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Make your own manifesto

We asked experts, campaigners and thinkers what will win votes in 2010


Let us know what YOU would like to see in the next Labour manifesto.


Kay Boycott, Shelter
Make no mistake, this Labour manifesto is the most important party document since Tony Blair's 1996 New Life for Britain. It's Gordon Brown's first as leader, and gives him the opportunity to spell out his vision for the future, and how he will repair "broken Britain". It must be a manifesto for jobs, social justice and the economy, and his starting point must be housing. Shortly after taking power, Brown promised three million new homes. Yet, despite some financial injections in the Budget, housebuilding has almost hit rock bottom, while overcrowding and waiting lists for council housing have soared. The private rented sector is in flux and the mortgage market depressed. Demand is heavily outstripping supply, and is set to worsen.

A renewed manifesto commitment to increasing housing supply is therefore vital, with the government driving forward local authorities and housebuilders to ensure they deliver in volume. Building homes creates jobs, stimulates the economy and helps solve the demographic time bomb of a growing and ageing population.

Labour must also turn its attention to the private rented sector to make it an attractive housing option. With social housing stagnant and the private market stuck in a predicted five-year nadir, the manifesto must include ways to professionalise the sector, including compulsory landlord registration to lift standards and drive out bad landlords. Building more homes and sorting out the private rented sector may not on its own solve "broken Britain", but it will give a huge fillip to jobs, social justice and the economy - areas in which Brown needs to deliver if he is to stand any chance of winning.

Helen Barnard, Joseph Rowntree Foundation
Any future government should redouble efforts to end child poverty by 2020. These are challenging economic times, but our research suggests that allowing high levels of child poverty to continue costs the UK at least £25bn per year. If any political party is going to end child poverty it will need to refocus its policies; progress has stalled, and restarting it will require a step-change on four fronts. The first is improving childcare: quality, affordability and availability are all vital. The second is increasing parents' skills and qualifications, helping them to get jobs. But this needs to be combined with the third factor: working with employers to increase the availability of good-quality, part-time and flexible jobs. Lastly, it is necessary to improve benefits, welfare-to-work and tax credits. The current system leaves many families in poverty, and creates problems for those who move in and out of jobs.

Fiona Millar, journalist
One small but significant step Labour could take towards a fairer, more socially just, education system would be abolition of the 11-plus. It took a Tory shadow minister, David Willetts, to admit there was overwhelming evidence that "academic selection entrenches advantage, it does not spread it", and no party, apart from Ukip and the BNP, advocates a wholesale return to the grammar/secondary modern divide. So why does it still exist in a quarter of all education authorities? The 11-plus doesn't just entrench disadvantage (around 1 per cent of pupils in grammar schools are on free school meals), it distorts the intakes of other local schools and ensures that a majority of children face rejection at 11. One secondary modern head told me recently that the effect on the self-esteem and aspiration of his pupils was often a "lifelong scar". Any government that genuinely cared about raising the aspirations of our most disadvantaged young people would have the courage to phase out selection where it still exists. This could be easily done with minimal disruption to existing pupils. To see how, log on to All it takes is political courage.

Diran Adebayo, novelist
A commitment to restoring live test match cricket to the broadcasting "crown jewels", so that England's home matches could again be seen on free-to-air TV, would be nice. Moderating the mean, moralistic and classist smoking ban would also be welcome. Illiberalism has cost this party plenty of traditional support. More generally, the hope I most fervently entertained during those brief, heady days of 1997, and whose dashing has been a major factor in my not voting for this crew since, was that a Labour administration would show some brave cultural leadership.

I wanted a loud sign from the top that this country still truly valued things other than money and celebrity, but none came. Obama's recent speech to schools may have had a touch of the personality cult about it, but it was a small step in this direction. It may be that the well-directed speech or gesture is mainly what is needed, but a "big" way of signalling this would be a pledge to co-fund either a broadcast space (eg, a free TV channel, post-digital changeover) that could be a home to cultural matter deemed too unsexy or unprofitable for the other broadcasting players, or some "centre for public thought", likewise free from the commercial realities faced by universities and the agendas of think tanks. Whatever, there must be renewed respect for ideas and the life of the mind, especially among the young. Everything we value must be fought for in every generation, otherwise it can die in that time. The barbarians, to invoke the poet Cavafy, are already swarming over the gates. Labour could help to turn them back.

Ruth Thorlby, The King's Fund
The 2005 Labour manifesto on health could be summed up in two broad ideas: "more" (money, doctors, nurses, new hospitals) and "faster" (services). The 2009 manifesto will have to appeal to voters inhabiting a very different world. The public is likely to be sceptical of any big commitments to maintain NHS growth (which other public services will need to be cut?) or promises to expand some NHS services (at the expense of which others?).

