It’s nearly three weeks since we voted to leave the European Union, and already some of my predictions are unravelling. As it drifts off into the North Atlantic the ship of state is already about to have a new captain, whilst the reserve crew still can’t decide whether they want to be a party of protest or a party of government.
You have to hand it to the Tories. What chutzpah! Having had to deal with them in local government over the past 30 years or so I have got to admire that instinct for survival and ability to draw their wagons into a circle that is the envy of other parties, who still have the unfortunate habit of continually washing their dirty linen in public. However, what they often say about each other in private is a different matter!
Before you think that you are about to get another ‘sour grapes’ offering from yours truly, just be patient. I really do want to talk about our country’s future in a more positive light. As they say: “We are where we are” and we really do have to make Brexit work, in the words of our new PM, for all of us. Here are just a few ideas.
There are many things we could be doing as the Brexit negotiations begin. In order to do them we have got to learn from our recent past.
Finding and exploiting our massive reserves of North Sea oil over the past 40 years has meant that we have been able to neglect our manufacturing industry to an extent that countries like France and Germany, with very few natural resources other than the skills of their citizens were not prepared to do.
If we really are going to make our way in the world, we need a skilled workforce, capable of adapting to changes in work practices and delivering the products that will sell. With the possibility of the City of London losing its premier position in world financial markets, we really have got to find another string to our bow.
We don’t just need nuclear scientists or engineers. We need bricklayers, joiners, plumbers etc. and we need to train them HERE and not just recruit them from abroad and pay them a proper wage.
In my time in teaching I have witnessed a tendency to view working with your hands and your brain as somehow inferior to working with your brain alone. This has got to change.
That means that schools must embrace vocational education in a more practical and meaningful way, and need to work more closely with local industry and commerce. We need to persuade businesses that it is in their long term interest as well as ours to put money and effort into training and providing real apprenticeships.
As far as infrastructure is concerned, we should take a leaf out of President Franklin Roosevelt’s book and introduce a programme of public works. The money intended for such projects as HS2 should be diverted into upgrading existing lines, particularly in the north but also in the East Midlands and possibly opening up some lines that were closed during Dr Beeching’s time, if this is still possible.
We should look seriously at phasing out the private rail franchises and setting up companies whose main aim is not to provide profit for their shareholders.
We need to start to build what used to be called council houses in a large scale.
Local authorities should be given powers to compulsorily purchase land from developers if the latter have failed to build there after a certain period of time. When these desperately needed houses are built they should stay available and not be sold at knock down prices to their occupants not sold on to the kind of landlords who are only interested in a quick profit.
Government structures need to be reformed to make our democracy more appropriate to the 21st century. We need real devolution in England, with the creation of a Federal United Kingdom.
Local government needs to be streamlined by the introduction of Unitary Councils throughout England to bring us into line with Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. We need a written constitution and, yes, we really do need proportional representation in all elections.
All this will cost a lot of money, not all of which we can afford to borrow. So we have really got to look at raising a good proportion of the money from ourselves. I have always been of the opinion that income tax is the price we pay for membership of a civilised society.
The problem has always been, as I have said in the past, that we in the UK expect Scandinavian levels of public services at North American levels of taxation. Whilst continuing to exempt the lowest earners from Income Tax I would seriously consider raising the basic rate of income tax by at least two percentage points.
At the top end a 50% level would seem reasonable, whilst continuing to attempt to close any tax loopholes that are still available to those with the means of exploiting them.
The irony is that all this could have been done while we were still members of the EU. As the song goes: “When the going gets tough, the though get going” and, believe me, it could, so we’d better be prepared.
Finally I would like to make a rather utopian plea to all the governments of the world to stand up to big business and globalisation before it destroys any more communities.
In 1944, with WW2 still raging, the nations of the free world got together in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, USA, to work out a post war world economic order that survived more or less to the end of the last century. Perhaps, in a very different world today, with new major players, we need another ‘Bretton Woods’ before it’s too late.