In my previous post I focussed on the need for global solutions to global problems. In this post I return to domestic policies. On the home front I have already talked about the need to change our economic model and the need to enhance our democracy with PR – my two ‘headline’ areas of domestic policy. I now want to very briefly outline some other important areas.
The first of these is education, and particularly the need to enhance the national curriculum in order to make it fit for the 21st century. A political colleague of mine, an ecologist by training, has long called for ecology to be taught to all young people as part of their statutory education. Young people need to be taught the science of the relationships between all living organisms, including humans, and their physical environment. For far too long humans have considered ourselves to somehow be separate from the rest of nature. To be in position to fully appreciate and deal with the fast approaching climate and ecological crisis we need to understand the interconnectedness of all life and its intimate relationship with its environment. Related to this is the need to understand the science of complex systems, but I’ll go into detail on this on another occasion.
I also would also call for philosophy and critical thinking to be added to the national curriculum. As I argued in the first of this series of blogs, the toxic state of public discourse needs addressing as a matter priority. And this requires us learning how to think! Yes, I’m sure that we all think we can think – but how good at it are we really? How well do we understand the roll of emotions in decision making? To what extent do we appreciate the importance of being able to ask penetrating questions rather than repeat blind statements of ‘fact’? To what extent do we truly listen to people we disagree with and consider their arguments?
If we are going to make a serious attempt to address our climate and ecological emergency we will also need make serious reforms to our National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). Local planning authorities need to be given the powers to demand that all new developments are built to the highest standards of energy efficiency. We need to make a general ban on any new greenfield development and only consider brownfield sites – even if this involves building up rather than out and creating much higher levels of population density. Further, all new developments need to factor out car use. As a recent report has argued, any new development which will make the new occupants dependent on privately owned vehicles (whether they be fossil fuel or electric) needs rejecting.
These planning reforms will need a completely new approach to public transport. Whilst, on the one hand, we need to start redesigning towns and cities such that as many services as possible are accessible via active travel (walking and cycling), on the other we need to make public transport an easier and cheaper option than travelling by car. The bottom line here is that this will require massive subsidies from national government. In fact it will require public transport to be considered a public service under the direct control of national and local government. All the time that our bus and rail services are operated by companies whose main purpose is to make profit, people who do not live in areas of high population density will be denied efficient public transport – for the simple reason that there is insufficient use to make sufficient profit for the operators.
I haven’t got a magic solution to the problems facing the NHS, and if I’m honest I don’t feel that I have sufficient knowledge of how it works to make strong statements about what needs to happen, but creeping privatisation needs to be firmly resisted. We need to re-establish a public service ethos, not permit private companies to deliver services and extract profits even if those services remain free ‘at the point of delivery’. But not all services do remain free at the point of delivery. Assuming that you are able to register with an NHS dentist (or to be more accurate, a dentist employed by a private company delivering dentistry on behalf of the NHS) most people still have to pay for treatment. And I know that the recent pandemic has severely affected the delivery of all local health services but I really do believe it should be easier to get an opportunity to discuss your health concerns, including mental health issues, with your local GP.
And finally, the Royal Family! I’m sorry, but their time has ended. It’s time for them to go. Not only is there something fundamentally wrong with a modern democracy having an unelected Head of State, a person there simply by virtue of their birth, but it occurred to me this last week that perhaps something far more insidious is going on. Could it be that having a privileged person from a privileged family as Head of State makes us far too tolerant of privilege itself? The French, for example, who rejected such privilege back in 1789, are quick to get onto the streets in protest when they feel they are being taken for granted. Yet what do we do when taken for granted by a Prime Minister from a privileged background who thinks that the rules his government created don’t apply to himself? Nothing. Absolutely nothing!