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  1. Politics
30 October 2007updated 07 Sep 2021 6:05am

Not the general election

Instead of the 1 November election and in association with The Fabi

By Staff Blogger

Be inspired

Third Way architect Anthony Giddens

Mr Brown can’t take Labour to a fourth term by boring the electorate to death. More inspiration is needed, a clearer direction, and more drive.

Climate change should be right in the forefront now, with its implications for other areas of politics and the economy worked through (not remotely true at the moment). For instance, the Climate Change Bill (not radical enough in its original form) has major implications for other areas of government, industrial policy and for business, as well as for ordinary citizens.

A better grip is needed of the life-style change agenda. Many of our problems now come not from scarcity, but from the mis-use or abuse of abundance. The agenda stretches from the politics of food, through to the environment.

Inequality should be analysed through the prism of the above points, not just in a traditional way. I agree that meeting the child poverty targets is the single most important set of policies that can drive a renewed egalitarianism. The government is a long way away from meeting its 2010 target. The wealthy should cough up to support this programme – through taxation, philanthropy, or a combination of the two.

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Economic competitiveness must stay in the forefront, since most other aspirations depend on it. Investment in education and skills, which the Prime Minister rightly recognises as central, is the key. It is also crucial for the equality agenda and citizenship. However, giving the City such a prominent place is a questionable policy. We must aim for a broad competitiveness in the new economy (68% of the world economy is now composed of services, and that proportion will continue to rise).

Constitutional reform – what I call the ‘democratising of democracy’. Assuming it can be realised, the PM has a good handle on all this. Protecting civil liberties has to be part of this programme, and of course there are highly contentious issues here. In my view these, in fact, centre mostly on risk assessment – how dangerous in fact are the various risks we face? We have to consider, in particular, worst-case outcomes, not just relatively low-grade risks.

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When it comes to foreign policy, the Blair period has been sobering in driving home how limited Britain’s capacity to influence world affairs really is. It’s not surprising, though – we are a country of 60 million people in a world of 6 billion, and where there are major forces that not even the largest nations can influence on their own. Collaboration is the only way, and the EU its prime vehicle for us.

It’s depressing that the debate about the EU Reform Treaty has been carried on almost completely in negative terms – ‘with our opt-outs, it doesn’t really affect us at all’.

Human rights

Liberty Director Shami Chakrabarti

If the Brown Government really wants to open the next “chapter of British Liberty”, (as eloquently promised by the Prime Minister last week), it is high time that we moved from the language and analysis of “civil liberties” to one of post-World War II universal and fundamental “human rights”. This builds on the great Magna Carta tradition but adds the lessons of the Holocaust that freedom and fairness without dignity and equal treatment are insufficient protection against those who would abuse their power.

Of course, plans to lock up terror suspects for longer than 28 days without charge would take us back to before 1215, let alone violate the human rights declarations and conventions of Eleanor Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. The roll-out of compulsory identity cards would be as expensive to our purses and race relations as to our privacy. Further, any notion of swapping the values of the Human Rights Act for Cameron’s “British Bill of Rights and Duties” that permits deportation (and logically therefore- rendition) of non-British citizens to places of torture, would be the ultimate perversion of the rights of men and women in the oldest unbroken democracy on Earth.”

Democracy and inequality

Operation Black Vote director Simon Woolley

For me there are two key areas that Brown must confront, head on, with vision and passion. They are the inequality and the democracy challenges.

Inspite of the Government’s best efforts, recent reports show the inequality gap is growing not narrowing. Regrettably, this is particularly true for many African, Caribbean and some Asian communities.

Far too many endure the worse jobs – cleaning offices, working in catering, as traffic wardens and parking attendants for a minimum wage and the usual deluge of racial abuse that goes with such roles.

It is also a shocking irony a Government that genuinely wanted better education for all has allowed a situation to emerge where the quality of your schooling depends on your postcode. Frequently the poor cannot move.

The Democracy challenge would ensure greater representative democracy and empower marginalised communities to have greater say and control over their lives. From there good governance will follow. I’m not yet convinced that marching people to the ballot box to vote is a step forward.

Finally, we underestimate leadership. Brown seems to be a man of integrity; it’s time for him to show it. Talk with your heart Prime Minister and inspire a nation to be better, not just in business or education, important as they are, but also as decent British citizens!

The weapons

CND chair Kate Hudson

The looming Iran crisis also emphasises the urgent need to take action on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. Mr Brown supported Trident Replacement, but there are some indicators that multilateral initiatives may now be possible.

