Owen Jones yesterday set out nine policy proposals that together offer an ‘Agenda for Hope’, a program to ‘break the gentleman’s agreement of British politics’. It is a welcome move. We do need to stop thinking that critique is enough. The crisis that began in 2007 and continues in 2014 has put an end to the old common sense. Our governors, and many of their rivals for power, continue to mouth exhausted platitudes about finance, markets, and money. These platitudes once lent an air of inevitability to a social order in which the power of decision and direction was in the hands of a few. Now they are evidence only of intellectual bankruptcy.
It is up to us now to describe the world we want, to claim our share of the future. What Jones has written is as good a place as any. Personally, I would have liked some more there about media reform but that would have taken the total to ten, and no one wants to be seen coming down from the mountain with ten of anything inscribed on tablets. It might be a column that has its moment of attention and then fades away. It might even capture the attention of the team writing the Labour manifesto. But if we really want something like it to inform the actions of the next government then we have to accept that there is no substitute for action.
Each of us lives in a constituency. If we assemble (online or in person, or both) and sign up to something like this 9-point plan in sufficient numbers we can then ask the candidates for election in 2015 whether they will agree to be bound by its provisions. If they refuse then everyone will go into the next election knowing who they are voting for, regardless of party labels. What are sufficient numbers? It depends. In a tight race a few hundred will be enough to catch the attention of the candidates. If you live in a safe seat then you’ll need thousands to put the frighteners on those who profit from a dominant position.
I wouldn’t change a word of what Owen has written. Alright, I would. But I would vote for a candidate who accepted it or something very much like it. It is up to each assembly in each constituency to decide exactly what they want. But once decided we can ask those who aspire to lead us to tell us whether they agree with us.
Elections are supposed to be about our choosing. Let’s turn that on its head and have the candidates choose.
They can either accept that the world has changed and commit themselves to policies that their own leaders shrink from. Or they can stick to the old script, about market forces and merit rewarded, and middle aged men who know best.