… here’s my manifesto. I do not belong to any political party nor has any of the following been costed by experts or anyone else. In the unlikely event I get swept into power the chances are there will be rather more or less money than we thought so nothing is definite. Let’s just say that this is what I would aim for rather than what I might promise.
It’s not the economy, stupid!
But, oh it is, it is. I want to have more money and more stuff each year. Don’t you dare tell me that my standard of living is going down yet again. Actually, the most pressing concern is what kind of world we are leaving for the next generation. Unless we are going to organise a mass trek across the solar system and beyond, then how we use finite resources and how we deal with natural disasters is the most important thing. And that also means we need to think how we get along with other human beings across the world.
We do need to talk about what is sustainable, how many of us can our land support. To make any kind of long-term sense, “the land” has got to be the whole world, not just one nation or even one village. If there are refugees and persecuted people we should do our bit to welcome them into places which are safe, including our own back yard. Where there is pressure for migration there are better ways than fences and deportations to deal with illegal immigrants. Part of overseas aid should be about making the places that migrants want to leave more attractive to stay in. I don’t want Britain to be overcrowded but better to help our neighbour than start discriminating against those who do not look like us. A points-based immigration system sounds fair provided we don’t end up with institutionalised racism by mistake. We should also count the number of people leaving too.
Even if net immigration were zero we would still need more houses. Therefore I would allow local authorities to build modest family housing and to re-invest any revenue in them. The spare room tax should be extended to all domestic properties. It was once asked why a pensioner living next door to a family of four in the same sort of house should pay the same rates. The answer is to encourage use of any unused rooms. Perhaps the better option would be to raise a spare room levy on all properties worth more than, say, £2 million. In the meantime, more council tax bands are needed.
This is not just about the 999 call room having a spare generator in the event of a power cut. Each year one or more communities are affected by one or other of the following flood, drought, storm, industrial accident, snow, to name but a few. I would make it a requirement that all new properties should have the means of cope with being “off-grid” for at least two weeks. Gradually, other houses would be included and the limit raised to a month. The sort of possibilities include solar energy, local hydro-electric schemes, domestic wind turbines and whatever other technology may become available. It would mean learning a habit of having tinned and dried food, bottled water etc at home to survive on for a fortnight. We will all need to learn about proper stock rotation.
Part of national resilience will be to make sure that 75% of our food comes from the UK (the exact proportion may vary but to insist on 100% would be to put all our eggs in one basket). As well as mitigating climate change, our energy use needs to be smarter and capable of working with local grids networked with a national grid. Reliance on fossil fuels is risky economically, ecologically and even militarily. Renewable and sustainable energy needs much more investment and my target would be 75% to come from renewables including hydro-electric, tidal/wave power, combined heat-electricity schemes as well as solar and wind turbines. Nuclear power generation would be part of the mix up to 25 %. Bio fuels, including wood, should be included. Alongside this we need to husband the energy that we do use. Much has already been done. For example, the lap top I am using is far more energy-efficient compared to the PC I was using ten years ago.
Much of our food has added sugar and that is not just in desserts. I expect to find added sugar in jam but not in a shepherd’s pie. It has been said that the amount of sugar is a significant factor in the problem of obesity or just being plain overweight. We need to wean our society off so much added sugar so I welcome, for example, the move to have smaller-sized bottles of pop stocked in our supermarkets. The sugar industry need not fret about its profits. Surely all that sugar beet could go into making bio-fuels? Less sugar consumption, more bio-fuels, less dependency on fossil fuels; winners all round.
I do not think that we should be in the business of fighting war; unfortunately I do not have the courage that pacifists have. I do believe we need to be able to defend ourselves in the event that war comes to us. In addition to lethal force, we should also develop a force for disaster relief and mitigation. The “defence” budget I would not increase beyond inflation but would seek to gradually build up our relief capabilities. I believe that the armed services have the organisational skills and expertise to deliver this. Logically, the Ministry of Defence and the Overseas Development Ministry should come under the same roof. Perhaps “Ministry of Defence and Disaster Relief”. Prevention, preparation and information gathering would be part of its remit.
I commend HM government for sending troops in with medical expertise to Africa to help in the current e-bola crisis. That is exactly the sort of thing we should be doing: it helps our African family in the first place, and the rest of the world including us benefit too.
We don’t need Trident and I would have preferred something smaller and cheaper, but I’m not ready to give up nuclear weapons yet. When France gives up her nuclear weapons, then we should.
Tax and welfare
I would raise the threshold for 20% and 40% tax rates and introduce a 50% rate at a fairly high level. Bonuses count as income.
Corporation tax should be set at the same level as income tax because of the loop-hole that allows people to set themselves up as a company.
The living wage should replace the minimum wage and the lower tax threshold should be no lower than what would be earned in 50 weeks of a 40 hour week i.e. 2000xliving wage per annum. Welfare bills should decrease accordingly.
Instead of a married couples allowance, a couples allowance could be introduced in that the couple may pool their tax allowance. This is particularly useful if one is earning and the other is not. This would be fairly straight-forward to include both married couples and civil partners. Whether this could include any two individuals, I am not sure, as that would be more complicated. It could apply to two people living together in the same household for at least a year. (The practicalities may mean that after a year, of two, you could qualify for succeeding years).
Aviation fuel should be taxed at the same rate as other fuel, currently 5% VAT. This should be introduced across the EU and USA simultaneously.
In the long-term I would like to see all taxes at 10%. That includes VAT, income tax, capital gains, corporation tax, property tax etc. The benefit of this is a much simplified system and reduces tax evasion or so-called “aggressive avoidance”. This will take some time to achieve as it will require spending, as a percentage of GDP, to come down which would be neither realistic nor fair to those currently in need of welfare if it were done too quickly. First we need to balance the budget and that may take 50 years. In the meantime the guiding principles are to protect the vulnerable, to be fair and to be honest in how money is spent. That means that when money is tight, cuts in benefits to the poorest should be the least and cuts in taxes that affect the richest should be the least overall.
It would be good to set up a “sovereign wealth fund”. Its remit would be in part to make money for the government to use in addition to tax revenues. It would also be expected to invest in British businesses and in innovations. By judicious investment it can help shape the economy e.g. shares in renewable energy companies. It could be allowed to invest overseas particularly to help our migration goal to make the places more attractive to live and work in where economic migrants would otherwise come from.
As the franchises run out, bring them back into public ownership. The new rail company (s) should be independent like the BBC and required not to make a loss overall.
I would like an English parliament with the same sort of powers as the Scottish one. The English parliament will probably require about 400 MPs. They can use the House of Commons. We shall then need something for the UK as a whole. I propose using the MEP constituencies and proportional representation. That will probably require about 250 MPs. They can use the House of Lords. If the Church of England remains established in law then it seems fair that the five senior Bishops should have attendance and speaking rights in the English Parliament (after all, Canon Law has to be approved by parliament). To facilitate communication each speaker and first minister of each of the four devolved parliaments should similarly have attendance and speaking rights at the UK parliament. Hopefully this will not mean a net cost in the long run as the EP and UKP MPs will be about the total number of MPs at the moment and the House of Lords will become superfluous. There may be a case for some cross-bencher-type non-voting “Lords” having attendance and speaking rights and being able to serve on committees.
I would like a referendum on remaining in the EU. I will vote to stay in but not for “an ever closer union”. The fact of the matter is, our choice is between joining Europe or joining the USA. I would rather be British in Europe than another Costa Rica, much as I like our American cousins.
This is not the last word on any of the above issues, and there are bound to be others, but I thought I might as well get my tuppennyworth in as we seem to be in the throes of the general election campaign already.