The Social Party: Renaming The Labour Party

The United Kingdom Labour Party was founded at the turn of the 20th century. For over one hundred years following its foundation, its name has remained unchanged. However, it would be advantageous for it to conceive of a new name for itself. This would enable it to undergo a much needed reorientation. It would be enabled to identify its raison d’être, namely the pursuit of social democracy. In so doing, it would be more able to align its policy agenda with its reason for being.

The name ‘Labour’ concisely evidences the Party’s origins. The Party was originally established as a vehicle through which the working class could be represented in the politics of the United Kingdom. Indeed, it began life under the name of the ‘Labour Representation Committee’. Eventually, it established itself as a conventional party, crafting policy platforms and standing candidates in elections to public office. Around the time of its foundation, universal suffrage was still in the process of being achieved, and as such the Party served an important role in representing a particular section of society which simply did not have a vote.

However, with the achievement of universal suffrage and the political currents of the modern world, Labour has grown to be much more than a party of one particular section of society. At its core, Labour is a social democratic party. The purpose of such a party is to implement the philosophy of social justice in a practical context. It should exist to make the world fairer and more equal; to maximise opportunity, guarantee wellbeing, and ensure a dignified existence for everyone; to have concern not for some, but for all.

Some may be reluctant to adopt a new name. They might perceive it as being a withdrawal from Labour’s traditional constituencies. This would be a misconception, however. Social justice is an all encompassing philosophy which urges us to have concern for all, including Labour’s traditional constituencies. Moving to a new name would not herald a movement away from Labour’s traditional constituencies, but rather enable the Party to consolidate its philosophical basis and in so doing faithfully pursue the goals of social justice to which it is committed at its heart.

To this end, ‘The Social Party’ would be a strong candidate for a new name. It concisely embodies all that the Party strives for. First, ‘Social’ is aligned with a conviction which lies at the heart of the Party, and is stated in Clause IV: ‘by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone’. Second, the philosophical basis of the Party is firmly oriented around social justice. In one simple word, ‘Social’, the essence of the Party is succinctly captured and made clear to all. The core of the Party should be a concern for the wellbeing of everyone, in pursuance of a better world. For this, Labour should become The Social Party.

Libya needs the West’s help

In 2011, swept by the revolutionary tide of the Arab Spring, Libyans vowed to rid themselves of Muammar Gaddafi, the country’s long-standing brutal dictator. Soon, protests would degenerate into gunfights, and then outright civil war.

With the Gaddafi regime threatening indiscriminate reprisals against its own people, the international community decided to act to protect civilians. Under United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1973, an international coalition was forged to implement the resolution through military intervention. Led by NATO, and by the United Kingdom and France in particular, the intervention would last for seven months and would ultimately spell the end of the Gaddafi regime with opposition forces on the ground able to defeat regime forces and set in motion a transition to democracy.

Since the conclusion of the civil war and the beginning of the democratic transition, successive Libyan governments have struggled to establish the authority of the state. The principal impediment in establishing state authority has been the continued existence of numerous militias which had fought together against Gaddafi during the civil war. Rather than disband after having achieved the downfall of Gaddafi’s regime, many militias simply remained in their positions. They have often posited that their continued existence is necessary to ensure the success of the revolution.

The Libyan government has attempted to establish its authority by co-opting some of the militias, paying them salaries in exchange for their service in support of the state. Probably the most notable manifestation of this effort is the Libyan Shield Force, an organisation comprising a collection of militias, established by the government in 2012. However, this effort has also failed to establish state authority. The organisation’s constituent militias have pursued their own agendas, separate and contrary to that of the government, and many are now considered terrorists by the Council of Deputies, Libya’s parliament.

The lack of state authority in Libya has produced something resembling a slow motion descent into anarchy. In 2012, the United States’ ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, was killed alongside three of his colleagues in an attack on an American diplomatic compound in Benghazi by Islamist militants. In 2013, militants seized control of several major ports connected to the country’s oil industry, producing an oil crisis that only recently saw some relief. Later in that same year, the then Libyan prime minister, Ali Zeidan, was abducted by a militia, and held for several hours before being released. In 2014, the beginnings of outright conflict emerged between militias primarily aligning themselves with one of two factions, either a nationalist alliance, or an Islamist one. Thus far, fighting has focused principally upon Tripoli and Benghazi. As fighting has intensified, most Western embassies have been closed and diplomats evacuated from the country. The parliament has been forced to leave Tripoli owing to security concerns. It now convenes in the eastern city of Tobruk.

Libya is not without hope, however. Following the conclusion of the civil war, the country’s wartime decision-making body, the National Transitional Council (NTC), passed power to the newly-elected General National Congress (GNC). Over time, the GNC became characterised by infighting and for various reasons was for much of its time unwilling to challenge the power of the militias. The GNC’s mandate expired in June, leading to fresh elections to a new parliament, the Council of Deputies. While turnout dropped compared with previous elections, likely in connection with recent instability, Islamists, who had held sway in the GNC, suffered a significant defeat. In their place, more liberal representatives now hold sway in the new legislature, and they are not afraid to be bold. The new parliament recently voted to disband the militias and called for the United Nations to protect civilians from the violence perpetrated by the militias. This is in marked contrast to the GNC, which was unwilling to take such a bold stand against the power of the militias.