There will be concerns about whether cuts in spending will damage quality and access. Targets are a crude way to protect access in times of
financial crisis, but Labour has already committed to scale back targets in favour of enforceable "rights" to treatment within certain time limits. Will a “locally empowered" NHS mean more variation in the quality and quantity of NHS services?

The manifesto will also need to address questions about future demands on the NHS, such as how health services respond to the challenge of an ageing society, a social care funding system in urgent need of reform and the threat of chronic ill health developing in a younger, less active, more overweight generation. Labour, like all the parties, will need to explain its vision for what will drive change in this public service - what future role it sees for competition, market forces, financial incentives and consumer choice.

Ruth Tanner, War on Want
The greatest manifesto commitment would be to break with the free-market policies that caused the financial crisis and now threaten to throw millions more people into unemployment across the world. Policy commitments should include closing tax havens and ending Britain's support for unfair trade deals, and introducing a tax on foreign currency transactions to curb bank profits and bonuses.

The manifesto should also commit to holding to account companies that abuse workers in the supply chain. A good start would be a pledge to regulate UK retailers to stop the exploiting of overseas workers in the drive for fast fashion and to support the appointment of an ombudsman to oversee the supermarkets.

War is one of the chief causes of poverty. Britain has the second largest mercenary industry. To tackle this dangerous move towards the privatisation of war, the manifesto should commit to the regulation of private military and security companies, including a ban on mercenaries' use in combat and combat support.

Finally, the manifesto should take a clear position on Israel's brutal occupation of Palestine, including the devastating siege on Gaza. Despite ongoing human rights violations and the UK government's own arms export guidelines, Britain has continued to license arms exports to Israel. The manifesto should commit to a two-way arms embargo with Israel until it complies with international law.

Peter Wilby, NS columnist
I'd like to see a commitment to abolish the regressive council tax and introduce a land value tax, which would take revenue from the wealthy on an asset they cannot move offshore.

Neil Jameson, London Citizens
We have three main policy suggestions, two of which are related to the economic crisis.First, we would like Labour to recognise the power of a living wage, including it in the procurement policy of a new Labour administration, so that all those seeking to work with the government are obliged to pay a living wage, which is currently £2 higher than the minimum wage. The manifesto should set out that public money will be used to keep people out of poverty, not to keep them in it. Second, 10 per cent of the money spent on salvaging the banks should be set aside to support the development of microfinance initiatives across the country to allow the poor to borrow but not at usurious rates; or there should be legislation - as proposed by Lord Turner - to ensure that a percentage of bank business transactions is allocated to this initiative.

Finally, we would like the government to recognise - along with Boris Johnson, and every religious and trade union leader - the plight of half a million irregular migrants in the UK who are living in limbo. The manifesto should set out an earned process of regularisation for them to be able to work and eventually become British citizens.

Marina Lewycka, novelist
We have an ageing population, but little thought has been given to how the very elderly could live when they can no longer live independently. Both public and private care has failed to provide a pleasant and stimulating environment for old people. So many of us end our days in private care homes, subject to the whims, policies and economies of the profit-making corporations that run them. I would like Labour to provide tax/benefit incentives for the setting up of co-operative homes, controlled by the residents and their families, with nursing care and day-to-day management bought in as required. Pass the fig rolls, please!

Phil Bloomer, Oxfam
Labour needs to build on the government's progress over the past ten years tackling global poverty - that means committing to providing 0.7 per cent of national income as overseas aid by 2013. But it needs to go further if the UK is to rise to the twin challenges facing poor people today: the economic crisis and climate change. Fundamental reform is required of the global economy that gave birth to a crisis that will force between 50 and 100 million more people into poverty this year.

The UN should be strengthened and the IMF and World Bank must give poor countries a greater say over the decisions that affect them. Finance must be made to work for the benefit of ordinary people. Our leaders must stop allowing tax havens to deprive poor countries of upwards of £100bn a year that could be used to improve their people's lives.

On climate, the next government must be ready to provide its share of the $150bn a year that poor countries need to cope and to control their own CO2 emissions - and this must be in addition to existing aid. Poor people should not be protected from floods at the expense of schooling for their children or medicines for the sick.

Christine Blower, NUT
We would like to see a future Labour government making sure that all schools are part of their local authority. This means an end to privatisation, including academy programmes and trust schools. We want normal governance arrangements where all schools can be part of their local authority framework.

We would also like to hold Labour to Gordon Brown's promise that funding in the state sector should be at least at the same level as in the independent sector. This means an increase in the amount of spending per pupil, which would allow smaller class sizes, and perhaps a future increase in teachers' pay, although spending on pupils is the priority.

