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24 November 2010

Manifesto for a modern society

It's been a while since I posted to this blog. Have moved to London, worked for Directgov, moved the blog to a new plaform, changed my main site hosting provider, changed the hosting provider for a site for No10, worked for News International. Well there's been a lot going on. In the meantime I've just found some notes I made a while back at the time of the Labour Leadership contest. Hope you enjoy them.

Manifesto for a modern nation
1.    Withdraw over time the state funding of religious schools. The state should support religious buildings but not the religious education of children. The state’s inspectors should be able to inspect all aspects of religious teaching.  The study of religion in historical context and understanding of the world is important, but religious studies should be optional
2.    The health service should be free. This means eye tests, prescriptions for all and essential dentistry including check ups. Why make the middle classes pay for prescriptions yet rich people get heart operations for free. This inconsistency dates from how well dentists and opticians lobbied in the days the NHS was set up and really has no place in the 21st century.
3.    Abolish ‘Sunday’ laws. We live in a country where some people are non-religious and others observe days other than a Sunday. There is no logical reason why shops and the sale of alcohol should vary on a Sunday just because it is a Sunday; we want a modern nation where one religion should not dictate terms to all irrespective of their religious background. Personally I also find it annoying in England that I can't go out for the day and enjoy myself in the countryside then do the shopping when I come home. The big shops shut at 5pm.
4.    Abolish discrimination of all kinds. As an employer, I cannot hire on the basis of age. That is illegal and justly so, yet if I wish to go into self-employment , there are grants available for young people. This simply disadvantages older people with commitments and makes it harder for experienced people to set up in business. This inconsistency and others like it must end if we want to live in a fair society. Why have one rule for employers but another for government grants?
5.    Encourage a culture where going to the pub is seen as a social family occasion, including children. This culture works well on the continent. By all means ban drinking to those under age, but children should be able to see adults drinking responsibly and growing up with that good example.
6.    Ban the inclusion of service charges in restaurant bills.  If I want to leave a tip it should be optional, not mandatory. This will allow fair and transparent pricing.
7.    Require all call centres to have a maximum queue time of 1 minute and allow the person to request a call back after this time. Too much time in this nation is being wasted hanging on hold listening to hold music rather than being productive. The contact centre industry has deemed it acceptable that people can be waiting for 20+ minutes plus to get a call answered. This is a totally inefficient use of everyone’s time. How are we supposed to get anything done if we're stuck on hold listening to "your call is important to us". Well if it was, you wouldn't need the message because you would have already picked up the phone.
8.    In a modern digital society where paying electronically is increasingly the norm, all prices regardless of the means of payment must be the same and there will be no minimum charge or extra fees for using electronic payment methods. The banks to get their acts together to reduce the charges passed onto merchants accordingly. If I can do micropayments or buy a song on itunes for less than a pound, there is no possible justification whatsoever for a £5 charge to buy an airline flight other than “everyone else is doing it”.
9.    The study of British customs and traditions to be encouraged to give people a sense of identity.  Welsh to be available in all Welsh schools, Irish in all Northern Irish schools and Scots Gaelic or Scots in all Scottish schools, local culture and history in English schools. This isn't a political statement, Northern Ireland needs to look to the rest of the UK to see it's not a political statement in Scotland or Wales. Having children grow up not knowing about their own local placenames and history is totally inexcusable for a modern educational system (my local school banned Gaelic for instance and my children’s school taught about the Chinese new year but couldn’t teach about pagan Hallowe’en). What sort of education is this?
10.    Repeal the act of settlement. The monarch should be free to marry a person of any faith or none. In the event that the monarch themselves is non Anglican, the head of the Anglican church to pass temporarily to the next in line to the throne or someone who works in the church full time (e.g. Archbishop of Canterbury or similar). Scotland manages on the basis of having an annually elected head, perhaps a lesson here for England?
11.    Create a democracy act that allows the views of the people to overcome political self-interests. Should it be clear that 30% of the electorate wish to express their views on a subject in a formal referendum, then that referendum shall be held and political parties free to campaign for whatever position they prefer.  Not holding the referendum is an insult to democracy (e.g. the lack of a referendum on a Scottish parliament whilst the Conservatives were in power 1992-1997).
12.    The Royal Family should be taxed the same as everyone else but considered as a company. The company income includes income from crown lands, and tourism effect of the royal family. Add this up, take off corporation tax and the rest is theirs to live off.  I think they would in fact be better off under this arrangement, which seems fair enough. This isn’t a pro or anti royalist move, merely that I think the present system of funding is unfair and doesn't reflect their true value.