Western nations have, for a considerable length of time now, pursued diplomacy as the sole means to ease tensions and return the democratic transition to a stable trajectory. It is clear now, though, that following the bold stance taken by the new parliament, there is no absence of political leadership pursuing the moderate and democratic path. Rather, Libya is being held hostage by competing forces which prefer the rule of the gun to the rule of law. Democratic politics and the rule of law cannot prevail in Libya unless state authority is established. The new parliament, and the Libyan government, are in no position to establish state authority so long as the militias continue to hold all the cards when it comes to the use of force. Therefore, it falls upon the West to help Libya in the manner only it is able to.

Backed by Western air power, ideally under the auspices of NATO, the new parliament would be able to forge a political strategy to disband the militias. The threat of force alone would act as a strong incentive for the militias to lay down their weapons and pursue their interests through political, rather than violent, means. It is probable that some militias would, at least initially, ignore the threat of force, and in these cases force would need to be employed, so as to ensure that state authority not be undermined.

As these efforts progress, the state would be able to begin to establish its authority throughout the country. With militias dispersing, police forces would be able to return to duty, upholding the rule of law and protecting civilians. Similarly, the military would benefit, enabling it to develop its capability to a point where it would eventually become sufficiently able to challenge the militias itself.

One could envisage that sufficient support could be achieved such that a resolution could be passed in the United Nations (UN) Security Council, thereby broadening the multilateral nature of this effort. Ideally, such a resolution would mandate the presence of UN observers throughout the country to monitor and facilitate peace. Observers could also potentially be joined by peacekeepers if it is deemed necessary in particularly unstable areas of the country.

If the West continues to employ diplomacy as the sole means to resolve the growing instability in Libya, the country’s democratic transition will remain significantly imperilled, with the potential for its complete collapse. There is no doubt that a political solution to the instability in the country is integral to its future, but in this situation political and diplomatic efforts must be supported by efforts to address the lack of state authority. The West and the wider international community must pursue a holistic effort to establish democracy, the rule of law, and state authority in Libya. It is simply not enough to watch from the sidelines – the West must be active and engaged in helping Libya in every way it can. The alternative would be disastrous for Libya.

As an aside, for those who wish to follow events in Libya more closely, I recommend Foreign Policy’s Mohamed Eljarh as a great source for news and analysis on recent events in the country.

The BBC should be funded through general taxation

As we begin to approach the renewal at the end of 2017 of the royal charter which constitutes the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), a nascent debate has developed concerning the future of the BBC, and in particular the manner in which it is funded.

Under the current arrangements of the royal charter, the BBC is funded by the revenue raised by television licence fees, which are required for households to legally watch and record live television broadcasts of any kind, and through any medium, including the Internet. Households must renew their licence fee on an annual basis, currently costing each household approximately £145.50 annually. This manner of funding was seen to be appropriate by the government of the time, when the BBC was only beginning to develop and few, if any, could imagine it would expand into the extensive and world-renowned media organisation that it is today.

It is important to note that the rise of the web has transformed the media landscape. Websites such as YouTube have cultivated entirely new styles of entertainment and information consumption, while services such as Netflix have conceived of new ways to deliver traditional television programmes and films. Platforms such as Ustream and have also produced a plethora of live content available on the web. In today’s media world that is increasingly dominated by the web, the very concept of a television licence fee has become increasingly anachronistic, and a consensus is beginning to emerge that recognises this.

There is a conspicuous absence of consensus, however, concerning what might take the place of the licence fee. Unsurprisingly, numerous commentators have proposed rather neoliberal solutions to the future of the BBC’s funding. The most notable of these suggestions have been the introduction of a subscription service, or the introduction of advertising to the BBC’s television channels and websites. As you might imagine, some have proffered the nuclear option of privatisation, though thankfully this particular idea does not appear to have gained any traction.

The ideal solution, however, would be for the BBC to become funded through general taxation, as this would both be the most equitable funding arrangement, and secure the core purpose and value of the BBC.

In simple terms, the television licence fee is essentially a form of tax, one that is both regressive and flat. An individual living on the minimum wage is required to contribute the same amount to access BBC television as a more affluent individual. The licence fee is also inequitable in the sense that the BBC is a vital public service which should be accessible to everyone, regardless of the amount they have been able to contribute in taxes, or at a more fundamental level, their wealth.

The core purpose and value of the BBC is to provide a platform upon which world-class entertainment, documentaries, analysis, and journalism are able to prosper in an environment which is protected from the often pernicious effects of commercialism which affect private media. In particular, the BBC’s duty in the areas of analysis and journalism are an invaluable public service not only for British citizens, but for people across the world, who know that in the BBC they have access to a highly reliable, valuable, impartial, and some might say unparalleled, analysis of the world around them.

Therefore, as we begin to approach the renewal of the royal charter in 2017, we must seek to bring the funding arrangements of the BBC into the twenty-first century in an equitable manner. This should take the form of the BBC deriving its funding principally from general taxation, with the television licence fee being abolished. Ideally, this reform should be conducted in conjunction with wider efforts to transform the tax system into a more progressive form. Only in this way will we be able to maintain the essential core purpose and value of the BBC, and therein enable it to continue to serve the public interest as it has done so excellently for so long.

