Category Archives: A Better Politics

5 Steps For A New Politics

NHSpace looks at five key steps required to achieve true political reform in the UK.

1: Transparent, Evidence-Based Politics

Decisions made by government are often based on political ideology and are not subject to challenges from outside of the Westminster bubble. The result is a system that puts the needs of the government before the needs of the people. What’s needed is an evidence-based approach to politics, where decision making is supported by expert advice and can be transparently justified to the public, without spin.

2: No More Wasted Votes

Unless your favoured candidate won a seat at the last election, you aren’t truly represented in Parliament. With 50% of votes going to losing candidates in last year’s general election, it’s pretty clear that the First Past The Post system is not fit for purpose. We’d like to see a move towards a proportional voting system, so that the wide range of political opinions in this country can be fairly represented in Parliament.

3: A Cleaner Politics

UK politicians are infamous for indulging in self-centred behaviour, as any reader of Private Eye will no doubt be aware. The expenses scandal in 2009 led to some minor reforms, but many problems remain. MPs are permitted to vote on matters despite having vested interests. Parties take large donations from corporations, then hand privatised services to them. And MPs are still free to pass through the “revolving door”, taking jobs from companies in return for political favours. The system is in dire need of reform.

4: Respect For Public Services

Public services in the UK are currently poorly funded and subject to constant political interference. There is little evidence that perennial reforms to healthcare and education have had any beneficial effect, despite costing billions of taxpayers’ money. We believe that public services should be publicly owned, properly funded, and managed at arm’s length from government, by experts rather than politicians.

5: Economic Reform

Political and economic reform are strongly interdependent. The current political system strongly favours the richest 1% of the population, who in return support the two party system. Deregulation has led to a global financial crash and growing inequality. There is a need for economic reform, including greater regulation of the financial sector and an end to the austerity regime. The party also supports a fair living wage and investment in jobs in public services.

United We Stand

Alex Ashman ponders the need for a united left movement.

There are too few houses, because the government don’t build them any more. There are too few jobs, because government austerity is preventing economic growth. The NHS is suffering, because the government refuse to fund it properly.

But with the current system, it is hard to fight back against the government. The 51% win for Brexit looks slim when you consider the 63% who voted against the Tories last year. There was a huge protest vote, with a swing towards the Greens, SNP and UKIP, and yet the Tories remained.

And then people were given another outlet for their discontent. Some of those voting Leave will have done so in protest of the lack of housing, jobs and healthcare, thinking the EU was to blame for their woes. But once more, the government remains the same, and so nothing will change. Who will people blame next, once they realise that the problems are still there? Nationalism is on the rise, and populist right-wingers will continue to blame migrant workers and benefit frauds for all our woes. Just because Farage has won his precious Brexit doesn’t mean he’ll retire and go home. Quite the opposite, in fact.

If ever there were a pressing need for a united left movement, now is the time. Voters protesting against the government need to be offered an alternative narrative. A narrative that recognises that the real villain lies in Westminster, not Calais. A narrative in which austerity is rejected and public services are properly supported. A narrative in which Britain is great because we support each another, instead of blaming one another. Until the left unites, though, the Tories will continue unchecked. Action is needed, and soon.

Let’s All Bash Corbyn

Penny Ormerod gives us her take on the never-ending media assault on Corbyn’s character.

Hell hath no fury like an Establishment scorned. Jeremy Corbyn was elected to lead the Labour Party last Saturday, having inspired thousands of new members to join his party – the clear choice of full members as well as registered and affiliated supporters. The fury rising to hysteria of Tories and New Labour alike (LibDems, perhaps chastened by their own recent mauling at the polls, largely recognised no-one was in the least interested in anything they had to say on the matter) was increasingly evident as the leadership election got closer and voters (even those not weeded out as too Leftie) stubbornly refused to be enthused by the motley crew of neoliberals on offer as alternative leaders of Her Madge’s Loyal (forget that loyal at your peril!) Opposition.

It was hard to know whether to be amused or irritated as New Labour Chief Honchos, past and present, lined up to issue dire warnings about the apocalypse that would ensue should this mild-mannered, decent, anti-war, anti-austerity 66-year-old man be voted to the top job: political earthquakes, economic collapse, a threat to national and international security.

