A proposal for the Clarke-and-Milburn show (with update 2 March)

This evening, 1 March, I offered to the new Labour open debate forum set up by those two dodgy ex-Cabinet ministers, Charles Clarke and Alan Milburn, a pithy 10-point programme for a new Labour leader willing to take risks to re-energise a disillusioned Labour Party and to attract the attention and approval of an equally disillusioned electorate — especially, perhaps, the bits of it inhabiting Middle England, wherever that is.  At the time of writing, a couple of hours after I posted my proposals on their website, the Clarke-Milburn moderator is still presumably mulling over the pros and cons of passing it for public exposure.  In case it gets binned in the CC-AM thinktank out of a loss of nerve by its censor-in-chief,  here's what I offered.  It's not so revolutionary, now, is it? —

Here's a 10-point policy manifesto for a new Labour Party leader that would revive the enthusiasm of a now deeply disillusioned party membership (including the thousands who have left it but who might return after Mr Blair's departure) — and a programme that would also attract widespread support in Middle England where the next general election will be won or lost:

1. Renationalise the railways.

2. Abandon the plans for a National Identity Register and ID cards.

3. Begin the process of establishing an English parliament and executive with the same powers and functions as the Scottish equivalents.

4. Set up a Royal Commission to recommend measures for rationalising devolution arrangements throughout the UK (following the setting up of an English parliament and re-establishment of power-sharing in Northern Ireland) having as their final objective a federal United Kingdom with a written federal constitution.

5. Establish a  second chamber of the Westminster parliament wholly elected under a form of proportional representation, one-third of its members retiring by rotation every four years.  No party lists, no bishops, no members appointed by party leaders.  Functions and powers to be unchanged pending report of the constitutional Royal Commission (see (4) above).

6. Phase out foundation hospitals and government funding of faith schools. End contracting out of hospital cleaning services and bring them under the direct control of ward managers, as one of several essential measures to bring MRSA and C-Difficile infections in NHS hospitals under control.

7. Replace Control Orders by measures enabling the criminal courts (including judges and juries) in exceptional circumstances to hear limited and specially sensitive evidence in closed session so that terrorist suspects may be put on trial with due process, ending restrictions on anyone's liberties without trial.

8. Phase out tuition fees for higher education institutions and substitute generous tax concessions for all donations to them; restore means-tested grants to all qualifying students.

9. Introduce road pricing by road tolls and/or congestion charges in areas where traffic congestion imposes costs on society, but abandon any plans for vehicle tracking systems. Increase fuel duty rates as the fairest way to reduce carbon emissions from vehicles.

10. Announce a 9-month programme for withdrawing all British forces from Iraq and Afghanistan. Initiate discussions in the EU of establishing a standing peace-keeping force, including contributions by EU governments, under the auspices of the United Nations for deployment by decision of the Security Council.

~  ~  ~  ~  ~ 

Can such a programme really be too bold and radical for a party that claims to be centre-left? (I fear so. What do you think, Comrades Clarke and Milburn?)

Regular visitors to Ephems may detect the sound of hoofs on a keyboard when they read this.  It's just a couple of my best-loved hobby-horses galloping along trying to keep up.

Update (2 March 07): My contribution to 2020 Vision, whose text is above, has now appeared on the Clarke-Milburn website — several hours after it was posted, but better late than never.

I have now posted the following further message on the 2020 Vision website:

>>I am posting this comment as the only way to change my settings so as to remove the fatal tick from "Notify me of follow-up comments", in the hope that this might staunch the torrent of e-mails I'm now receiving containing the text of each comment posted here since my own of yesterday.   (My advice is to delete them all in your server's e-mail web-page or from a website such as mail2web, where they have already been downloaded, rather than wait for hours while your own PC downloads them into Outlook Express or Thunderbird or whichever e-mail system you use.)  Much easier to read all the comments on the 2020 Vision website, if you have the stamina for it.

Since it's impossible to reply to any individual comment (as you can in a blog as distinct from a website — see below), the check-box for receiving "follow-up comments" is misleading, pregnant with unintended consequences and redundant.  It should be removed.