Migration is a Social Imperative

The ‘debate’ – and this label is highly questionable – over immigration in the United Kingdom has come to establish a strong foothold in contemporary political discourse. But beyond the cheap populism which plays to the misguided perception of immigration being a negative phenomenon, migration represents a social imperative which we must defend earnestly.

The Conservatives have launched an all-out assault on immigration, seeking to curtail the right to free movement in the European Union, taking steps to combat the virtually nonexistent benefit and healthcare ‘tourism’, and aiming to reduce net migration to an arbitrary level. On the other side of the political divide, Labour has sought to apologise for New Labour’s stance on immigration, promising instead to in some way curtail low-skilled immigration, and to be more aware of the social impact of immigration on communities. Most senior figures in both parties recognise the myriad benefits of immigration, but have opted to embark upon the politically expedient path of immigrant-bashing, seemingly failing to recognise the immensely pernicious long-term effects of doing so.

The much more politically challenging, but ultimately just stance, is to defend migration as a social imperative. Migration is not merely economically beneficial, but also hugely culturally enriching as well. Moreover, migration has powerful philosophical and ethical groundings.

The economic justification for migration is a straightforward one – it greatly expands the range of individuals able to occupy vacant positions in the economy. The greater the number of people available, the greater the chance that vacancies in the economy will be taken by truly committed, proficient, and astute individuals. With proficient individuals driving the economy forward, the economy produces more advantageous and beneficial results for all in society.

Although rarely mentioned in contemporary political discourse, there are also manifold cultural benefits to society stemming from migration. Nigel Farage took many political observers by surprise when, in an interview with the BBC’s Nick Robinson, Farage suggested that ‘there is more to life than money… the social side of this matters more than pure market economics’. In the wake of this comment, some commentators have suggested that those in favour of migration simply cannot effectively counter those who oppose immigration from a sociocultural standpoint, as Farage has done. Quite to the contrary, the cultural dividends of migration are immense and hugely beneficial to society. The globalised nature of the modern world has made it such that many modern societies have evolved from being mostly monocultural, to being truly multicultural. These societies have been hugely enriched by the diversity of the many cultures that exist within them. Beyond the immediate cultural reward of multiculturalism which manifests itself in the proliferation of alternative ideas, lifestyles, art, and creativity, embraced multiculturalism also fosters much more tolerant, liberal, and open societies which are able to be much more aware of the world around them, and much more willing to engage with ideas which might otherwise be considered to be unusual or different.

Finally, the philosophical and ethical basis for migration is hugely powerful. Although the members of humanity are born into different societies and cultures, we are all fundamentally human and inhabitants of the same planet. Thus, it is difficult to justify from an ethical perspective strict border controls which curtail immigration and prevent people from migrating to other parts of the world to build a better life for themselves, their families, and ultimately the global citizenry. Indeed, in this light, the nation-state’s ability to in essence discriminate against individuals from other countries is deeply archaic and unreasonable. In the globalised economy, there also exists a disparity between capital and people – in a world where capital increasingly knows no borders, nor should people. The European Union is a bright beacon for progress in this sense with its right to free movement for all European citizens within the EU, which forms not just a central component of the Single Market, but also a central component of the EU’s constellation of social rights.

Taken together, these aspects of migration make a powerfully positive case for migration. The rise of nationalistic, protectionist, isolationist, and anti-immigrant political movements was an inevitable byproduct of the global financial crisis, foreseeable as a distinct possibility by any student of history. It is notable that the United Kingdom has fared relatively well in its ability to eschew the sort of extremist politics which have come to threaten peace, safety, and order in some other European countries such as Greece. However, many mainstream politicians have found it politically expedient to appeal and provide succour to the reactionist anti-immigrant movement precipitated by the global financial crisis. In times of great economic hardship, the fear of ‘outsiders’ may be easily exploited by those seeking the most expedient path to power. While this may be politically advantageous in the short-term, such a course of action will be deeply pernicious in the long-term. Fundamentally, migration is a social imperative and to allow it to be strictly curtailed is to betray this imperative. Migration must not be sacrificed in the pursuit of short-term political expedience.

Let’s revitalise society by realising a basic income, embracing automation, and affording choice of waged employment

As we are beginning to experience the real substance of the digital revolution and the Information Age, we are becoming increasingly aware that automation and computerisation will, unlike the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions before it, permanently erode a vast swathe of the labour market, making a considerable level of unemployment a permanent fixture of our economy and society. If this trend is left unaddressed by society, the issues currently experienced in our economy and society will become further exacerbated and accentuated. If, alternatively, this trend is addressed by society and met by effective government policy, we could well be at the inception of a radical shift in and reimagination of how we perceive work, productivity, and societal contribution, ultimately improving people’s lives substantially.

