There are only 45 days left until the general election.
Get set for a bombardment on all sides as each party launches its own manifesto and embarks on an offensive, charming or otherwise, to win your vote.
As someone with absolutely no influence of any kind, which gives me as much power as just about every other schmuck out there with wearing a party rosette, I feel it’s only fair to join in.
And so I’ve composed the Franifesto, a list of policies I consider essential before I’d even consider putting my X in the box next to a party’s name.
1. An NHS free at the point of use – yes, it probably could not be more of a cliché for old lefties like me, but in my opinion, the NHS is perhaps the greatest thing any British government has created. A health service that cares for an individual’s health needs from cradle to grave is the very essence of a civilised nation. I believe this wealthy nation of ours can well afford to maintain the NHS without giving the private sector the opportunity to make money from the sick.
2. Affordable, available housing – the UK’s obsession with home-ownership has been one of my bugbears for years. For three decades, we’ve been programmed to see a house not as a home but as a money-making asset. But – heresy though it might be for some to hear – not everyone wants to buy a house or saddle themselves with a mortgage (in 1986, aged 21, I bought my first flat with an endowment mortgage that the building society manager told me I’d pay off when I was 46. I thought “I’ll never be 46!” At 46, I still had a mortgage and still had about 15 years to pay for it on my fifth property since that first flat. Renting all those years would have had exactly the same effect for me). Affordable rental accommodation with secure tenure is a must, not just in the cities but in rural areas, too. Along the way, the party that promises to end the absolute scandal of taxpayers funding landlords through housing benefit will get my vote. I won’t hold my breath.
3. Jobs that pay a living wage – Yes, I know. Governments can’t just conjure jobs up out of nowhere. But they sure as hell can stop employers returning the job market to the Victorian era where zero-hours contracts have effectively tied workers to a company with no guarantee of work. The minimum wage has done a world of good, but it’s literally not enough. Governments can also use their influence to encourage employers to invest in their staff through education and training. It ain’t rocket science, but it works.
4. A public transport system worth of the name – I pity the poor sods who have the misfortune to have to commute in or out of London on that creaking rail system and pay up to £5,000 for the privilege. Or those who live in rural areas and rely on those behemoths of the bus world such as Stagecoach or Arriva to deign to provide any kind of service. Both rail and bus systems benefit from an enormous public subsidy. That’s you and me paying the private sector for the privilege of failing to provide us with any kind of public transport system that works for most of the people, most of the time. The East Coast Rail Line was brought back into public ownership after its private sector operator reckoned it couldn’t make enough money from it and proceeded to turn a profit for us for the next five years. Funnily enough, it’s now been put out to franchise again, just as costs have gone down and profitability has gone up. Funny that. Well, enough. Rail and bus services should be run with the public in mind, not shareholders.
5. Renewable energy – I know some (if you’ll pardon the pun) bright sparks are concerned about what we do when renewable energy runs out, but trust me, we’ve got a way to go. So while we’re building a whole load of new and affordable housing – preferably through housing associations or community trusts – every single new building should come complete with solar panels and as many energy efficiencies as we can afford. Throw in subsidies to private housebuilders to make them create zero-energy builds and we’d be making a start – albeit a small one – on the way to reducing our reliance on carbon fuels. And reducing our reliance on the big six energy companies along the way. Worth every penny of the investment, I’d say.
6. Remembering that not everything is about money – One of my mother’s favourite phrases was to dismiss someone as “knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing”. People, not just politicians, who constantly put a price on essential services – you know, like social work or care for the elderly – and say we just can’t afford it miss a crucial point: some things are worth so much more than money. Will Hutton made that point in the Observer this week. It’s about what kind of society we want, not whether we can afford that kind of society. Ask people to invest in their community, to feel they are a genuine part of something bigger than just their household and they get it, they understand it and they value it. Think about more than just numbers, politicians, give us a vision of a nation that we’d all aspire to live in. And maybe, just maybe – with apologies to the Rolling Stones – we might not get what we want, but we’d get what we need.