The Radical Party campaigns to reform our out-dated 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. We seek:
- a new vision that places the emphasis on building a cohesive, productive and more equal society by creating opportunities for people from all works of life to play an active role in decision-taking on our public life;
- every-vote-counts elections; high governance standards in Parliament; and evidence-based policy, to take power back from entrenched interests 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 public services for all;
- a judicial and correctional system that is effective, egalitarian, evidence-based and humane;
- a determined campaign to persuade the public to opt for a future that involves our remaining a member of the EU, while working with like-minded member states to address legitimate public concerns;
- alongside international partners, a strong and commensurate response to climate change, global defence and security threats.
These objectives are the driving force behind the creation of the Radical Party. They can be achieved, but only through far-reaching changes to a system of government which manifestly prioritises the 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. The time has come for a powerful new wave of reform to create a modern, responsive democracy and provide the basis for a society of social justice and opportunity for all.
What Went Wrong?
In recent decades, Britain, in the 1970s, the second most equal large European country, has become sharply more divided, until it is now the most unequal of them, and the third most unequal of 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 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 homeownership. As the welfare state is pared down, vulnerable people turn to food banks to nourish their families in what overall, is still the sixth richest country in the World.
Advanced 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, social market, 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.
Both models have proved successful in terms of growth; 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 incomes among 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. Poverty causes unhappiness but wealth above a modest level has little effect, 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
When Labour came to power in 1945, Britain adopted the northern European social market economy model and, with clear public support, a political consensus developed around full employment, decent housing for all and a strong welfare state. But handicapped by a small home market, Britain was soon slipping behind the countries of the European Economic Community. 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 and the abandonment of the objective of secure, well-paid employment for all. The Labour Party initially contested these efforts to break with the social market model but to escape the political wilderness ended up selecting as its leader Tony Blair, who adopted much of Mrs Thatcher’s neo-conservative philosophy, depriving Labour and the country 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 while avoiding gross inequality. Average incomes in countries such as Denmark, Finland and Germany are among the highest anywhere. The trickle-down effect has also proved an illusion, with the US and the UK experiencing among the worst inequality in the developed world.
Wealth follows power and as the British electoral system sidelined a majority of the population, politicians persuaded themselves that it was in the national interest to manage affairs in ways that benefited key groups of voters, and their financial backers. This ultimately led to the referendum campaign of June 2016, in which millions of pounds were spent on a social media campaign which ridiculed any serious analysis of the likely impact of leaving the EU. It also drowned out the argument that exclusion from the European Single Market would oblige Britain to negotiate its trade relations from a position of weakness, leading to lower employment, health and environmental standards and threatening the economic and legal foundations of aspects of the welfare state which have long been taken for granted.
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 conscious political decisions and of our fossilised first-past-the-post political system. Once the Mother of Parliaments, Britain today is in urgent need of democratic renewal with low turnout in elections, governments regularly returned against the wishes of a majority of the electorate and a high level of disenchantment towards politicians and the political process. Without any coherent alternative long-term vision, successive Labour, Coalition and Conservative Governments, turned Britain into a laboratory for a menagerie 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 much 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 and inward investment promotion, for example, may have encouraged diversification and flexibility, but on balance, comparing Britain 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 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. Tireless efforts to transfer control of publicly funded schools from local authorities and parents to private sector and religious organisations have left the UK second to bottom of the 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 has left the Health Service performing no better in England than in Scotland, where care has continued to be delivered free from the burden of obligatory outside tendering. For a nation which built the NHS, the BBC, a vibrant manufacturing sector and the best university system in the World to put health care up for auction, force local authorities to abandon their role in meeting the need for social housing and education and leave the nation dependent 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, the initiator of the neo-conservative counter-revolution, once 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 by cutting 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 taxing the very wealthy and increasing debt.
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 and excessive material advantages away from the few a fresh model of society based not on unconstrained capitalism nor on the back-to-the-future Marxism of the current Labour leadership, but on a modern vision of the social market, which has proved so successful in other parts of northern Europe.
The Way Forward
The mission of the Radical Party, to build a just, prosperous, cohesive and outward-looking Britain by giving real power back to the electorate, involves many aspects of our society. To this end, the Party is developing a platform of policies based on its founding principles of democracy, inclusiveness and solidarity.
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. The objectives, which we share with millions of fellow citizens, can be achieved, but only by establishing a clear vision of the kind of society that we aim to build and through far-reaching revision of a system of government which has been hijacked to serve the interests of a tiny minority.
The objectives set out below are not a blueprint, 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 Nine set out our priorities for creating an efficient, plural economy and a humane and egalitarian society in the framework of a modern, social market vision of society and a strong engagement with our international partners. Join us in this mission!