For many centuries now, our society and economy have been built upon the idea of wage labour, the relationship wherein an employer pays an employee to conduct some productive activity for them. This is because the production of goods and services has been fundamentally dependent upon the labour provided by the human workforce of an economy. Whether that production is cultivating farmland, being stationed at a cash register, or operating a machine, humans have been an indispensable part of the economy, without which the economy would cease to function. Moreover, owing to this economic imperative for labour, society has been structured in a way that makes people dependent upon employment to live well, and more fundamentally, to survive. (In this sense, European welfare states are notable in that they have traditionally provided a safety net to prevent poverty and destitution. However, it is not possible for welfare recipients to enjoy a dignified existence, as welfare is not designed to be permanent and does not extend beyond providing for the very basics of life. Although the right likes to suggest it is, it is simply not possible – except in a negligible number of cases – to live comfortably on contemporary welfare.)

With the advent of the Information Age, this long-standing fact of life, wage labour, is changing, dramatically. Some estimates suggest that up to half of all occupations are under threat of automation, removing the need for humans from numerous lines of work. Significantly, these technological encroachments do not merely affect supposedly menial lines of low-paid work, but also threaten well-paid and traditionally middle-class professions, such as paralegals and public transport operators, such as train drivers. Automation and computerisation will have a dramatic impact upon all but the highest levels of society. Additionally, those professions which are difficult or impossible to automate are currently generally undervalued in the economy – such as nurses, teachers, and healthcare assistants – leaving the very real possibility for average wages to remain stagnant or possibly even become reduced. While many waged occupations will remain, undoubtedly a considerable number will be lost.

At first glance, the erosion of such a vast portion of our labour market appears daunting and highly unsettling. Indeed, if the economy is left to its own devices, mass unemployment, stagnant and falling wages, and exponentially increasing wealth inequality are inevitable. The result of such trends would be human suffering and the growth of a deeply unjust society.

There is an alternative direction of travel, however. As a society, we could seize this opportunity to harness automation and computerisation to afford people the choice of waged employment, allowing them to pursue what is most valuable to them in life.

The current socioeconomic model places too great an emphasis on the conventional profit-driven economy, to the detriment of innumerable avenues of human endeavour which while having little or tenuous economic benefit, are hugely beneficial to society and humanity itself. Take, for instance, the spaces of academia, philosophy, and creativity, areas of human endeavour which characterise and punctuate our very existence as a society and civilisation. These things are the very essences of life, yet are so easily brushed aside by the unrelenting and often impassive profit-driven market forces which drive our current reality.

The current socioeconomic model also brings about a less compassionate and more self-interested society, particularly amongst the more affluent elements of society who live comfortably and find it difficult to relate to or acknowledge the standard of living experienced by millions at the lower end of society. This is particularly evident in the dispiriting stigma surrounding welfare, unemployment, and immigration. Those with a comfortable standard of living too often condemn less fortunate individuals, rationalising them as being the product of their own incompetence and lack of work ethic. In the case of immigrants, they fail to recognise that they are humans, seeking a higher standard of living which they have a right to, and that they contribute greatly to the diversity and quality of our society and culture.

Significantly, there has grown a strong school of thought within society that is bound to the idea of wage labour and monetary self-advancement being at the apex of society. Society simply does not facilitate, to a desirable degree, alternative means through which citizens could contribute to the betterment of society outside the scope of profit-driven economics. In fact, such alternative contributions are often derided, as they do not conform to what many people have come to conceptualise as being work and societal contribution. In many ways, this overzealous attachment to conventional societal contribution in the form of wage labour has come to undermine the very essence of existence and life in its disregard for anything that is not economically valuable. People are expected to work hard, work long, and increasingly work for very little remuneration. In doing so, many people have been forced by the sociocultural climate to invest their time too heavily in conventional work, to the detriment of their personal wellbeing and that of those around them. Moreover, the commitment of so much time and effort to conventional work results in a dearth of societal and cultural productivity, diminishing our society and increasingly reducing it to a mere economic machine lacking in emotion, thought, and enjoyment. Doubtless, we are lucky to live in such a diverse society which has produced manifold cultural gifts. Nevertheless, society and culture would benefit from a loosening of our emphasis on conventional work, in favour of a greater emphasis on the essences of life – culture, art, philosophy, academia, thought, social relations, innovation, invention, exploration, and others.

The principal means through which we could move towards a much more cultured, healthy, and intellectual society, is the concept of a basic income. This idea has long been mooted, but never adopted by mainstream thought or implemented in any significant manner. The idea is simple: every adult citizen would receive an income from the state, a sort of “Citizen’s Wage”, as some have put it. At its most abstract definition, a basic income can be any amount of money, though in reality for it to be viable and achieve its aspirations, it would need to be ample, equivalent to or greater than the living wage, so as to provide all those who would rely on it with a dignified and comfortable standard of living. There are also further questions to be asked concerning the technicalities of a basic income.  Questions include whether the income would supplement that already received from wages by those in work, or whether it would be, in essence, taxed away. However, one of the basic income’s greatest advantages is its pure simplicity at both the conceptual and practical levels, compared with the famous European welfare states where their immense complexity is a distinct disadvantage.

