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This New Year needs to be a turning point

John TizardIt would be fantastic if we could have the confidence that 2015 will be a better year than 2014. It would be too easy to be pessimistic rather than optimistic. Does this have to be the case?

There will be an UK wide general election: with the possibility of a minority or coalition government. An election at which it would be wrong to be timid, fall back on toxic policy positions, blame minorities and make false claims about immigration. Rather, it is time for a strong voice for: progressive change; social cohesion; and a global perspective.

The UK economy is still fragile: and dark clouds are already casting long shadows across the global economy. The UK’s membership of the EU could be at stake depending on the result of the general election – and even the prospect of this will lead to significant economic paralysis and very probably decline. So, time to hold the EU responsible for what it has done, not for what people want to think it wishes to do. Let’s seek to reform it, based on its ideals, values and potential; and on greater direct democracy.

Major infrastructure projects: commitments, such few as they are, have not been matched by money to invest in social capital at a community level. So, national schemes have to be accompanied by local investment, including a significant expansion of social housing.

Growth in inequality and poverty: there is no sign that this growth will be stopped, let alone reversed. We need a massive shift in the minds of senior politicians in the major Parliamentary parties ahead of the 2015 public expenditure review and their budgets or these will deliver further cuts in spending, services and jobs.

This New Year needs to be turning point. A challenge to current orthodoxy and the

launch of fairer, values-based politics and economics is my personal New Year wish for us all.

Greater devolution and decentralisation of resources: one positive development in 2014 was the move towards greater devolution and decentralisation of power and resources not only to Scotland and one hopes to Wales and Northern Ireland but also to the English cities and city regions. On its own, this will be insufficient to address over-centralisation, regional inequalities and differential growth prospects – but it provides a good foundation from which to build.

Voluntary and community sectors: as in previous years, much rhetoric about a strong role for the sectors but many public policy decisions and cuts have undermined this commitment. This has to be different in 2015.

So let’s imagine the four initiatives I would ‘love’ to see in 2015, all other things being equal, and the politicians were ready to be bolder. This is a great opportunity and it is, and challenging to confine oneself to four. In making my selection, I have not totally ignored the legacy or the current stated positions of the current major Westminster political parties (though I expect that other parties could have significant influence after May), and nor have I simply donned my ‘most optimistic’ overcoat. These four proposals are based on a combination of values-driven idealism (and don’t we need more of that in 2015!) and pragmatism. They are:

1. Programmes designed to eliminate poverty, especially ‘in work’ poverty and child poverty as well as wealth, income and health inequalities within five years, through a range of fiscal, redistributive, and increased public expenditure on critical social, educational and community services, with these services being reformed by their users, staff and wider society, and designed to achieve social and economic outcomes; the general adoption of the Living Wage; and the application of a powerfully focused political will

2. A new macro-economic policy based not on austerity but on growth, driven by the political goal of a fairer, more socially-just society (not a smaller state); and focussed on the needs of people, ahead of privilege

3. A new democratic settlement with:

– implementation of a comprehensive plan to decentralise to the English counties and city regions, with the necessary resources following the powers for a range of economic, planning, infrastructure, social, ‘welfare’, employment, and education and skills policies

– a central government underpinning this decentralisation with the redistribution of resource and investment in nationally important infrastructure

– new national governance arrangements to ensure that decentralisation is based on local democracy with enhanced roles and powers for local government; an elected senate with regional (and for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – national) representation; and a proportional voting system

4. The development of a strong civil society based on independent, reforming and confident voluntary and community organisations; social action at community, sub-regional and national levels; and empowered communities and neighbourhoods steered by local citizens and working with local voluntary organisations, local businesses, faith groups and others – and with local government committed to ‘double devolution’.

My list may seem fanciful. You may think that I was already full of ‘festive cheer’ when I wrote it. However, unless we can put austerity and the policies on which it is based behind us and adopt a more optimistic approach, we – and specifically the poor and vulnerable – are going to have an appalling year and decades beyond. This New Year needs to be turning point. A challenge to current orthodoxy and the launch of fairer, values-based politics and economics is my personal New Year wish for us all.

More 2014 style misery and humbug? Or a different 2015?  People, not elites, must decide.

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