While I'm at it, though, I might remark that this unstructured comments system is hopeless.  The comments inevitably address thousands of different policy issues (or in some cases none at all); they are far too numerous for anyone of sound mind to plough through them all;  the delay in putting them up while some moderator, or censor, decides whether they merit it means that hardly anyone takes up or argues the points in an earlier comment; there seems to be no separate website address for any individual comment (as there is on most proper blogs), so it's anyway impossible to refer back to a specific comment to distinguish it from hundreds of others — you can only 'search' for a name on the current page; so posting a comment is like bellowing into a telephone that isn't plugged in.   No replies, no counter-comments, no dialogue or debate at all. 

However, there's the beginning of a discussion in an interesting comment on my earlier contribution to 2020 Vision here and in the comment that follows it.  Proper blogging works better.

I doubt very much whether Comrades Clarke or Milburn will spend the necessary hours  every day reading page after page of largely unrewarding comments, and it's hard to see what criteria a paid reader could use to single out those worth passing on to them.  The 2020 Vision project should, I fear, be aborted.



9 Responses

  1. Phil says:

    Charles Clarke? I think some of this would be a bit radical for John McDonnell. It’s certainly too far out for Michael Meacher, which is saying something.
    I don’t disagree with any of it. More to the point, I can’t see these proposals raising many eyebrows at any Labour conference prior to the mid-1990s. How far we’ve come.

  2. Dee says:

    An English Parliament?  Well said.  I love you, Brian. 

    Gordon Brown would never approve of such a democratic establishment.  Not least because it puts paid to his ambitions to be the next ruler of England.  Where then would he find lab rats for his Scottish Socialist Policies?  Scotland?  Not bloody likely.  They would never let him sit in their Parliament.

  3. Well said Brian. An English Parliament  English First Minister and English Executive is urgently required.

    Brian writes: Yes, but the emphasis needs to be on the need for an eventual federation with full devolution of all domestic powers and responsibilities to the four 'nations', not just England, and for the benefit of the whole United Kingdom, not just England.  Emphasising English nationalism to the exclusion of all the other constitutional reforms required risks obscuring and even obstructing that necessary programme. 

  4. Ancient~Geek says:

    Hello Mr Barder

    I followed you here via the link on your posting on 20/20 Vision and I would like to congratulate you on your web site which is extremely trenchant and informative.

    I went originally to the 20/20 site because I was (perhaps naively) heartened to think that NL were allowing people a chance to have their say on things which might shape Labour policy over the next few years.

    I am not sure now what 20/20 is trying to achieve, but I think it needs to get its act together. Whatever Milburn and Clarke intended it to be it does have the potential to be a very useful sounding board for Labour to float new policy ideas and to engage in a genuinely participatory way with its electorate. I hope they decide to grasp that nettle, rather than just leaving it to wither on the vine, as will undoubtedly happen unless they get some order into the current chaos.

    Brian writes:  Thank you for your kind remarks about this blog and website.  I agree with you that 2020 Vision could be turned into a useful forum for  Labour Party supporters and members to debate policy issues for the post-Blair era, but (as I have said in this post and on 2020 Vision) it would need to be radically re-structured to achieve that.  And even then there would be a problem over separating the needles — such as your and my contributions! — from the copious quantities of hay. 

    I heartily agree with your own post on 2020 Vision and was flattered to see an earlier post in Ephems referred to in it — at least, I guess you were referring to http://www.barder.com/ephems/598.   

  5. madasafish says:

    You asked "Can such a programme really be too bold and radical for a party that claims to be centre-left?"

    Well try to be realistic is my advice

    Basically what you are saying is New Labour have got it all wrong and you are going to reverse most of their policies.

    You have not a snowball's chance in hell of persuading your party (you do support the Labour Party I assume?) to do that.

    And if they do, the Opposition will basically – and quite correctly . say "I told you so".

    So you will very cleverly prove Blair/Brown have been total incompetents from day 1.

    As for road pricing? Well there is a vociferous campaign against it. Since New Labour have a track record of abysmal failure on IT projects and a record of almost Stalinist intervention, how many voting motorists are likely to support you?

    Frankly I think if I voted Conservative or was David Cameron I'd back you all the way.