Welfare states have developed over decades of different governments and changing socioeconomic conditions. This has led to the creation of myriad welfare schemes, requiring the development of vast administrative infrastructures necessitated by the often complex conditionalities of welfare schemes. The troubled implementation of the Universal Credit by the current government is a testament to this. Worse still, the complexity is only increasing, owing to the current political climate, in which politicians have withdrawn from the universal principle, instead advocating ever greater amounts of means testing, whereby welfare schemes must meet an array of exhaustive criteria, such as a person’s physical condition or financial state. This is increasing the size of the welfare state’s bureaucracy substantially, cumulatively costing more to operate than before, and damaging social cohesion in the abandonment of the universal principle. The introduction of a basic income would remove the need for many welfare schemes, transforming the welfare state into a form which would be much simpler to understand, monitor, and modify, and would reduce administrative infrastructure costs dramatically, allowing more money to have a tangible and meaningful effect, rather than be bogged down in bureaucratic and administrative costs. The welfare state would be streamlined, with its schemes being distinct and visible.

The immediate effects of the introduction of a basic income would be hugely beneficial to society in many ways. There would be a renaissance in art, creativity, philosophy, and academia. We would experience a significant upsurge in occupations which the economy greatly undervalues, such as parenting and familial activities, political activism, philanthropy and volunteering, and the open-ended pursuit of ideas, innovation, and invention.

There is also a strong ethical case for the introduction of a basic income. Under current policies, it is simply not possible to lead a dignified existence and enjoy a comfortable standard of living without waged employment. Many people, through no fault of their own, are placed in the demoralising position of unemployment with minimal prospect of respite. Without the support of family and friends, these people are forced to rely solely on the meagre income provided by the welfare state. This comes principally in the form of Jobseeker’s Allowance, the very name of which explicitly reveals its basis in wage labour, as opposed to having a grounding in basic human compassion and the wellbeing of people. It should be embarrassing that a modern and developed 21st century nation does not afford all of its citizens a comfortable standard of living. From an ethical perspective, a basic income would enshrine as a fundamental right for all people a dignified existence and a comfortable standard of living – something all people have a right to, regardless of employment status.

The introduction of a basic income would also yield powerful economic dividends. The economy would be provided with the space and impetus to move forward with automation and computerisation at great speed, unrestrained by the current social concerns of governments which expect the economy to supply full employment. The government would be free to invest heavily in developing modern technology, fostering a highly technologically advanced economy. This economic transformation would represent a firm alternative to the current agenda of racing to the bottom in terms of living standards, working conditions, and regulation in the obnoxious “global race”, instead advocating a race to the top, both in terms of economic activity and in terms of the social, economic, and cultural wellbeing of all citizens. The existence of an ample basic income would also raise questions over the future of the minimum wage. It may need to be raised above the level of income provided by a basic income. Alternatively, a different approach entirely could be taken. Either way, a discussion would need to be had over the future of the minimum wage in a basic income era.

Clearly, the provision of a basic income equivalent to or greater than the living wage for every adult citizen in a country the size of the United Kingdom would hardly be inexpensive. Moreover, a basic income would not remove the necessity for strong public services such as the National Health Service or the BBC. In fact, the public sector should in the future encompass more areas fundamental to life, such as, but not limited to, rail transport and the provision of energy, water, and broadband. However, the challenge of arranging the public finances in a manner which would accommodate a basic income would not be insurmountable. Firstly, a basic income itself would mean more people having more money to spend in the economy, which is generally a good thing for economic activity. Secondly, our tax revenue as a percentage of GDP currently rests somewhere between 30 and 40 percent, while in Scandinavian countries, this figure is closer to 50 percent, indicating the need for the UK to raise its tax revenue closer to, and possibly beyond, Scandinavian levels. Moreover, the UK tax system lacks progressivity – notably, the wealthy contribute less than they should – and is hemorrhaging revenue due to tax avoidance and evasion. Thus, it is completely within our grasp to achieve an ample basic income if we set our minds to it.

Looking forward into the long-term future, the introduction of a basic income would, in all likelihood, expand and improve the quality of discourse in society concerning equality and the distribution of wealth. This is because society, manifested in democratic governance, will have much greater control over the income of a considerable portion of the general population. Moreover, unlike the myriad arcane schemes of a traditional welfare state, a basic income would be clear and visible, leaving little room for misrepresentations or misconceptions in discourse.

As an aside, the benefits of automation outlined in this piece do not negate the risks to society of other aspects of automation, and the Information Age more broadly. The Information Age has delivered countless innovations, but such innovations are rarely forensically analysed with a healthy degree of skepticism. In the space of warfare, the rise of autonomous drones is a disconcerting spectre on the horizon. In the space of social media, some individuals hide behind the cloak of anonymity to blurt vile vitriol against others, privacy is frequently breached and poorly understood by people, and the impact of online social networking on social relations more fundamentally is considered by some to be pernicious. These are just some of the issues provoking nascent discussion. The Information Age provides at least as many negative opportunities to society as it does positive ones. There is almost certainly an imperative for societal introspection in this new area of life, something which we are currently lacking.