Foreign Office Minister Meg Munn has confirmed a new emphasis in government policy, stressing the importance of nuclear disarmament, as well as the counter-proliferation favoured by Blair. She said, ‘Any solution must be a dual one that sees movement on both proliferation and disarmament.’ Indeed, both are required by the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Nuclear weapons states have systematically ignored their treaty obligation to disarm, focusing only on preventing other countries getting nukes. But as Kofi Annan and others have pointed out, if some countries insist they need nuclear weapons for their security, other countries will come to the same conclusion. Failure to make progress on nuclear disarmament can lead to nuclear proliferation.

These intentions can become reality – and there is a big demand for it. Last year, in the UN General Assembly 125 out of 181 states – including 3 nuclear weapons states – voted to start negotiations immediately on a Convention banning nuclear weapons. To support this initiative is a vital first step for Mr Brown.

The workers

Joint General Secretary Unite, Tony Woodley

Casualisation and exploitation are, for Unite, the big issues Gordon Brown must tackle.

A million agency workers are denied equal rights. Secure, directly-employed jobs with decent terms and respect for health and safety are now rare. Instead it’s hire and fire, migrants duped into accepting poorer terms, two and three-tier workforces and gangmasters’ saying ‘take a cut or take a hike’.

Unite has given ministers evidence like the 63-year old threatened at gunpoint by gangmaster thugs because he complained. The pregnant Polish worker forced to live in a car after her agency evicted her and took her passport so she couldn’t go home.

This legalised mistreatment will get worse as insecure British workers blame migrants for driving down pay when exploitation is the culprit.

Government must act. They must not abandon people to the mercy of exploiters and right-wing hate-mongers.

We are doing our bit. Unite took strike action and forced Labour-run Salford Council to end the two-tier labour force.

But whilst the law allows agency workers to be treated less favourably, employers have a green light to attack their terms.

Government can change this. No more excuses or hiding behind Europe. Exploited workers have waited too long and are paying too high a price

Labour’s manifesto for 2009

Young Fabians Secretary Kate Groucutt

On inequality, Labour needs realistic policies for reducing the gap between the top and the bottom which are more sophisticated than simply hitting city bonuses with new taxes. We should invest more in closing existing loopholes and raise income levels at the bottom through investment in skills and tougher enforcement of minimum wage and equal pay laws. We should also look at areas which are entrenching unearned wealth such as multiple home ownership. Ending child poverty by 2020 means preventing children from being born in to poverty. We need earlier sex and relationship education to bring down our shocking teenage pregnancy levels.

Democracy needs a kick-start. The claim that it doesn’t matter who is in Government is a dangerous myth for those on the lowest incomes and with the least voice. As well as electoral reform, we need to reform the internal workings of the Labour Party to make it more relevant, with a focus on campaigning and community involvement.

Europe is an issue on which we are more united than the Tories. We need to be bold in selling the benefits of EU membership, from popular employment rights to action on climate change to lower mobile phone roaming charges.

Electoral Reform

Benedict Southworth, director of the World Development Movement

Politics in the UK is in torpor. The appalling lack of choice between competing political viewpoints has left politicians, the media and the public scratching around in search of differences. But ultimately, the three main political parties believe in the same basic premise- pursue economic growth through free markets and ‘light touch’ regulation, accompanied by some redistribution to help those adversely affected. Alternative ways to improve our quality of life and the inequality that persists in the UK and around the globe gets little airtime.

If Gordon Brown wants to leave a lasting legacy for British society, he should allow citizens to express themselves politically. A good place to start would be electoral reform and reversing the draconian laws that Labour introduced, that are enforced to suppress legitimate dissent and dissatisfaction.

Gordon is faced with pressing challenges both within and beyond the UK. Perhaps chief among these is coming up with a more adequate response to climate change than the ineffectual carbon trading schemes that the Treasury is so fond of. Blaming China for climate change is not good enough. The UK must demonstrate that it is willing and able to reduce emissions, otherwise there is little hope that larger developing countries will sign-up for action.

The ageing population

Young Fabians’ Emma Carr

Centenarians are the fastest growing section of the UK population and there will soon be more people aged over 85 than there are under 5s. The UK population is ageing, and with that comes new challenges. If Labour is to develop a comprehensive manifesto for the future, it must answer the questions that an ageing population poses.

The biggest question is that of social care. As the population ages, the demand for social care services for older people increases. Already, councils are tightening the eligibility criteria for services such as home care or respite care and people are increasingly finding that they need to fund their own care homes places, or top-up what the council will provide for them.

