The Radical Party campaigns to reform our devalued political system and so create an enduring basis for social justice and prosperity. The public want greater equality, good jobs, a strong NHS, and excellent schools. But they also want security, and understand that welfare demands sound public finance. To meet these aspirations we seek:
- a fresh social market vision to challenge the backward looking neo-conservatism and workerist rhetoric that has dominated political discussion since the 1980s;
- far-reaching reform, including every-vote-counts elections; proper governance standards in Parliament; and evidence-based policy, to take power back from newspaper proprietors and lobbyists, whose fake news and covert influence pervert and discredit our democracy;
- sustainable economic management, with equity between regions and generations and recognition that public provision funded through general taxation is the only fair way to achieve excellent health and education for all;
- a strong and commensurate response to climate change and global defence and security threats;
- a judicial and correctional system that is effective, egalitarian, evidence-based and humane;
- unambiguous rejection of the folly of Brexit and a commitment to work positively to develop a strong reform agenda within the framework of the European Union.
These objectives can only be achieved through far-reaching reform of a system of government which prioritises interests of the powerful at the expense of the public at large. All the great reforms: abolishing rotten boroughs and the slave trade; freedom of belief, and votes for women, were bitterly resisted and yet, when the public were mobilised, became irresistible.
What went wrong?
In recent decades, Britain has become sharply more divided, until it is now the third most unequal of the 24 OECD industrialised nations. The gap between rich and poor, and between the most and the least prosperous regions, is the worst in Northern Europe. While the share of the nation’s income taken by the very wealthy and the South East continues to rise, our manufacturing base declines; health, education and our system of justice are undermined; and young people are burdened by crippling debts and excluded from home ownership. As the welfare state is pared down, vulnerable people are forced to turn to food banks to nourish their families in what, taken as a whole, is still the sixth richest country in the World.
Advanced democratic market economies can be divided into two groups. The first, epitomised by the United States, is characterised by minimal state involvement in welfare; low taxation and a highly unequal distribution of wealth and income. The second group includes Canada and northern European nations such as Germany and the Nordic countries, which combine a strong role for the state in welfare provision, and greater equality in income and wealth.
In terms of growth, both models have proved successful; but in different ways. The US model has encouraged extraordinary advances in technology and innovation which (with a huge, integrated home market) have delivered average income amongst the highest in the World. But it has failed to deliver welfare standards which are taken for granted in northern Europe, with poverty alongside enormous wealth, poor school outcomes and a profit-oriented health system, which fails a significant proportion of the population.
As OECD surveys have repeatedly shown, the social market countries consistently top international rankings in terms of happiness, outperforming the United States by a wide margin. While poverty causes unhappiness, wealth above a fairly modest level has little effect on satisfaction, while personal safety, secure employment, good health care and the prospect of well-being in old age are essential to happiness at all income levels.
Britain abandons the social market model
When Labour came to power in 1945, Britain adopted the northern European social market economy model and with strong public support, a political consensus developed around a strong welfare state. But handicapped by a small home market and catastrophic industrial relations, Britain was soon slipping behind the countries of the European Economic Community. At first, attempts were made to tackle these problems without fundamentally challenging the consensus over welfare provision. After unsuccessful bids in 1963 and 1967, the UK eventually joined the EEC in 1973. But efforts to re-mould labour relations led to the defeat of Labour in 1970, the Conservatives in 1974 and Labour again at the end of the decade.
These conflicts led to the election of Mrs Thatcher, who came to power in 1979 with a ready-made alternative model of society developed by neo-conservatives in the United States, which involved far-reaching privatisation, cuts in tax and welfare funding, and attacks on employment rights. The Labour Party initially contested these efforts to break with the social market model, but to escape from the political wilderness ended up selecting as its leader Tony Blair, who relaunched the Labour Party as “New Labour”, adopting much of Mrs Thatcher’s US inspired neo-conservative philosophy, but in the process depriving Labour of any clear alternative vision of society.
This new consensus, was justified by two assertions: first, that reducing the role of the state was essential for faster growth; and, second, that cutting taxes on the wealthy would benefit poor people through the so-called trickle-down effect. But in fact, neither of these claims has been borne out by experience. The European social market economy model has actually proved very successful at promoting long term growth. Average incomes in countries such as Denmark, Finland and Germany are among the highest in the world. The trickle-down effect has also proved an illusion, with low tax Singapore, the US and the UK experiencing the worst inequality in the developed world.
Wealth follows power, and as the British electoral system sidelined a large proportion of the population, politicians persuaded themselves that it was in the national interest to manage affairs in ways that benefited people like themselves. This process ultimately led to the Brexit campaign of June 2016, in which a handful of billionaires high-jacked the referendum to open the way to a low-tax economic strategy based on cuts in public services, real wages and employment rights, and a bi-lateral trade relationship negotiated from a position of weakness with an increasingly nationalistic US.