Ultimately, the Information Age is presenting society with an opportunity not previously available to it. For centuries, economic activity has been inexorably dependent upon the labour of humans. This inexorable dependence is being eroded by the rapid evolution of technology in recent times. If this trend is met by compassionate social policy, principally in the form of a basic income, it can afford people the choice of waged employment, and ensure a dignified standard of living for all as a fundamental right. Many people will remain in waged employment, but a considerable number of others will be free to contribute to society in ways that are usually marginalised under the current economic model, allowing all people to pursue what is most valuable to them in life. Such a change in society has the potential to release the real essences of humanity in an explosion of culture, creativity, knowledge, philosophy, discourse, social relations, philanthropy, and numerous other human endeavours. We will soon be presented with a socioeconomic and technological climate in which the idea of a basic income can be realised, and as such, the idea should come to form a central component of modern social democratic movements.

Credit: Karoly Lorentey -

An Encompassing Parliament

The UK Parliament, in its current form, is anachronistic, and needs to not merely reform, but transform entirely. Parliament needs to change from being composed of two separate chambers, to being composed of three distinct but collaborative representative bodies: national politicians, nonpartisan civil society envoys, and regional envoys.

The House of Commons is elected through an archaic, and in many regards arcane, electoral system which fails consistently to reflect the political and social fabric of the country. The system also makes it immensely difficult for political movements to produce substantial change outside the scope of the two primary parties.

The introduction of mixed member proportional representation (MMP) to the House of Commons would fundamentally alter and enhance the tenor and character of politics in Britain. It would empower every single voter, as currently millions are left essentially disenfranchised. This is owing to the nature of first-past-the-post elections and safe seat constituencies, wherein the votes of those who opt not to support the predominate political party within their constituency have virtually no effect on the wider national election result. MMP would also herald in coalition politics as a mainstay of our democracy, and in doing so ensure that a greater cross section of our society is represented in government than would be the case under a majoritarian electoral system. Majoritarian governments almost invariably represent a minority of the population, while coalition governments generally represent over half of all voters.

The House of Lords is, quite simply, not elected at all, and has virtually no substantial democratic mandate. While its nominal role as being a measured and nonpartisan collection of specialists, experts, and leading lights in all walks of life is an admirable and vital one, its composition must have democratic foundations which can only be achieved through democratic elections. The recent phenomenon by which governing political parties seek to, as it were, “pack” the Lords with partisan peers is also deeply disobliging in relation to the Lords’ aforementioned nominal role.

Owing to the immense dislocation in legitimacy experienced by the Lords, it should be abolished and its responsibilities assumed by two new representative bodies: nonpartisan civil society envoys, and regional envoys.

Civil society, in the form of charities, pressure groups, think tanks, and other similar organisations, have never been truly represented in the legislative process, and are often sidelined by governments. The transformation of Parliament would allow us to address this problem directly, with the most favourable solution being the creation of a representative body of civil society. This body would be elected nationally, preferably under the single transferable vote (STV) electoral system, possibly with staggered elections, with each candidate being a nonpartisan organisation. It could potentially be the case that individuals, alongside organisations, could be elected, with a share of the seats being allocated to organisations, while another share is allocated to individuals; for instance, a 75/25 allocation of the seats between the two types (organisation, individual) of candidate. In the allocation of seats to individuals, decision makers would need to be acutely aware of the dangers of personality politics. The imperative should be to ensure that this body effectively represents civil society in a measured manner.

Devolution has established a seismic shift in British politics, placing much more power in the hands of regional representatives. Devolution will almost certainly be extended in the future to the remaining English regions which currently lack the same degree of regional representation that their fellow Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish, and London counterparts enjoy. However, there is no institutional representation of regional interests at the national level. This should be resolved by the creation of a representative body of regional envoys, each acting as a delegate for their regional government. This body of delegates would be similar to that of the Bundesrat of Germany.

Ultimately, the Commons would preserve its legislative supremacy, with the other two bodies scrutinising legislation emanating from the Commons, just as the Lords does currently. It could also be the case that legislation pertaining to devolution would require consent of the regional delegation body, though this is an area where discussion will be needed.

Significantly however, this model of Parliament would depart from the traditional concept of there being two bodies residing in two separate chambers. Instead, this model would establish ubiquitous and extensive interbody and intergovernmental collaboration. All three of the bodies would, for instance, attend Prime Minister’s Questions, rather than only the national politicians. Moreover, the bodies would often share the same chamber and debate. This would cultivate a much more fluid, flexible, and open legislative and deliberative process.

It is vital that we recognise that we have long passed the point of reform in Parliament. We cannot simply tinker around the edges in a piecemeal manner. We must tackle the issues and anachronisms of Parliament directly, in a cohesive and cogent manner. Anything short of a total transformation of Parliament will fail to produce the change in politics that is desperately needed in Britain.

(Featured Image Credit: Karoly Lorentey)

Labour is entertaining the concept of negative campaigning, a dangerous endeavour

Labour have released a political advertisement on their YouTube channel with the title “You can’t trust David Cameron with the NHS”. While I would agree with this title, the contents are wholly reprehensible and have the potential, if left unchallenged, to signify a dark turn in British politics and Labour campaign practise.