And then it happened: it seems Jez “he’s totally unelectable” could and did, winning nearly 60% of first-round votes. Was it possible now that his ideas might just begin to be taken a bit more seriously? At any rate by Labour MPs, who surely can’t have overlooked completely their party’s drubbing by former loyal Labour Scottish voters fed up with 18 years of Tory-lite?

“Our brave British media swiftly brought us back to focus on the real news – Corbyn’s refusal to sing the national anthem”

In my dreams! A roar of enraged astonishment at the sheer impertinence of his victory has filled the airwaves, newspapers, television screens and ether, with the BBC rubbishing Corbyn and his daft supporters as enthusiastically as the Murdoch press. Our shameless government held an Arms Fair in London last week. They’ve just signed a lucrative deal with the Saudi Royals – more bombs to slaughter children and factory workers in Sudan, swelling the tide of distraught refugees fleeing either to be quietly drowned or confronted by the razor wire, tasers and tear gas of Fortress Europe. But our brave British media swiftly brought us back to focus on the real news – Corbyn’s refusal to sing the national anthem, and whether his jacket matched his tie.

Trouble is, they can’t quite make up their minds whether to sneer, snigger and deride or to go for the jugular of the unpatriotic, hard Left zealot now leading Labour. Is Corbyn, and those who espouse his progressive political outlook, gullible and stupid or dangerous and evil? The Today prog bows to no-one in its daily derision: Humphrys’ sniggering contempt is vigorously endorsed by his chorus of “experts” – politics guru Norman Smith relishes every opportunity to put the boot in, with regular sniping from business pundit Simon Jack on what is laughingly dismissed as “Corbynomics”. Cosy interviews with reliably anti-Corbynite Charles Clarke and Frank “Whatever possessed you – signing that ballot paper!” Field set the tone from Monday onwards.

“He’s a disaster, he wants to take us back the 1980s!” Seriously? We’re being ruled by overgrown Bullingdon Club bullies, hell bent on privatising everything that moves – but apparently it’s Jeremy, droning on about outdated irrelevancies like climate change, TTIP, zero-hours contracts, fracking, who’s stuck in a time-warp!

But… is it just wishful thinking or has the tone changed – just a tad – since PMQs on Wed? Maddeningly for the Corbyn-haters, Jeremy failed to fall flat on his face. He didn’t sing the Internationale or even verse 1 of the Red Flag. He didn’t mention Marx once.

Instead he raised real concerns from real people, and something rather peculiar happened. In the quietness of the new opposition leader’s integrity, Flashman Dave’s patronising platitudes fell a bit flat. The Tories, under strict orders not to gloat or jeer, gave up and went to sleep. The Blairites looked hard at their feet, then glanced a little wistfully at the front benches they had so recently vacated after nobly ruling themselves out from shadow office posts they hadn’t been offered. And – hang on: some of the younger and more open-minded MPs started to cheer him on.

“He claims he wants a more inclusive and democratic kind of politics. That’s the kind of language the NHA has been aching to hear from a Labour leader since its inception.”

For the past 30 years, Thatcher’s vision of unfettered capitalism and neoliberal (renamed Austerity after the Bankers’ crash of 2007/8) economics has been the only show in town. It’s worked pretty well for a tiny elite, but it’s been little short of catastrophic for the majority, not to mention the environment. Yet never has it been more clear that the senior politicians of all three established parties are united in outraged condemnation and disbelief that there can be any serious alternative to the Omnipotent God of the Free & Unregulated Market (and His representatives on earth, the champagne-swilling, coke-snorting, fraudulent banksters).

I listened a few hours ago to Jack Straw indignantly defending his entitlement to earn £5,000 a day (but welfare caps and benefit sanctions are just fine & dandy, eh Jack!). The Establishment were right to fear Jeremy Corbyn – his election is the first real threat to the cosy consensus that has seen the relentless slashing of public services and ever more grotesque inequality. He claims he wants a more inclusive and democratic kind of politics. That’s the kind of language we’ve been aching to hear from a Labour leader since its inception.