Labour needs to work out a new settlement for social care – people need to know where the balance of responsibility lies, what they must provide and what will be provided for them. Sir Derek Wanless, in his King’s Fund report looking at the funding of social care, called for a partnership model of care funding – part universal benefit and part individual responsibility, with additional means tested support for those who need it. If this is the way forward, and I believe it is, Labour needs to say so and commit to it.

The five challenges

Fabians general secretary Sunder Katwala

THE INEQUALITY CHALLENGE

The Labour government has quietly redistributed while being wary of talking about inequality at the top. But progress on child poverty, after a good start, has stalled. Labour must go public with an argument to ‘narrow the gaps’ to generate the public support and resources needed.

A key test will be whether the argument ‘to make child poverty history at home’ will be the centrepiece of the Labour manifesto and a major campaign issue. That would mean raising the 4 billion pounds needed for tax credits to get back on track to halve child poverty by 2010, as part of a broader programme to narrow inequalities in education, health, housing and life chances. Ending child poverty by 2020 could then become a cause for our generation.

THE DEMOCRACY CHALLENGE

Labour should back a written constitution – and pledge to put a more radical ‘democracy package’ to a public referendum. This should propose electoral reform – the Alternative Vote for the Commons, so that every MP must seek 50% of the vote – should be combined with proportional representation for an 80% elected second chamber. Making voting a duty of citizenship -– so campaigns are less skewed against the interests of the young and the poor – could also be put to the public vote.

The 2009 manifesto could end a century of stalemate since Lloyd George’s 1909 People’s Budget began the argument about democracy and the Lords. Putting a new Great Reform Act in place for the centenary of the 1911 Parliament Act – always intended as a stop gap – would give progressives from Labour and Liberal traditions an historic common cause.

THE GREEN CHALLENGE

Labour must be much bolder on the environment. The public is now ahead of the government – but people want to know that everybody will share the burden fairly. Individual voluntary actions will never be enough if the government does not set the rules, so that we pay for the environmental costs of our behaviour. So Labour must not back down from controversial ideas, including introducing a national road pricing scheme and compulsory water metering in every home, to test whether New Tory claims to be green can resist the right-wing impulse to campaign against taxes.

THE CIVIL LIBERTIES CHALLENGE

Stating that ‘the rules of the game’ have not changed is a good first step to rebalancing the security and civil liberties debate. The government should defend the Human Rights Act against populist attack. If additional security measures against violent extremism are genuinely needed to protect our freedoms, the government must demonstrate a real commitment to increased transparency and democratic scrutiny. Starting from where we are, a bonfire of petty restrictions against democratic rights to protest and assembly – which have nothing to do with a terrorist threat – and clear safeguards against ‘mission creep’ to overuse or extend these powers will be essential to rebuild trust, and to begin the real battle to win hearts and minds.

THE FOREIGN POLICY CHALLENGE

We will need a ‘new multilateralism’ for the World After Bush. But Britain can contribute fully to it only if we overcome our historic ambivalence about Europe. That requires Gordon Brown to overcome his eurosceptic image and publicly challenge the myths and misunderstanding about the European Union, resisting the temptation to pander to the Mail and Sun.

A looming Iran crisis offers an urgent opportunity – to show that effective EU-led multilateral diplomacy can stop the disastrous consequences of a US-led military confrontation. Brown’s Britain must choose engagement, diplomacy and Europe this time around.

Short’s list

Ex-Labour minister turned independent MP Clare Short

There are at least three things Labour must do to return to social democratic values and give up its lapse into becoming a second Tory party supporting a neo-Conservative foreign policy.

The first is to completely relocate its foreign policy. Give up the special relationship as the cornerstone of UK foreign policy and dedicate the UK to a more equitable world order, a just settlement in the Middle East, support for a strengthening of the UN and international law and an end to nuclear proliferation.

The second is to commit to learn from the Scandinavians and adopt a long term strategy to systematically reduce inequality. Tax Credits help the poorest as the society gets ever more unequal. The evidence is clear that more unequal societies are more crime ridden and violent, have more teenage pregnancies etc etc. That is the route we are on. Education and penal policy needs a thorough reconsideration to stop marginalising the poorest.

The third is to have a bonfire of the targets and encourage creativity and decentralisation in the public sector. One of the tragedies of New Labour is that the centralised targets and constant reorganisation have undermined morale and therefore quality in the public sector.