An experiment that failed
International experience shows that gross inequality in the UK is not an inevitable consequence of globalisation or technological change, but the result of a failure of political will and our fossilised first past the post political system. Once the Mother of Parliaments, Britain today is a disgrace to the name of democracy with deplorable levels of turnout in elections and governments returned against the wishes of a substantial majority of the electorate. Without any coherent alternative long term vision, successive Labour, Coalition and Conservative Governments, turned Britain into a laboratory for a menagery of right-wing pet causes (private prisons, academies, foundation hospitals, debt-based tuition fees, police commissioners, executive mayors) inspired by think tanks linked to the US Republican Party, which have generally made matters not better but worse.
The Thatcherite consensus became a political straight jacket, impervious to the evidence of bulging prisons, mounting household debt and growing numbers of homeless people on the streets. Still, after three decades, no serious attempt has been made to assess the impact of this experiment on our prosperity, choices and quality of life. Elements of the agenda, labour market reform, inward investment, and the withdrawal of the state from the manufacturing sector, have encouraged diversification and flexibility. But on balance, comparing Britain’s record with Germany, Canada and Scandinavia, it is clear that the experiment as a whole has failed to deliver what the public were promised.
The rich have got dramatically richer, but the promised quid pro quo – that wealth would trickle down to the less well off – has failed to materialise. The need for a welfare system safety net is greater than ever: growth has been slower, not faster, since Mrs Thatcher came to power than in the decades before. In terms of income per head, the UK remains in much the same position relative to comparable EU member states as it was. Tireless efforts to transfer control of publicly funded schools from local authorities and parents to private sector and religious organisations has left the UK second to bottom of the 24 OECD countries in terms of key educational indicators. The marketisation of health provision in England has fed an army of private contractors and lobbyists but (according to the OECD) has left the Health Service performing no better in England than in Scotland, where care has continued to be delivered by NHS employees free from the burden of obligatory outside tendering. For a nation which built the NHS, the BBC and the best university system in the World to end up putting health care up for auction, forcing local authorities to abandon their role in meeting the need for social housing and leaving the nation dependant on the Chinese state to keep the lights on has nothing to do with good economics – it is folly.
An agenda for social justice and prosperity
Echoing Lenin, Mrs Thatcher said: “There is no alternative”, but looking at experience around the World, it is clear that there is nothing inevitable about wasteful extravagance alongside food banks and debt and a prison system full of young people who cannot properly read or write. Talent and effort and risk-taking are crucial to our prosperity and should be rewarded, but differences in wealth must not be allowed to determine political influence or access to health, education and justice.
If we are to create a society which is both economically successful and socially inclusive, we must break free from the dogmas of the 1980s, left and right, and build a new model which combines real democracy with sound economic management, equality of opportunity and a strong welfare state. As the Institute of Fiscal Studies demonstrated, the 2017 manifesto promises of both the Conservative and Labour Parties were dishonest. It is not possible to fund tax cuts for the better off by cutting spending on public services without causing great hardship for the less well off. At the same time, large increases in spending on the NHS, schools, nursery education and free university tuition cannot be paid for simply by increasing taxes on the wealthy.
The Radical Party, therefore, puts democracy back where it belongs as the key to creating a fairer society. It campaigns for long overdue reforms to shift power from the very wealthy to the electorate and calls for a fresh model of society based not on the naked capitalism of Murdoch and Trump, but on a modern vision of the social market, which has proved so successful in other parts of northern Europe.
We aim, by reforming our devalued political system, to restore democratic choice to the central role in shaping the evolution of British society and so create an enduring basis for social justice and prosperity. Powerful, entrenched forces are opposed to radical reform and building an effective alternative based on meaningful democracy cannot be achieved overnight. But all of the great progressive reforms in our history: abolishing rotten boroughs and the slave trade; freedom of belief, and votes for women, were bitterly resisted at the time and yet, when the public were mobilised, became irresistible.
The aims which we share with millions of fellow citizens can be achieved, but only through far-reaching revision of a system of government which has been hijacked to serve the interests of a tiny minority. The first aim of the Radical Party is to bring about such change. Join us in this struggle – our future depends on it!
The way forward
The mission of the Radical Party, to build a just, prosperous and outward looking Britain by giving real power back to the electorate, involves many aspects of our society. To this end, the Party will develop a platform of policies based on its founding principles of democracy, inclusiveness, solidarity and international partnership.
The objectives set out below are not a blue print, but are pointers to the direction of travel, to be developed and strengthened through consultation and debate. Objective One proposes an agenda for restoring power to the electorate. Objectives Two to Seven set out our priorities for creating an efficient, plural economy and a humane and egalitarian society within the framework of a modern, social market and vision of society within a framework of international partnership.