Our post-Lansley NHS is close to collapse, its staff exhausted and demoralised. All three parties have betrayed it, relentlessly underfunding, fragmenting and commercialising it. Jeremy Corbyn needs now to reach out beyond his own party and listen to some home truths about how it has been systematically let down and – even more importantly – how to get it back on its feet again, as the electorate have repeatedly and insistently said they want it to be. With the policies of New Labour Top Command almost indistinguishable from that of Cameron, Hunt & Co (leaving aside, as so many voters did too late, their LibDem collaborators), the expertise of the NHS campaigners is right here to be tapped. If Jeremy genuinely wants to formulate health policies that will restore a healthy, solvent NHS focusing on patients rather than profits, we are ready and willing to advise and educate on everything from lifting the stranglehold of PFIs to the huge savings to be made from abolishing the market.

Come on, Jeremy, call Clive and book an appointment with the doctors (nurses, paramedics and patients) today.  You really do need to talk about the NHS with a party that knows how it works. Your own party members want proper health policies, and the country deserves to be offered them in 2020.

And you know, this Real Opposition lark might actually catch on!

We Need To Talk About Jeremy… Corbyn

Dr Clive Peedell explains why we cannot afford to wait for Labour to wake up:

It’s impossible to avoid the Labour leadership competition, whether you feel you have a stake in it or not. It’s equally impossible to avoid the fact that people who left the Labour Party for another party (or simply stopped their membership) are now wondering whether they should go back.

I am not going to hazard any guesses about the leadership campaign. The Labour Party’s decisions are theirs to make. What I do know is that the election doesn’t take place until the end of September. They then have to return to Parliament, and a shadow cabinet has to be formed.

Their disarray gives the Tories a clear run, and being in summer recess has not slowed them down.

But it’s not just about the time frame. Whether they coalesce or fragment around Jeremy Corbyn’s challenge to the status quo, the Labour Party’s very open disagreements may actually contribute to the formation of a new political landscape. The SNP has shown itself capable of reigniting political passions in Scotland. The Green Party grew in the 12 months leading up to the general election. Labour’s own membership has increased since the general election. There is an appetite for a new politics. All this against a backdrop of a Tory government claiming a mandate on less than 24% of the eligible vote. Clearly our democracy itself needs an overhaul.

What concerns us, however, and with pressing urgency, are the actions of the government on the NHS and our public services during this period when the Labour Party is otherwise pre-occupied.

On Thursday, the first CCG announced it would be passing its responsibilities on to an as-yet-unspecified provider led accountable care organisation. Reported in the Health Service Journal, Northumberland CCG’s proposal is part of its overhaul of its care and contracting. It was one of the 29 national vanguard sites identified in March. We heard from campaigners in other vanguard sites that they were expecting similar announcements to follow soon. And it was very soon, as NHS England announced a support scheme for those vanguards on Friday.

There is precious little debate or publicity around these changes.

There is no explanation in the media of where this path is leading. The use of US insurance based ‘buddying partners’ such as Kaiser Permanente to develop the NHS is now established as the model of choice. American hospital managers from Virginia Mason have been brought in to teach ‘lean management’ to five NHS Hospital Trusts.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Hunt has set an ultimatum for a September deadline on negotiations over doctors’ contracts, warning he will impose a contract unilaterally.

The doctors are fighting back and Saturday’s Independent supported them. But we are seriously concerned that this frames the debate as Jeremy Hunt’s personal failure to understand the NHS or respect the doctors. And we note that he also says a ‘huge effort’ is required to keep the NHS publicly funded.

Which brings us back to Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour leadership contest. I agree that a huge effort is required to keep the NHS publicly funded. I can also see that every step towards the adoption of US systems of management and ‘accountable care’ takes us one step further towards co-payments and insurance instead.

I just can’t see anyone taking time out from the Labour leadership contest to shout very loudly ‘look what’s happening right now, this summer, to the NHS’.

And since that isn’t happening I ask you to stay with us, stay with our fight to keep this on the agenda, help us to spread the word and fuel the rightful anger that first prompted me and my colleagues to form this party. It’s an anger which should be spreading like wildfire.

There’ll be time enough to reconsider allegiances if and when the Labour Party rejoins the fight for public service. But I firmly believe we don’t need an oppositional democracy with only two parties that take turns. That way leads to stagnation and the systemic corruption of the revolving door. We need a progressive alliance.