My discomfort with this advert stems from the fact that it is a form of negative campaigning. At no point does the advert outline Labour’s own policies in the health arena. It merely lists the failures of the coalition government. More than this though, it also teeters precariously close to being an attack ad. Government is not run by one person, it is run by a cabinet of ministers and supported by political parties, but this advert attacks David Cameron personally. The advert was likely created in response to the Conservatives having published a similarly distasteful advert of their own, which took aim at both Ed Miliband and Ed Balls. Clearly, though, stooping to the unscrupulous level of your opponents is never a positive campaign strategy.

The British electorate has been mostly shielded from the practise of negative campaigning, as political advertising on radio and television is strictly regulated, allowing only occasional time slots for party political broadcasts. The situation is manifestly different in the United States, where negative campaigning forms a central part of political campaigns, is essentially unregulated, involves billions of dollars, and cultivates a very dark and petty political culture.

The advent of the web, and its rapid ascent to the upper echelons of media consumption, while a positive thing for political discourse in many ways, has the potential to diminish the tempered and healthy state of political advertising enjoyed in Britain up to this point. General spending constraints are placed upon political parties and election candidates, but the legislation which regulates political advertising only does so for radio and television, leaving political advertising on the web essentially unregulated. Political parties, if they wish to do so and are able to raise the necessary funds, have the capacity to publish any type of political advertising on the web with no strings attached.

In order to prevent British political advertising from degrading into the obnoxious form present in the United States, the major political parties must come together to establish a cross-party consensus on how to move forward in adapting regulation in this area to respond to the innovations of new media. For instance, web-based political advertising could be limited in its quantity and restricted to only being displayed during particular periods of time. What is ultimately important, however, is that all parties recognise that the rise of negative campaigning in any significant quantity will considerably damage the tenor of debate, damaging all parties equally and substantially diminishing the quality of political discourse in Britain.

Credit: The Prime Minister's Office -

The coalition has, inadvertently, made the case for proportional representation

If, for one moment, we divorce the coalition government from its oft-controversial policies, and assess the government’s political stability, we unearth a startling discovery. British politics, having had a modus operandi of two-party majority politics for the better part of a century, is fully capable of dealing with the complexities and shift in political culture that is intrinsic within coalition politics.

It’s very easy now, after three years of coalition politics, to forget the challenges faced by the coalition as they entered government in the summer of 2010. Coalitions are never easy, and there are innumerable examples of them crumbling and fracturing political systems throughout the life of Western democracy, such as Weimar Germany’s troubled fledgling democracy and the more recent difficulties in Greece and Italy. The coalition’s survival, and its apparent strengthening as time goes on, is remarkable. The last time Britain was governed by a coalition was during the Second World War, and to stack the odds against the coalition further still, the junior partner, the Liberal Democrats, had not walked through the corridors of power since its predecessor’s (the Liberal Party) decline during the 1920s. The ideological chasm between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats is also, arguably, notably greater than that between the Liberal Democrats and Labour.

Against the backdrop of such daunting odds, the coalition remains and has persevered through challenging episodes of disunity which would even be discomforting in political systems where coalitions form part of the status quo. The Liberal Democrats, lacking any experience of Downing Street prior to 2010, are now able to boast a showcase of truly ministerial personalities such as Vince Cable and Danny Alexander. And while not all elements of the coalition agreement have been achieved, the central tenets upon which the coalition was founded remain at the heart of government policy, with little prospect of this changing in the future. The coalition’s stability must also be seen as a crowning testament to the truly world-class nature of this country’s civil service, without the quality of which the coalition’s survival would have been much more tenuous.

In terms of the political reality of support for the coalition’s policies, the atmosphere is patently less rosy, and rightfully so. But the coalition’s political stability is hugely significant for British politics. Coalitions form a central part of proportionally-elected parliamentary systems in practise, and as a result the coalition’s political stability is a ringing endorsement for introducing proportional representation into British national politics.

(Featured Image Credit: The Prime Minister’s Office)

Economic growth is no longer enough

The growth rate of a nation’s gross domestic product, or GDP, has long been heralded as the automatic solution to all of society’s ills.

The concept is simple enough to grasp: employment usually increases in tandem with economic growth, with labour being required to drive such growth. With increased employment and a competitive labour market, wages increase, as do living standards.

This has largely proven true for nations transitioning to and developing industrialised economies, with relative affluence spreading amongst the population, establishing the exalted middle class.

However, for today’s most developed nations, economic growth is increasingly becoming a facile obsession for those who extol free market ideals with little substance. The standards of living that we, in the developed world, have rightfully come to expect, are no longer being met by the automatic effects of growth.

Instead, society is becoming stagnant. Wealth inequality shows no sign of receding from its horrendous level, the megre minimum wage leaves millions of workers earning less than the living wage, and dismal zero-hour contracts have proliferated in many sectors of the economy.

The combination of a meagre minimum wage which is nowhere near the living wage and the ascendance of workfare policies which in essence force the unemployed out of the welfare state and into underpaid jobs produces a situation worryingly analogous to a modern, subtle, concealed and quasi-voluntary form of slavery.

I am aware that such an assertion, with all the very negative historical connotations of the term “slavery”, sounds strong. But, take a step back for a moment and think about the lives of the lowest paid in our society.

