Ozzy's Corner

A view from the Libertarian Left. With no spin


A new politics needs a new parliament

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot.
We see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

Guy Fawkes, guy, t’was his intent
To blow up king and parliament.
Three score barrels were laid below
To prove old England’s overthrow.

By god’s mercy he was catch’d
With a darkened lantern and burning match.
So, holler boys, holler boys, Let the bells ring.
Holler boys, holler boys, God save the king.

And what shall we do with him?
Burn him!

As the fifth of November approaches, I go back annually to one my very favourite films ‘V for Vendetta’. For those not familiar with this adaptation of a  comic book, it’s story about a dystopian United Kingdom. The government is a right-wing fascist one, where the public are controlled through fear, violence, mass surveillance, media control and the ‘disappearance’ of dissenting voices as punishment for not being compliant with the system. Against this backdrop a masked stranger emerges, who undermines the government, and eventually leads the people see the light and overthrow their oppressors. The finale is the demolition of the Houses of Parliament by an underground train packed with explosives, timed to the music of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.

The film is firmly fiction, yet as each year passes, the resonance with contemporary politics grows. Most people have political ideas they are interested in, yet dissatisfaction with Westminster politics is significant. I can’t be the only one that thinks after watching yet another PMQs full of partisan hot air, with no light and all heat, the idea of blowing the whole place up seems quite a good idea. Hearing another round of media interviews where political opponents just oppose for opposition’s sake, without making a positive contribution , and the main parties just play games and set traps really hacks me off. Most of the public realise that while these squabbles go on, real life issues are left unresolved – the NHS, the housing crisis, job security and all the other things that concern voters the most.

It turns out that we don’t need a tube train full of explosives to destroy Westminster – it’s doing a great job of falling down all by itself. Westminster is aging, and  is badly in need of repair, with recent estimates putting the cost at up to £5.7 billion. Bad electrical cabling, leaking sewerage pipes, asbestos and sinking are just some of the issues. MPs are expected to make a decision by the middle of 2019. This will certainly involve parliamentary business being moved elsewhere for a number of years.

I have been to Westminster twice, and in truth I think blowing it up is a little harsh. It is a magnificent place, and preserving it must be a priority for nation. The history of centuries of politics is in it’s bones and permeates the air. Combined with the stunning architecture and deep traditions, time spent there is like walking through a history book. This creates the perfect atmosphere for a museum or art gallery, but a wretched place to build new progressive and transformative democracy that we desperately need for the twenty first century.

So how can this opportunity be used reshape our democracy for the better? Here is my plan:

Move out of London

Our national politics are far too London-centric. Moving parliament to another place would be transformative in the national perception of it. A new parliament in Birmingham would be around two hours from most areas in the country, and much cheaper to build that a similar building in London.It would help break up the London/South East centralisation of the country.

Move from adversarial to cooperation

Parliament is based on adversarial politics. The premier event of the week is considered to be Prime Minister’s Questions – nothing more than a tribal, pointless ding dong.

MPs line up opposite each other. They are separated by two lines (two swords length apart). The effect of the positioning of people in a room is known to change the ambiance and nature of the exchanges. This is why when power, control or hostility is required, people sit opposite each other with barriers between. For example, the layout of police interview rooms when questioning suspects. People sat around each other, without barriers, creates a more cooperative environment, for example, people in counselling groups sat round in a circle. A good example of a better layout is the European Parliament, where MEPs sit in a semi circle.

The current First Past the Post electoral system is designed to give one party an excess of parliamentarians to command an unrepresentative majority. This immediately creates a them and us set up from the start. A better alternative would be a PR system, where cross party cooperation is normally required.  In most parts of peoples’ lives, be it at home, work or leisure, they do a good job at compromising with different people to create a more conducive environment and get on with things. A common complaint of the public is that politicians don’t just get on with running the country and work together. The petty, tribal squabbling that constitutes much of our politics brings it into disrepute.

Conclusion

Westminster politics is crumbling like it’s roof, sewerage system and electrics. We can fix the building and preserve it’s architecture and history. However, it’s political culture need to thrown in a skip, and new modern parliament, fit for the twenty first century, created. This new parliament can then give birth to a new political culture, one we can be proud of and that is relevant now and into the future.

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The Left Must Reform Public Services Too

The most feared word to our public services is reform.

Reform has become a by-word for cuts and privatisation. Take, for example, the NHS reforms currently going through Parliament, or the changes to DLA. Both are ideological changes designed to privatise one and simply reduce payments to the other.

However, while fighting these reforms, the left cannot rest on their laurels. Our public services do need reforms, but not the ones offered by the Coalition. They are needed to better serve the need of service users, in a way that maximises precious resources. They are needed to reaffirm to the United Kingdom that public services are the most cost effective way of delivering vital services, with the best outcomes for service users. Without changes, those forces that are pushing for privatisation will gain a stronger and stronger voice.

A major issue is the lack of intermediate community care. I have recently experienced this with a relative who is elderly suffering from early dementia and a heart condition. In the last 6 months she has been hospitalised around 10 times. Her heart condition and dementia are beyond the scope of her GP as her needs are complex. However, as there is no provision for community care, this resulted in her worsening on a number of occasions to a degree that required hospitalisation. This is invariably expensive and can result in people getting help when it is too late, so the intervention is less successful.

This is common with conditions like diabetes too. If managed in the community by more specialist community care teams, it is substantially cheaper than hospitalisation with much better patient outcomes. It would preserve hospitals for those matters that only they can handle.

We need to wean ourselves from too much concentration on hospitals. Many local hospitals provide a skeleton service, when nearby there is a larger, more equipped hospital with better specialists available. People do love their local hospital, but I believe diverting resources partially to bigger hospitals and to community services from local skeleton hospitals would result in better health care at a lower price.

Another area where co-ordination is poor is that between the NHS and social services. From September to October 2011 128,000 days delay were incurred by the NHS because of bed-blocking – when patients can’t be discharged as the services they need are not in place in the community [1] . This figure had been falling, but the impact of cuts to local social services budgets has reversed the figures. Each day in a hospital bed costs an average of £255. Therefore, the cost to the NHS of 128,000 days of delays amounts to nearly £33 million, annualised to nearly £196 million. This far exceeds the cost of providing care in the community.

In the last year or so, my Son has been going through the system for a diagnosis for a condition on the autistic spectrum. Quite frankly, no-one would believe how dreadfully poor this service is, and how badly under funded these services are. In this battle to find the required support at school, we are on our third school in year. Read any of the forums about parents battling this, and you get the same story time after time. It’s a national scandal every bit as poor as our national treatment of the elderly. The reform required here is a large increase in funding, much better training for teachers and a smoother journey between the different professionals involved.

Education services require reform too. Schools are in an excellent position to pick up problems with children who without intervention are likely to grow up into uneducated, workless adults who are at risk of getting involved with crime. Early intervention is far cheaper, as the right investment will be likely to produce a law abiding taxpayer. Without intervention the cost of benefit payments, the cost to the justice system, and most of all the personal cost, it is crazy to not intervene early. The transfer of resources from the justice system to the education system deals with the root cause and not the symptoms. The Coalition have promised to help 120,000 families at most risk, but this is not enough.

All this co-ordination and improvement is impossible with broken up and privatised services. The left should argue that these reforms are required and in the best interests of the country. Only a reformed truly public sector can deliver this.

Sources

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-15198431