On Thursday, Britain goes to the polls. It’s general election day. So I thought I’d compose a brief manifesto. If I were to form a political party, these would be my principles.
Norman Kirk was prime minister of New Zealand from 1972-74. He once famously said that people don’t want much. They just want:
“Someone to love, somewhere to live, somewhere to work and something to hope for”
Would that we had politicians whose first goal was to make this aspiration easier to achieve for as much of the population as possible. This would be the underlying principle in my manifesto. Make the country work for the many, not just the few.
Politicians should wake up every morning and with their morning coffee be forced to read the words, ‘I am here to serve the people.’ Their job is to make the country functional, for the benefit of all.
Another general principle should be borrowed from the medical profession: Chomel’s famous phrase primum non nocere (‘first, do no harm’). Look for the unanticipated consequences of any policy. Be as sure as you can that any change you legislate doesn’t actually make things worse.
One of the ways that politicians can make things worse is to screw up the economy. Mess it up, and it’s the people at the bottom of the pile who’ll suffer worst. You could argue that the main job of politicians is to make the economy work. This need then affects how you manage public spending.
If you spend too much, even on good things, and your country’s credit rating is hammered, then the consequences can be severe. If investors lose confidence, the economy tanks, and inflation rises too much, you can make a lot of people very miserable.
What we really need is a very sophisticated economic model that feeds in lots of data, and then you can dial in inputs such as tax rates, and see the impact of proposed changes. You want to fine tune it: what happens if I raise taxation this way and by this much? Or if I lower it? There will be inflexion points where you raise taxes and end up with less revenue, and you don’t want to go past this point. The challenge for these models is they can’t really model human behaviour: this is the unpredictable thing in economics.
Healthcare is a major issue, and one way to alleviate a lot of misery for people is to have a health system that is free at point of use for all. And that is what the UK has and it’s the envy of the rest of the world, and we need to fund it properly and protect it (it delivers value for money). Any other system of healthcare provision is usually inequitable and much more expensive. Insurance-based systems almost always penalize sick people. If you are sick, it’s horrible luck, and you don’t want to also face financial hardship. And it’s not right that people should be left to suffer or die because they are poor. With a system like this there will always be some healthcare rationing, but this downside doesn’t change the fact that there is no better, fairer system out there. People might moan about extra taxation to fund the NHS properly, but they have to think of the cost implications and inequity of an insurance-based system.
Education is also a priority. Tuition fees for universities are too high. There are too many underperforming schools. Too many children are excluded from school and then find access to any sort of safe, good education almost impossible. There has to be a rethink, but it should be led by people who have deep experience of teaching, and any changes should be introduced slowly and after proper consideration. The sector is weary of continuous change implemented at the request of politicians.
And the other issue that would make a lot of people much happier would be affordable housing. This is one area where costs have risen much, much faster than wages over the last 20 years. For many young people starting out today, the dream of owning their own home is an impossible one. Lots of people have taken out big mortgages and while these are affordable with current low interest rates, if we were to see significant rises they’d be in trouble. Remember: in 1988 they were at 9.5% and then in November rose to 15%. The answer is to address the supply/demand imbalance, and prevent further rises. I doubt most politicians, the majority of whom own property, will advocate any changes that sees house prices and rents fall. I also think there should be more social housing, but it should be provided in wealthy areas as well as poorer ones (if the market is left to itself you end up with ghettoization), and it should be protected from ‘right to buy’ legislation.
How do you pay for all this? I don’t care: to create the sort of society we want to live in, we need to be making these changes, so we have to find a way to pay for it. We don’t mess our economy up to do it, because this would make things worse for people at the bottom of the pile, but we make it a priority.
Ah, and Brexit. This has often been framed as an economic issue. But I don’t think economics should be the first factor in any decision like this. There are more significant issues at play. We live in an era of rising nationalism, and national selfishness. This is just an extension of ego, and it should be resisted. Instead of moving apart, countries should be moving closer together. We are global citizens and we need to support each other, especially when it comes to fighting our biggest threat: climate crisis. Our species may be facing extinction, and for the sake of our children, and their children, we need to be good global citizens. Yes, some nations are being selfish and aggressive, but that is not the way forward. Our success is no real success unless it is shared.
Do I have your vote?