Their jobs often entail menial and demoralising tasks. They are paid well below the living wage. There is often minimal prospect for finding a higher paying job in the future. They suffer the stress and anxiety incurred as a result of high living costs for food and bills, the continuous spectre of overwhelming debt, and the disheartening position their life is placed in. Further, the state, stung by the misguided populist stigma of “scroungers and skivers”, has effectively abandoned them.

Clement Attlee’s welfare and public services consensus established following Allied victory in the Second World War has done much to counter many of the societal imbalances caused by dizzying wealth inequality. But, short of the state paying all citizens the living wage they deserve, there is little more the state can fiscally or institutionally do to offset the inequitable wage realities of millions of citizens.

While Ed Miliband’s concept of predistribution hardly struck a chord with people outside academic circles, it is highly apposite to the problems described previously which modern society faces. The idea of predistribution, put simply, is that fundamental changes can be made to the way in which the economy functions, which in turn builds a fairer society, even before redistribution provides more tangible effects such as public services and the welfare state.

We must maintain and continue to advance the idea of strong public services such as the National Health Service. Additional public services, such as trains and utilities, should also be integrated into the public sector. However, we must equally recognise that within a capitalist system, the capitalists must also play a role in improving the quality of people’s lives, as oxymoronic as such a proposition may sound. The state should not in effect subsidise and tacitly approve of people being underpaid for the labour they provide to businesses. Instead, government should be much firmer on the rights of employees and more statutorily active in ensuring not just the volume of jobs, but the quality.

Labour’s Chuka Umunna recently recognised the systemic issues of employment, by stating that “any old job won’t do“, in response to the government’s pursuit of raising employment regardless of the quality of employment.

The value of a job should not be seen from a purely macroeconomic standpoint, but rather from the perspective of the person occupying that job. In a developed society such as ours, the mere fact that someone is employed does not automatically translate into higher living standards for them, far from it.

Finally, we must also pay much greater attention to the happiness of the nation. In recent times, it has become increasingly clear that a distinct chasm exists between the economic productivity and happiness of the nation. This touches upon the need to transform not merely wages, but also the conditions in which people work, in order to reduce stress by building more relaxed and productive workspaces.

To summarise, while in the past economic growth has automatically led to an increase in living standards and the establishment of a burgeoning middle class which enjoy high living standards, in a developed nation such as ours it is no longer enough for growth to be the primary source of the reduction of wealth inequality and the advancement of people’s living standards. Instead, we must shift our attention as a society towards people’s wages, working conditions and happiness, and then act to combat the issues which arise from these metrics, rather than relying upon traditional conceptualisations of growth trumping all else and being the panacea for all of society’s ills.

Parties should be funded by the state

Ed Miliband’s recent foray into Labour’s funding by trade unions has brought the question of state funding of political parties to the foreground, once again highlighting the reluctance on the part of the political class to consider state funding, due to fear of public opinion.

While it is true to claim that money yields far lesser clout in British politics than the infamous multi-billion dollar campaigns of the United States, our current system of party funding is not ideal.

State funding of political parties is commonplace in countries like Sweden and Germany. The amount of funding that parties receive from the state is usually relative to the share of the popular vote which they receive in elections. State funding helps parties in these countries focus on reaching out to the electorate and crafting policy for the population, rather than spending time chasing around and attempting to entice and impress potential donors.

Some commentators strongly deplore the concept of state funding, as they believe that parties with public support should be capable of raising funds independently. As for the public’s apparent disdain for state funding, it is understandable. The idea that technically a small fraction of your taxes will be helping to fund a political party you do not support appears rather unfair and unpalatable.

Funds raised through membership fees and average member donations account for only a small fraction of the total expenditure of modern political parties. The shortfall is primarily made up for by wealthy donors such as Lord Salisbury and Lord Ashcroft, alongside funding from groups such as businesses and trade unions. While British politics is by no means corrupt, the current system of party funding could be said to be democratically disproportionate in some cases (the Conservatives have greater campaign funds than Labour, even during Labour’s time in government between 1997-2010), and to some degree exposes parties to minor influence from individuals and organisations with considerable sums of money.

Parties are a pivotal and essential component of functional democracy. They organise broad but similar standpoints into cohesive groupings with clear agendas. The modern political party is in a near-constant state of campaigning, participating in elections for public office and also supporting local movements and issues. They mobilise activists, hire advisors and political staff, craft comprehensive policy, and commission and conduct opinion polls and studies. These are all crucial aspects of any liberal democracy, but all come with a hefty price which must be paid for by someone.

Of course, smaller parties such as the Greens and UKIP would receive minimal state funding due to the fact that our national electoral system is majoritarian, rather than because of state funding itself. Within a proportional system, smaller parties would enjoy greater representation in Parliament and subsequently receive proportionate state funding.

To conclude, in the grand scheme of things, no other scheme rivals state funding in its ability to tackle, and depending upon the extent of the funding provided, eliminate the role of monetary influence in the political process. There really are only two options when it comes to party funding: either continue to have parties rely upon wealthy donors, or have the state support electorally-successful parties, thus establishing a neutral revenue stream and greater transparency in policy-making.