It’s Time To End Political Corruption

UK politics is systemically corrupt. The examples are almost too easy to find:

The weaknesses of the UK political system are there for all to see. We have a First Past The Post system that encourages a two party state in which most seats are safe and ‘swing voters’ opt for the lesser of two evils. The majority of party funding comes from private donations. The largest donations come from big companies and rich individuals, and there is no limit on donation size. Politicians are allowed to vote on bills where they have a conflict of interest, and once they leave government they are free to take up a highly-paid role in a private corporation that benefited from said votes. The end result is a corrupt government passing laws to benefit itself and its corporate sponsors.

How do you end political corruption on such a scale? NHSpace has a few suggestions:

  1. Put a cap on donations – both for individual donations and the total amount a party can receive.
  2. Put an embargo on MPs and peers having shares in private firms. They can easily do without.
  3. Make it harder for MPs and peers to support bills where they have a conflict of interest.
  4. Close the ‘revolving door’ and end the outsourcing of government duties to private firms.
  5. Link MP’s earnings to the minimum wage and cut back on extravagances.
  6. Make it easier for constituents to remove their MP from parliament.
  7. Make the move to a proportional voting system and end the two party system.

We need democratic reform – urgently

Deborah Harrington gives us her view on the current two party system.

If there are only two parties which can achieve power in the current system then, even if Labour is successful in 2015, we will inevitably revert to a Tory government at a future date. And this need not even be a Tory majority – by forming a coalition with a smaller party, the Tories are willing to lever themselves into power from a minority position. Whenever they do return, they will wreak havoc on the NHS and the Welfare State. The civil service is smaller now than at any time since 1948 and the Tories have sold off 20% of all our public land and assets in the last 4 years. We are running out of things to save.

If the predictions of another market crash in the next couple of years are true and Labour is in government then, as far as the public and the Tory spin machine are concerned, Labour will be held responsible for two successive crashes. That leads to the real possibility of a Tory government being returned in 2020.

The main thrust of much of Labour’s politics at the moment appears to be ‘we’re not the Tories’. That seems to me to be an absolute argument for political reform. Give us a parliament with more Independents, more Greens, SNP and Plaid, to represent the major environmental concerns and devolution/local agenda issues. Let’s have some political presence to really represent the NHS, and Left Unity and TUSC to stand up for the working classes, the unemployed and the disabled. Let’s have a politics where voters feel they can choose the party they agree with, not just the party that ‘isn’t the Tories’.

I would like to vote for a party that has solid core principles. At the moment the Labour Party has substituted ‘compassion’ for social justice. Not the same thing at all. Until – or unless – it regains its senses I hope all left wing voters will opt for getting together behind whichever candidate genuinely best represents their views, regardless of party (although I assume Tory and UKIP are not in the running for those votes in any circumstance whatsoever!).

I shall be thinking of the future when I cast my vote this year, not just about the short term. I hope you do too.

Who Is To Blame?

In this week’s Question Time, Farage and Brand squared off, each making it clear whom they thought was to blame for the nation’s woes. Like the broken record he is, Farage blamed immigration for every conceivable ill that might have befallen Middle England. Brand, on the other hand, blamed the politicians for letting the rich stash away large amounts of cash whilst the poor live hand-to-mouth.

Who is really to blame? In such a complex society as ours, are we really able to single out one group and place all the blame upon them? It’s easy to see that Farage’s rhetoric is hollow – he is scapegoating a minority to further his career as a populist right-winger.  But does Brand really mean to say that the political classes are the only ones to blame, and that no-one else could change our ailing society?

That is the self-fulfilling prophecy at the roots of our corrupt modern politics – if we all believe strongly enough that there is nothing we can do, and that everything is the fault of ‘the bankers’ or ‘the politicians’, then it becomes a reality. If we allow it, then our political establishment will run away with itself, unchecked, unjust, and unstoppable.

The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion.

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.

These remarks from the very quotable Edmund Burke are all you should need to convince yourself that there is another way. Our society has been through so many changes, moving from feudalism all the way to universal suffrage. It is in our genes, in our very lifeblood to be the ‘good’ of which Burke speaks. It is for us to rail against any system which deprives individuals of their rights and liberties.

To do otherwise would be to accept a share of the blame.

So, dear reader, I put it to you: do not seek simply to blame others for what is happening to our society. Do not fall into the illusion that politics is for other people, and that you might merely watch from the sidelines. Stand for what you believe in, or else share the blame for its failure.