Finally, we would like to see an end to SATs, so the next manifesto would ideally set out assessment reform, whereby the measure of achievement is based on teacher assessment rather than on high-stake testing.

Dermot Finch, Centre for Cities
Labour should go for "metro mayors" - powerful leaders with a direct mandate from an entire metropolitan area. Three steps are needed. First, a commitment to mayors in principle, as the best governance model for our biggest cities outside London - highly visible, directly accountable and able to take tough decisions on tax and spend. Second, a first wave of metro mayors in the four biggest metropolitan areas outside London - Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Greater Birmingham and Leeds city-region. Third, real financial powers for metro mayors, including direct control over housing, transport and skills budgets - and the ability to raise local tax, including the whole of the business rate.

It would be a bold step for Labour, but the political and economic case is strong. Metro mayors would unlock the financial powers that our biggest city-regions need to invest in transport, housing and skills. They would mark a real shift in the balance of power from Whitehall to cities, re-engage millions of voters and provide a clear alternative to quangoland. If Labour wants to hold on to power, it will have to give some away.

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Neal Lawson, Compass
Labour needs policy ideas that cost little but symbolise a lot in terms of the proper relation between society and the economy, with the latter put in its place as a subset of the former. One way of doing this would be to follow the precedent set by São Paulo in Brazil, which is to ban commercial advertising in public places. Why should we be subjected to profiteering in the public sphere - often in ways that are highly sexist or exploit the naivety of children - without ever being asked if it is appropriate? If people want to see adverts, then it's a personal decision through the magazines they buy and TV channels they subscribe to.

It is an issue of public policy and planning permission. The government should take a lead by banning adverts in government-owned properties such as the Underground, and through contract compliance demands. Our cities would be transformed; our lives would feel less harassed and frantic. Crucially, it would send a message that not everything is about selling, and that we want a public sphere for citizens, not just a giant shopping mall for consumers.

Andy Atkins, Friends of the Earth
Climate change is the biggest challenge the planet faces, but it's also a huge opportunity - it must be at the heart of Labour's manifesto. It must build on its ground-breaking Climate Change Act - developing a low-carbon economy must be central to every policy. The latest scientific warnings must be heeded. Labour must agree to cut UK emissions by at least 42 per cent by 2020, without carbon offsets, and spell out policies to achieve this. The party must ensure that all councils take responsibility for action on climate change - too many simply aren't doing enough.

Developing our huge renewable energy potential - one of Europe's biggest - and stamping out energy wastage could create thousands of new jobs and slash energy bills. Labour must give greater support for renewable energy, including planning guidance reform and ambitious financial incentives to support local green energy. It must also end fuel poverty by setting high standards for the refurbishment of homes and bringing forward the finances to make it happen.

The global meat and dairy industry produces more emissions than all transport. We need to support planet-friendly farming by helping farmers move away from animal feeds that drive deforestation, shifting agricultural subsidies away from intensive farming and legislating to regulate supermarkets.

Peter Facey, Unlock Democracy
Whether it is ID cards, centralisation, or the lack of opportunities for individuals to influence policy-making, the main impression Labour leaves is that people are not to be trusted. Reform of the House of Lords still has to be completed. Electoral reform in the House of Commons is Keir Hardie's unfinished business. Piecemeal solutions and wishlists won't be enough, especially given the strong chance of a hung parliament. That's why Unlock Democracy is urging parties to establish a Citizens' Convention, consisting of randomly selected members of the public who would consult widely and develop a comprehensive plan for reform. Parliament would be free to disagree with its conclusions, but the convention would have the option to force a referendum on the proposals that parliament rejected. A process such as this could look at democratic reform in a systematic way and take the vested interests of politicians out of the equation. It would signal a commitment to really shifting the way we do politics. If Labour adopted it, it would put Cameron on the defensive.

Kate Hudson, CND
The 2010 manifesto is an opportunity to show how Labour will live up to Robin Cook's pledge in May 1997 "to make Britain once again a force for good in the world". A great start would be scrapping Trident and ending more than five decades of wasteful spending on weapons of mass destruction. This is popular with Labour voters - over 60 per cent are in favour of this move. With spending on the current system up to £2bn a year, and more than £76bn likely for a replacement, it is not surprising that voters are convinced the money can be better spent elsewhere.

As well as saving money, scrapping Trident would have a positive global impact, supporting international initiatives towards eliminating all nuclear weapons. The reality is that nuclear weapons make the world a more dangerous place. The next step should be withdrawing from Afghanistan, where Nato's attempts to subdue a population that has always resisted foreign military force are doomed to failure.

In other areas, we'd merely hope the radicalism of the 1997 manifesto was repeated word for word, specifically that "we see no economic case for the building of any new nuclear power stations".