13.    Recognise that England and Wales together do not in any sense form a nation. Thus “The national curriculum” “the national trust” being only entities that refer to England and Wales should be properly renamed to reflect a correct sense of identity.
14.    Upon leaving public service, the prime minister to pay for any security arrangements required as a result of their activities from their own funds. There is no reason why current tax payers should foot the bill for famous former public servants to become even richer via signings, etc.
15.    Where the government undertakes the random examination of tax affairs or the random selection of businesses to complete forms for the government’s benefit, the government to reimburse accordingly. Same applies for jury service. Noone should be out of pocket for fulfilling a mandatory public duty by random selection, this is an “unlottery”.
16.    Following a general election, the party which has won the most seats is given the first opportunity to form a government, as in Scotland.
17.    Members of the House of Commons to refer to each other by their common name and not their job title. It is the House of Commons after all, not the house of jobtitles
18.    There should be some leeway for young children to be able to cycle on the pavement. Seems like common sense. Equally cycles in London to be fitted with number plates. I see almost total disregard for traffic lights in London from cyclists. Time they followed the rules of the road, as a pedestrian I'm fed up having to avoid cyclists that ignore red lights.
19.    Give notice that all leaseholds on properties to be abolished following a suitably long timescale. The idea of buying a property only for it to revert back to someone else’s ownership eventually is little better than feudalism, leaseholds are comparatively rare in Scotland compared to England, time for England to reform and keep up.
20.    Allow parents to make the choice between themselves who takes time off work to care for a child. It should be the parent’s choice, not the state expressing an assumption the mother might take up to a year but the father has to return after 2 weeks.
21.    Require all organisations to take due care with personal data. This includes but is not necessarily limited to the fact that companies house publishes directors names and dates of birth online at minimal charge and freely available to anyone. Completely unacceptable
22.    Make opting out of junk mail the default on the electoral register
23.    The government to invest in startups so that is sees a return on its money. It works for universities.
24.    Prostitution to be taxed and legalised so that it can be controlled and policed more effectively. The revenue to be used to protect those forced into it against their will. I don't like it, I don't want it happening, but accepting the reality that it happens allows both people to be protected and taxes to be raised.
25.    Marrying your cousin to be made illegal
26.    People to be allowed to register at a GP of their own convenience (ie near their work) if their own local GP does not offer evening or weekend appointments.
27.    The BBC licence fee to be abolished and raised from income tax. Far too much time and money is wasted on collection and non payers.
28.    Vehicle licence duty to be abolished and a visible MOT disc/ insurance disc to be shown instead to visibly show if the vehicle is safe and legal. The lost revenue to be transferred to the cost of having the MOT done. This works in Ireland.
29.    Hereditary and religious peers to be abolished. Religion and accident of birth should have no place in objective lawmaking.
30.    If 16 is legal to marry and have children, then it should also be old enough to vote.
31.    If having a ranked voting system is good enough for selecting the Labour Leader, it is good enough to also vote MPs into office.
32.    Laws on musical performance are inconsistent and badly implemented. If a football crowd in pub sings “You’ll never walk alone” (a copyrighted song) no one seems to care. Yet if a guy in the corner with a guitar sings his own material, the venue needs a performance licence. Surely we can legislate better than this?
33.    Airline security to be consistent. If we are trying to defeat terrorists then being able to walk onto a BA flight without photo ID yet requiring a passport to do the same flight on Ryanair is wholly inconsistent
34.    If a person goes bankrupt in their private life, this should not affect them being a company director provided that the said company has no debt facilities. After all, being a company director might be the person’s quickest route to paying off their debt. Forcing them to work for someone else could well lower their ability to earn and pay their debts back.
35.    The creation of a universal contactless payment method for businesses and a tie up with major payment providers. Millions of hours are wasted maintaining manual accounts each year, mistakes are made in accounts and in tax calculations. It should be possible to tie up a payment method directly with a business’ accounts such that the transaction in the high street is filed correctly automatically (including VAT), reducing the capacity for fraud and error
36.    Smoking in cars to be made illegal. First off it is at least as distracting as using a phone, secondly the smoke film builds up inside the car increasing glare at dusk and reducing visibility and thirdly stats have shown that smokers as a group are more comfortable with higher levels of risk. Car insurance companies to ask people if they are smokers and then premiums adjusted accordingly.
37.    Smoking in a car with children in the car to be made illegal, smoking within a home where there are children to be illegal, fines to be increased for dropping fag ends on the pavement. It causes cancer. If you inflicted cancer on your children via other means you'd be locked up. Why should smoking be any different?
38.    National Insurance. Why? Get rid of it and roll it into income tax. Tax system in this country is far too complicated.

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