In a new pamphlet for Progressive Centre UK Chuka Umunna sets out a positive vision for Britain’s future which all progressives could coalesce around.
"Britain in 2019 is divided, lacking direction, leadership and hope. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can change our politics. The response must be a progressive one."
“It is time we dump this country’s old-fashioned politics and create a new politics that does justice to who we are today and gives this country a politics fit for the 21st Century not the last one. A politics that looks, listens and learns from ideas and experience elsewhere in the world to better inform the course we take at home.
Our departure from the status quo parties was in part framed by reference to what we were against and what we disliked both about the policies and the cultures of what we had left. This pamphlet sets out what I think those who subscribe to progressive politics are actually for.
This pamphlet is written in a personal capacity and deliberately so. Though all members of TIG share the same values and principles I have set out, and agree with much of what I have written, the ideas contained should not be considered a manifesto or the official policies of our group - the suggestions made are from me and should not be attributed to the group.”
Umunna sets out six key values around which he believes all modern British progressives can rally around: Unity, Reciprocity, Work, Family and Community, Democracy, and Patriotic Internationalism.
The pamphlet doesn’t pretend to have all the answers, but it does seek to start a genuine national conversation:
“Any politician who tells the voter on the doorstep that she or he can solve their every problem is lying. It’s notable that those on the extremes of our politics – be they Brexiters on their bus or the internet trolls of the hard-left – are convinced they have all the answers and that to even listen to anyone else is a ‘thought-crime’. Let them – that is not how people outside the Westminster bubble generally see it or approach life’s problems.
So, this pamphlet should be considered more a contribution to provoke a discussion, than in any way a prescription - because I believe we need a proper national debate. I have sought to put forward an agenda around which a new progressive consensus in our country could be forged.”
Reflecting the desire to start a national conversation, rather than offer prescriptive policies, Umunna offers seven key ideas that he says ‘Let’s Look At..’, intended to start, rather than finish, debate:
+ Addressing public anger at privatized essential services by putting public benefit at the heart of utilities through a new form of ‘Public Benefit Companies’ – ensuring their public purpose is at the heart of their mission without the huge price-tag of a 1940’s style nationalization.
+ Getting serious about excessive pay in the board room by learning from best practice elsewhere in Europe and tackling absentee shareholders.
+ Supporting students going to university from lower income households by means-testing tuition fees and reintroducing maintenance grants. Not wasting money on the most prosperous students by ending all tuition fees would free up resources for a ‘Marshall Plan for Skills’ – a national crusade to tackle Britain’s endemic skills crisis backed by serious money and a Minister sitting in Cabinet.
+ Ending the manifest unfairness of unearned dividend income being taxed less than income from work by equalizing tax rates on both and using the proceeds to fund universal childcare.
+ Being realistic about providing the NHS with the resources it needs by looking at an hypothecated NHS tax to help it meet the needs of an ageing society.
+ Taking practical action to bridge the growing ‘social apartheid’ in Britain by introducing compulsory ‘Citizen’s Service’ for school leavers.
+ Protecting our democracy from becoming the plaything of a few rich individuals by introducing fair funding for political parties, no matter how many anguished headlines it provokes.
Umunna’s pamphlet also looks in more detail at the biggest challenges facing Britain:
Recognising the overriding importance of renewing Britain’s economy, he outlines a ‘British Model’ that combines the strengths of the economic approach elsewhere in northern Europe with the best of our current Anglo-Saxon model.
Umunna believes six principles should underpin an ambitious economic agenda: results should supersede ideology; a strong society requires a strong economy; a strong economy is underpinned by a strong society; there need be no tension between embracing and encouraging enterprise and using the levers of state to the full, particularly to ensure fair competition; Britain needs to lock in long-termism and sustainability; the need to more confidently recognise the role of space and place - the aim should be for every region to prosper and a productivity strategy for the foundational economy.
He is determined that the politics has to stop being behind the curve on technology and both regulate and make best use for the public good of the technological changes transforming how we all live, work and play.
In order to make the most of tech opportunities across the whole of the UK, and not just ‘silicon roundabout’, he believes we need to lift R&D spending and formally bring together universities, business and local leaders to accelerate regional growth.
Reflecting the gap between the everyday use of technology and its under-utilization by government Umunna wants government to revolutionize its use of data: for example using wearable devices in the NHS could free up valuable staff time for patients.
This must be accompanied by taking on ‘technopolies’, ensuring firms pay fair tax regardless of their domicile and using a new British Sovereign Wealth Fund to invest in tech firms for the public good.
Britain in the World
Unashamedly pro-European, Atlanticist and internationalist Umunna is not afraid to advocate higher defence spending whilst being clear that the ‘special relationship’ with the United States is strengthened not weakened by being prepared to publicly state where we don’t see eye to eye with our closest ally.
Throughout the pamphlet Umunna stresses how British politicians need to open their eyes and learn more from what works, and what doesn’t in the policy initiatives being undertaken in other countries to tackle the same and similar big challenges to those faced by the UK.
Umunna concludes that this new agenda can only be pursued through a new progressive party:
“The truth is too many progressive people are sitting in parties which, through those parties’ words and deeds, are no longer true to their values. This leads to the inescapable conclusion that our politics needs to be reconfigured to better reflect modern Britain and that it is time for the different progressive political traditions to come together under one roof – a new progressive party.”
The full text of 'What are progressives for?' can be downloaded here.