligatory. Combine this with proportional representation: make citizens vote, but make votes count.


1 Establish a living wage

People should be paid the minimum necessary to have a decent life. A living-wage commission could establish a level and a strategy for moving from a minimum to a living wage.

2 Tax land

It is often public investment in schools, roads and other supply-side measures that creates significant unearned gains by landowners. A land tax would stabilise house prices, slow speculation and rebalance regional and wealth inequalities.

3 Ban advertising to children

More three-year-olds recognise the McDonald’s symbol than know their own surname. Banning adverts to under-12s would free children from these commercial pressures during crucial development years.

4 Control media ownership

Media ownership is too concentrated and reduces debate. The rules should be reformed to reflect the need for pluralism and accountability in reporting.

5 Measure well-being

A national well-being index examining quality of life would make sure politics focuses on the poorest and on redistribution.

6 Bring democracy to the workplace

From nine to five, most of us are treated like robots. The government, unions and employers should examine how to give employees a voice in how their organisations are run.

7 Summon a democracy assembly

Gordon Brown has opened up the possibility of a new democratic settlement. An assembly of representative citizens from across the nation should be given the time and resources to come up with their own answers
to renewing our democracy.

8 Co-produce public services

Governments have tried markets and targets to get our public services working in a more efficient and personalised manner. Both have largely failed. Instead, the reform mantra should be co-production, as a way of involving workers and users in the constant design and redesign of public services.

9 Tax graduates

Variable tuition fees create a market in higher education that is bound to privilege the already wealthy. A graduate solidarity tax would even out the ability of all to attend the university of their choice and create a bond between generations of students.

10 Phase out reliance on oil

We are reaching the “topping-out point” for oil production, and prices will climb dramatically. Britain should look to match the Swedish commitment to phase out national dependence on oil by 2020.

The Social Market Foundation

1 Restore trust in government

Under-promise and over-deliver. Give more power to parliament. Communicate better. Brown has the chance to reshape the political culture and he should use it.

2 Focus on what matters to UK citizens

Government must reconnect with the aspirations of voters. At the moment, too many government initiatives seem irrelevant or even sinister to the general public.

3 Address the serious shortage of housing

New eco-towns are a great start, but there isn’t enough brownfield land to meet the need for new housing. The government could afford to loosen the greenbelt – it’s a corset of unproductive, sometimes ugly land around our most successful, attractive cities. There’s no need to pander to suburban mansion owners who want a view of a field.

4 Champion social democracy in the EU

We should help broker a new EU social contract offering lower costs for non-wage employment in return for guaranteed contributions to training and generous limited-term benefits on redundancy. We should give up the UK rebate in return for abolishing the Common Agricultural Policy.

5 Reinvent National Insurance

Globalisation benefits the UK but hurts the working classes. We need to reinvent National Insurance to bolster their security while keeping a skills-need approach to immigration.

6 Public services to meet needs

We have not listened enough to what people care about: dignity, respect and control as well as outcomes. Services should be reconfigured according to the needs of the individual or community, with a focus on direct payments and diversity of supply.

7 Act internationally on global warming

Countries that pollute least and have the largest forests are insufficiently rewarded for keeping them that way. Kyoto allows for carbon trading, but the system of exchange between developed and developing countries needs to be improved.

8 Make homes energy-efficient

Help provide homeowners with upfront costs to make our houses energy-efficient.

9 Help the least well-off

We need to tackle the poverty of aspiration with both bottom-up and top-down methods. Work with community leaders to find better role models and tackle young people’s hopelessness.

10 Raise the quality of public life

Provide better, cleaner, brighter shared spaces and better public transport. Encourage local government and civil society to organise shared events and entertainment in the community.

Areas for improvement?

The constitution/Bill of Rights

David Marquand, political historian

Britain needs a convention to hammer out a modern, democratic, written constitution that replaces the archaic notion of the absolute sovereignty of the Crown-in-Parliament with the sovereignty of the people. It should be approved by referendum.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty

Unite the country around the British values of rights, freedoms and the rule of law.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the RSA

To counter perceptions of statism, emphasise empowering citizens to be the architects of a progressive future.

Billy Bragg, singer

A modern bill of rights to give us principles that it is our right to enjoy and our responsibility to respect.

Helena Kennedy, barrister

The bill should consist of the Human Rights Act; the right to jury trial for all serious crime; protection of habeas corpus; freedom of speech; the right to protest outside parliament; and due process before any removal of liberty.


David Puttnam, film producer

Twenty years ago 7 per cent of all teachers held a second degree; today that figure stands at 4 per cent. Yet all academic research confirms that the quality of teaching is the greatest single determinant for improving standards. We need to create sufficiently attractive incentives and pathways to ensure a minimum of 10 per cent of teachers have a Master's degree in education by 2015.

Anastasia de Waal, Civitas

Smaller classes are the single greatest motivation for parents to move their children to the private sector. Reducing them in the state sector would have a significant impact on persistent problems - from pupils' understanding, to poor behaviour, to teacher retention.

Mary Warnock, philosopher

Gordon Brown should set up an independent committee of inquiry into provision for special educational needs.

Richard Reeves, writer

Replace A-levels with a British baccalaureate - preferably before David Cameron comes out in favour of the idea.

The Arts

Graham Sheffield, artistic director of the Barbican Centre

Brown should do what Blair said he'd do, but didn't: write the arts into the core script of government. He should also attend the arts, which Blair didn't. And please give us a secretary of state who can clear up the mess on Olympics funding and the arts.

Christopher Frayling, chair, Arts Council England

Publicly funded arts organisations hated the stop-go approach of the early 1990s but have responded very well to stability since. Commit to three-year funding, or even funding for the full term of parliament, thus stimulating the creative economy.

Nicholas Kenyon, director of the BBC Proms

The new prime minister must visibly advocate the critical role the arts play in creating a humane and civilised society; he must decisively improve the financial incentives for supporting the arts, and make a step change in the funding of arts education.

Michael Berkeley, composer

Reinstate music education as a right for every child and provide instruments and teachers in every school. It would produce a much more rounded society.

Jude Kelly, artistic director of the Southbank Centre

In the interests of inspired collective decision-making, I would like Gordon Brown to bring his new cabinet to the Southbank Centre to play our gamelan; it's a wonderful team-building experience.

Foreign Policy

Mary Kaldor, director of the LSE's Centre for the Study of Global Governance

Push for a Middle East peace process in which the interlinked conflicts of the whole region would be treated as a package, along the lines proposed in the Baker-Hamilton report. As part of this initiative, the boycott of the Palestinian Authority should be ended. Initiate talks on a new global nuclear disarmament regime, and make it clear that Britain is ready to negotiate the future of our own nuclear weapons.

Kate Allen, UK director of Amnesty International

Gordon Brown should embrace human rights in foreign policy, reasserting our moral standing in the world and re-energising international will to address crises across the globe.


Katherine Rake, director of the Fawcett Society

With women's votes set to decide the next general election, putting gender equality at the very heart of UK politics is a no-brainer. Brown should ensure that tackling the pay gap, improving rape conviction rates and supporting parents get the political priority, and spending, they deserve.

Camila Batmanghelidjh, founder of Kids Company

The crisis is abandoned children who use savage means of survival and then get accustomed to living mindlessly. The solution is to create projects at street level which function in a parenting capacity and care for the children.

Natasha Walter, author

I'd like to hear Brown starting to speak a morally engaged language on migration. Current policy forces too many migrants into a life as living ghosts, hiding on the margins of our society. It is time for our politicians to stand up to the Daily Mail agenda and say clearly that this is not the way for a healthy and humane society to operate.