Andrew Simms, nef
I would like Labour's manifesto to prove it has learned from the economic upheaval created, in part, by its embrace of finance-led globalisation and indulging the City. The manifesto needs a vision beyond rebooting the economy to old-style growth and individualistic competition based on weak regulation and debt-fuelled over-consumption.

Climate change and our clear overshooting of earth's biocapacity to support us changes everything. As the economist E F Schumacher said, "It does not require more than a simple act of insight to realise that infinite growth of material consumption in a finite world is an impossibility." If the manifesto repeats this simple insight, some sense should follow.

In nature, things grow in size until mature, then stop and develop more in other ways such as character, skill and knowledge. As in nature, so with economies. Once a range of basic needs have been met, growth and rising incomes stop raising well-being. The manifesto must promote a sustainable, well-being society. This means allowing more time for the things that are proven to enhance life, such as being physically active, being with friends and family, getting involved in communal activities, and taking notice of the world around. The pursuit of endless growth destroys our environmental life support, but it also squeezes out opportunities for greater quality of life by keeping us stuck on the treadmill.

What's the answer? First, acknowledge these new realities and use better measures of economic success, such as nef's national accounts of well-being and happy planet index. Second, reduce the working week to free up time, and allow people to do more things for themselves and each other (with the added benefit of reducing pressure on many services).

Andrew Harrop, Age Concern and Help the Aged
Forced retirement must be ended by scrapping the default retirement age, with a new package of support to get people aged 50-plus who are out of work back into jobs. Reform of the care and support system must be an urgent priority - to prevent the current system collapsing, social care must be included within any safeguards for health-related spending. Commitments to link the basic state pension with earnings must be honoured by 2012. State pension payments must be increased over time, as this becomes affordable.

Christian Wolmar, author of Blood, Iron and Gold: How the Railways Transformed the World
Labour must develop an ethical transport policy based on the notion that more mobility is not necessarily a positive development either for society or for individuals. There is an urgent need to reduce car travel both because it is environmentally damaging and because increasing congestion can no longer be dealt with by building roads. In towns and cities, this means transferring road space from cars to buses and cyclists. Together with giving control of bus services back to local councils and ensuring sufficient funding, and raising taxes further on fuel, this will begin the modal shift that is essential for the planet as a whole and locally. Cycling should be at the centre of urban transport policy. Huge investment in new facilities, together with softer measures such as travel planning, can create a new culture of cycling comparable with those in Europe.

For inter-urban routes, it means investing far more in boosting rail capacity and improving bus services, possibly even developing fast, cheap bus services between towns, particularly those with poor rail services. Clearly, domestic aviation has to be taxed at a much higher rate to reflect its environmental effects.

In the long run, the high price of oil will make these policies axiomatic. Labour can be ahead of the game by introducing them before the next, all-too- predictable oil price shock.

Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner
Labour should prioritise policies to tackle climate change, create jobs, curb the deficit and democratise the economy. It plans to waste £160bn on Trident missiles, aircraft carriers, Eurofighter aircraft, ID cards, motorway building and NHS computerisation. If these projects were axed, half the £160bn saved could be used to pay off 45 per cent of the budget deficit of £175bn, without any need for painful public spending cuts. The other £80bn saved could be invested in a Roosevelt-style Green New Deal to fund energy conservation, renewable energy and cheap, hi-tech public transport. This would slash emissions and create hundreds of thousands of green jobs.

It would also reduce public expenditure by cutting unemployment and housing benefit payouts, and increase government revenue through more people in work paying more tax and national insurance. Newly employed workers with extra money in their pockets would boost consumer spending, which would create more jobs to meet the increased demand.

Labour should also pledge greater economic democracy and accountability. Companies should be required to have consumer and employee representatives on their boards to act as independent watchdogs and defend the public interest. Corporate negligence and recklessness should be a criminal offence, to ensure responsible decision-making by banks and other businesses.

Countryside Alliance
The Countryside Alliance's "Rural Manifesto" encourages all political parties to adopt policies in five areas that matter to people who live in rural areas: services, education, farming, country sports and housing. We believe that a Labour manifesto with commitments to promote local solutions to the lack of affordable housing, to enable all children to gain a practical understanding of the countryside, to support British farmers and producers, and to ensure an accessible and reliable rural transport network, would have the support of many voters in rural areas.

The relationship between Labour and the countryside was damaged by the bitter and pointless battle over hunting. The simplest way to heal that rift would be to commit to allowing parliament to reconsider the Hunting Act.

Robert Harris, novelist
I'd like some decent English! There's been a decline in interest in politics, not least because politics has become illiterate. So, never mind the policies, let's try to have something a little more like the literature of Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto.

This article appears in the 28 September 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The 50 people who matter