Since we reached the point where it was 100 days left until polling day on the 7th of May, the Independent has each day contained an ‘If I were Prime Minister’ column. This patronising feature has for the most part been idealistic drivel of the worst variety, contributors being extreme leftists, Trots, environmental loons and Cultural Marxists. Time then for my own brief manifesto.
Britain would be a country of progressive taxation. France has shed its wealth creators with punitively high taxes. I agree with my favourite MP, Tristram Hunt, who opined ‘I have personal reservations about taking 50p of every pound of people’s income’. Even as a minimum wage earning Teaching Assistant, my gut feeling is I would resent handing over 50% of my earnings to the state, on top of National Insurance and Council Tax. If someone is earning £150K, they should pay the 40% rate, and keep the majority of their earnings that could be spent on shares, opening businesses, VAT on goods, houses. I think the Lib Dems did well in thrashing out with the Conservatives a 45% compromise for the highest earners, and I would keep this rate for those earning half a million or more, who with NI would be paying near to 50% anyway. Luxury items would be subject to higher rates of VAT.
Police would be made to patrol the streets again. It is the poorest areas that suffer the most from lawlessness. People should feel safe and secure in their areas and homes, and first principle must be recognised: that there will always be a percentage of people who commit crime and deterrence is required. A greater drive for ethnic minority recruits to the police would be made, in an effort to alleviate tensions between communities and officers. I am against capital punishment, but murder should require a life sentence that lasts for life. Violent crime would carry longer sentences, the victims of assault; rape etc. will carry physical and emotional wounds for the rest of their lives. Perpetrators of financial crime should be duly punished, including with a spell of imprisonment. However, prison should primarily be an instrument of keeping the population safe from the violent. I think those who commit fraud, often people in high paid jobs as it is, would be duly humbled being denied such lofty heights ever again, forced instead to do community service and charity work on a minimum wage.
Health and social care, as proposed by Andy Burnham, would be combined. This drive towards ‘whole person care’ would make economic sense, but more than anything is a practical and moral imperative. Physical well being is predicated on social esteem and care. There is so much overlap that it beggars’ belief that they are ran separately. Higher quality care for the elderly would be funded in part by a post death levy that would tax a percentage of their assets and savings if sufficient quantity of them existed. Rather than the traditional and much despised inheritance tax, I feel that this is a more palatable and practical to people. I myself would gladly have a percentage of my assets after death given to the state in turn for dignity and mobility in my twilight years. (Lest alcohol or gluttony takes me before I reach that age.)
Higher levies would be imposed on high percentage alcohol, cigarettes and fatty foods, all of which contribute negatively to our health service, budget and public order in the case of the former. Clubs that open late and offer massively discounted alcohol should pay additional levies to the local authority to fund the extra policing that is required.
Welfare provision would be substantial and help the destitute as well as those who work but do not earn enough. Minimum hours and a living wage would be a requirement, both because it is just and also pre-distributive measures of job security and a fare wage reduce dependency on the welfare system. Child benefit would include provision towards membership of a social or sporting club of the child’s choice.
My ideal of government would be reducing the monopoly of the state, moving away from command and control government. Instead there would be federalisation, power redistributed to local authorities in particular on health, social care and infrastructure spending. Jon Cruddas and Liz Kendall have been making strong cases for more local control against an innate belief amongst Ed’s Balls and Miliband and Andy Burnham of the supremacy of the state. My vision of Social Democracy entails people focused and led services which is much more achievable and democratic if done on a local level. The recent deals brokered between Northern LABOUR councils with the Government to devolve power and budgets to them, much to the chagrin of the Labour leadership, sends a clear message to the party on the need to devolve power.
Finally, I would address our decaying democracy and increased disengagement. One lesson a week would be devoted at secondary school to civic matters. There would be a polling week, rather than just one day, the better to increase our abysmal turnouts. Question Time would be moved to a prime time slot, rather than 10.35pm. Local party members would select the candidates for parties, and funding would be allocated for smaller parties or independents to stand and help them acquire airtime. This would be democratic and undercut business or trade union bankrolling, be it from Lord Ashcroft or the thugs from UNITE, two sides of the same coin in my opinion.