A leadership election opens up, uniquely, the opportunity to debate and decide on the future course of a government. I am standing because I believe there are several areas of policy where a fundamental change of direction is now needed. And though Spectator readers may initially be sceptical about the relevance of my policies to them, I believe that if they read on with an open mind, they’ll find much that they agree with. I’m sure they’ll agree, for instance, that New Labour and Tory policies have become similar, almost overlapping, which means that politics has become increasingly fixated on personalities, as though a blanket consensus on policy had been achieved. This is ridiculous. Old-style Toryism was rejected in 1997, and now New Labour — the continuing moving-right show — has clearly faded. It’s time, not for Old Labour either, but for a mainstream Labour approach — which may well represent majority opinion within the electorate but has been suppressed for over a decade — to be reasserted as a modern progressive politics with new solutions to today’s profound problems.
First, we need a foreign policy which asserts our fundamental British interests and is not cringingly subservient to the US. We must stop being America’s glove puppet — over Iraq and Lebanon, and now even more worryingly over Iran. Britain should insist that the nuclear stand-off against Iran must be resolved by negotiated means or through UN-imposed sanctions, not militarily, and should strongly discourage and oppose any US or Israeli attack, the longer-term consequences of which are incalculably dangerous.
To try to end the horrendous daily carnage in Iraq and to speed up our troop withdrawal from Basra, where our own military are openly saying our presence is actually exacerbating the security situation, we should, with EU partners and hopefully the US, be seeking to initiate a wider international peace conference bringing together all the relevant actors for a joint settlement of the interconnected Middle East issues of contention which experience has painfully shown cannot be settled singly. Such a conference would best be held under the auspices of the UN and involve the five permanent members of the Security Council, plus all the relevant power-brokers in the Middle East.
The outline of such a settlement can reasonably be envisaged. For Iraq itself, a federal structure may be the only solution, but on condition of an agreed allocation of the oil revenues. Clearly such a settlement must involve the establishment of a viable, independent Palestinian state, broadly in accordance with the 1967 borders, together with an international guarantee of Israel’s frontiers, with a demilitarised zone along its borders with the Palestinian state and Lebanon patrolled by an adequate UN force. A nuclear-free zone in the Middle East, involving both Iran and Israel as well as other nuclear aspirants within the region, should be a goal for the conference, though it may not be reachable. However, if it cannot be achieved, a much wider and very dangerous nuclear proliferation throughout the Middle East probably cannot be prevented. Economically, the suspension of the customs union between Israel and Palestine needs to be ended, and once reactivated, it should be extended to Lebanon and Jordan to establish a Middle East common market.
Another major issue in current British politics is the breakdown of government accountability. Power is increasingly concentrated at the top and key decisions taken, such as on Trident replacement and nuclear energy, before even a formality of democratic consultation. Within Parliament itself, decisions are forced through by a ruthless combination of patronage and whipped discipline, while the often thoughtful and sensible proposals of Parliamentary select committees are publicised but then ignored.
Parliamentary authority, which has withered in recent decades, needs to be urgently revived. The appropriate select committee could adopt the right to ratify (or not) nominations to the Cabinet made by the Prime Minister. Parliament could determine to set up its own committees of inquiry where the government refuses to do so, such as recently over rendition flights. It could also demand the right to ratify the membership and terms of reference of committees of inquiry where the Prime Minister does set them up. To ensure a more robust independence in select committees, their members could be elected by ballot of the whole House, not selected by the Whips. And the Liaison Committee, composed of chairs of all the select committees, could demand the right to table a motion for debate and vote on the floor of the House at least, say, once a month. In addition, the Royal Prerogative should be ended so that Parliament, not the Prime Minister unilaterally, decides whether to declare war, make international treaties and authorise military action.
Climate change is now the overarching issue facing the world. Tackling it should permeate every aspect of government — not just energy, but transport, industry, building standards, agriculture, public expenditure and taxation, and foreign policy. Though we are happily endowed with more renewable sources of energy, especially wind-power, than any other country in Europe, we are utilising only a minute fraction of it — only 4 per cent of our electricity generation comes from renewables compared with 10–25 per cent in Germany, France, Italy and Spain, and 35 per cent or more in Scandinavia.
We should be shifting away from massive old-fashioned power stations to decentralised energy systems, together with much more ambitious investment in large-scale offshore wind farms. We should require the airline industry, like every other industry, to reduce year by year their emissions, which are the fastest growing source of global warming. We should increase VED (vehicle excise duty) massively for gas-guzzling cars and use the proceeds to subsidise bus and rail, plus give large rebates to smaller-engine car owners. We should require industry to measure and make public their carbon imprint, and report on how they are annually reducing it. We should incentivise local food production which would regenerate British agriculture, dramatically cut air miles, and protect security of supply.
We should also tighten building standards so that all new construction at least meets the most energy-efficient standards already met in Europe and Scandinavia. We should give each family, according to its size and structure, a carbon entitlement which then has to be reduced each year in such a way as to reward the conscientious and penalise the wasteful. And in order to meet the target set by scientists of at least 60 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 compared with 1990, government should set a target of 3 per cent annual reduction in overall UK emissions. Underpinned by this comprehensive policy, Britain should gain the moral and political authority to lead the way internationally in pressing other countries, especially the US, China and India, to commit to an enhanced and extended new climate change policy beyond 2010.
There are of course many other important issues I intend to raise in this campaign, not least public-service reform and the enormous and growing inequality in our society which, incontrovertibly from the evidence of other countries, is clearly a major factor in increasing the social pathology we have been witnessing — increasing violence, worse health among poorer families, and higher teenage birth rates. But reasserting British independence, re-establishing government accountability, and taking a world lead on climate survival are central.