    Brian writes:  I am grateful for your advice.  I believe, though, that 'New Labour' has lost its way and that the new leadership will need to re-trace some (not all) of its steps if it is to have any hope of winning a fourth term — which would be a first term for plain Labour.  I agree however that it would require cogent leadership and some courage to gain public support for several of my propositions.  We could do with some of both.  Many of the measures that are going to be needed in the effort to reduce the effects of climate change will be extremely unpopular, but no government worth its name is going to drop them all at the first whiff of protest.    And, by the way, road tolls and increased fuel duty don't require huge IT systems.  The pernicious vehicle tracking proposal would.  Like the National Identity Register, it would be a vicious incursion into our personal privacy if it worked, which it probably, and hopefully, wouldn't. 

  6. Martin says:


    You know we sit at opposite ends of the spectrum, but your suggestions are not only entirely reasonable – most of them are plain common sense.

  7. Ken says:

    MRSA etc.  What is the hard evidence (as opposed to generally accepted myth) that dirty wards contribute?  Experts I've heard believe that isn't the cause.  (MRSA lives on people, not dirt.) But no one likes to say so (a) because of the likely media reaction (b) because clean wards are good for morale and high standards generally.  Sadly one of the things it seems would be a positive contribution against MRSA would be stricter controls on (germy) visitors.  

    E difficile, I guess you mean C, don't you?  Incidentally, since C stands for Clostridium, how come 'difficile' is pronounced in a sort of French way by broadcasters (and others)?  Isn't it also Latin, and so with four syllables?  Sounds too poncy?  But isn't a combination of Latin and French ridiculous? 

    Brian replies:  Thanks, Ken:  yes, of course I meant C-Difficile (I have now corrected the typo).  I too have wondered about the French-type pronunciation but I suppose it has come to stay.  The Latin pronunciation would create problems over how to say that 'c' ('s', 'k' or 'tch'?) and where to put the stress (ficcil?)!  I have no expertise about the causes of MRSA (or C-Diff) but I have read authoritative-looking articles that suggest strongly that poor hygiene is one of several causes, and that good hygiene in hospitals is vital to minimise the spread of MRSA from patient (or visitor, nurse, doctor, etc.) to patient:  see, for example, this NHS website. It's not much use spraying the hands of every visitor to a hospital if the ward visited is dirty with potentially contaminated litter and other even more unpleasant kinds of dirt.  In any case, it has surely been axiomatic since Florence Nightingale that hospitals need to be scrupulously clean if the spread of all kinds of infection is to be prevented or minimised, and we all have first-hand knowledge of NHS hospitals where (a) the wards are filthy and (b) MRSA and C-Difficile are rampant.  Now that more people are being killed by C-Difficile in a single year than are being killed in road accidents, it seems obviously urgent to take drastic action to curb these infections, and abandoning the failed policy of contracting out the cleaning of hospitals would be an essential first step.  I entirely agree that another necessary if unpopular preventive measure would be strictly to limit hospital visiting hours, as in the old days, with compulsory and strictly monitored hygiene checks and warnings for all visitors on arrival.  Private hospitals seem to succeed in keeping these horrendous infections at bay: why can't the NHS? 

    According to a Guardian report of 23 February 2007,

    The number of deaths caused by two superbugs soared in 2005, raising new concerns over the standard of hygiene at hospitals across the country. According to government statistics, the number of deaths linked to MRSA rose by 39% in 2005 and deaths linked to a second superbug, Clostridium difficile, increased by 69%.  …C. difficile is now recorded as the cause or a factor in more than twice as many deaths as MRSA: 1,629 people died after contracting MRSA and 3,807 after C. difficile in 2005.  The new figures show that C. difficile-related deaths now outnumber deaths on UK roads. In 2005, 3,201 people were killed in road accidents, a 1% fall on 2004.   

  8. ktc says:

    My goodness, what a refreshing change to see down to earth sensible script. Please do us all a favour and move into No 10.

    Brian writes:  Thanks you for that.  What a good idea! 

  1. 6 March, 2007

    […] Could the Labour party get my vote? The Labour party really couldn’t give a shit about my vote, and my opinion of the Labour party is that it is a lost cause. Left-thinking people of good conscience should not be supporting a party that does not and likely will not represent their views. But it’s an interesting question to ask what sort of Labour party we would like to see. In response to the wholly uninteresting Milburn-Clarke ‘open debate‘ on Labour’s future, Brian Barder has written an interesting 10-point plan for Labour. […]

    Brian adds:  I'm grateful for this and agree with almost everything in the Samovar's full post on the subject.  I have posted my own comments on it (here). 

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