Councillor John Bates advocates coming together with other like-minded groups under the banner of a Reforming Alliance.
We are a very small party, and history has shown us that small parties fare badly under our FPTP electoral system. This has ever been so and the only new party which has enjoyed meaningful success in the last 100 years has been the Labour Party - and much of that success was owed to the mass trade union movement providing support.
There has been much talk of a “Progressive Alliance". Such alliances have been tried in the past and failed for a variety of reasons. Progressive policies can be wide and varied in intent and implementation. For that reason alone it is difficult to agree coherent policies for a manifesto and even more difficult to inform and convince the electorate of the effectiveness of a "Progressive Manifesto".
Nonetheless, an alliance is necessary if smaller parties are to succeed and if the status quo is to face a serious challenge. What is needed is a manifesto around which all smaller parties can coalesce and which the electorate can readily understand and endorse with their vote. I can think of only one idea which can attract the necessary strong level of support to be effective.
The one thing which all small parties can agree about, and which many electors would receive well if it is presented properly, is the idea of reform. Electoral Reform is the obvious feature of such an idea but it is not the only reform needed. Alongside ER should sit reform of the House of Lords, the need for a written constitution and almost certainly decentralisation. Of course, most politicians could think of many other areas for reform but these are big, central issues which the problems of the last few years have shown to be in need of radical change.
None of the larger parties will address any of these issues and larger small parties, such as the Green Party, will be unlikely to spend time on these issues at the moment. This is to our advantage. Although the idea will not be easy to sell to other small parties it is worth our while trying to do so. If we can begin to bring other parties on board with the idea, we place ourselves in the driving seat of reform and we have a few years in which to work at it.
One of the problems associated with previous attempts at reform is that they have always been discussed and debated from within government time. This has given the vested interests of the status quo massive opportunities to tell lies and mislead people with regard to the merits of any suggested reforms. A manifesto for reform can present the electorate with fully developed reforms, reforms which suit us to the greatest possible extent. The small parties will have worked out the reforms and begin selling them to the public before the larger parties can begin their lies. Make no mistake, the larger parties will seek reforms which suit them best and which will be least helpful to us. We must take the lead.
No party working within the system has yet succeeded in changing that system, and I see no reason to suppose that we will fare any better. What is needed is a radical, imaginative idea. I think the choice is simple: we either choose to work within the system, or work with other small parties. As a party seeking to renew faith in politics and to change our country for the better, we prepare those changes ourselves and offer worked-out solutions to the electorate as part of a “Reforming Alliance”.
Henry Bettley wonders whether the solution to the ever-developing "Scotland Question" lies in our Anglo-Saxon past.
As the Labour leadership election heats up (gradually, remember the winner won’t be announced until April 4th, so strap in!), the candidates are taking every opportunity to set out their stalls. Now the topic has moved on from the traditional Brexit/Corbyn questioning, and onto the subject of devolution. Starmer calls for a federal United Kingdom, with more power for existing devolved assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and hints of an English devolved body. This echoes earlier comments from Long-Bailey where she calls for more power to be devolved out of Westminster to the regional and local levels, “where it belongs.”
These are familiar views both to those with a niche interest in constitutional reform, and to those looking for a solution to the Scotland conundrum: the SNP cannot be ignored forever. English nationalists have often complained about the sovereignty of Scotland being superior to that of England. A parliament for England would redress this imbalance, and allow for more powers to be devolved across the board. But the real problem is in Westminster, where the framework within which devolved powers must operate is dictated.
No matter how it is determined, any vaguely proportional system of representative democracy in Westminster will lead to a parliament that is, in line with population, around 84% English in make up, with 8%, 5% and 3% drawn from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland respectively. The sheer numbers of the English will lead to an inevitable dominance in any system which attempts to give equal autonomy to each of the four nations, without fudging the calculus in favour of the smaller members.
Over the summer, I attended a climate protest in Central London. All sorts were there: a lot of “crusties”, granted, but also children of all backgrounds, people of all ages, members of all nations. And a few political outsiders, seeking out people at the fringes of ideological thought who might just see eye to eye with them on their niche passion. I had a brief and entirely unproductive interaction with a man with a megaphone who accepted global heating, but denied that it was a bad thing that life on earth might go extinct. Another focused on the Second Coming as our last hope; a lot of the news recently might seem to corroborate his story. And standing in the wind on the flank of Parliament Square, loyally displaying his banner, was a representative of the Wessex Regionalists. As a sometime enthusiast of Anglo-Saxon history and occasional wanderer of Somerset, my heart went out to a man celebrating his quaint heritage in the face of English cultural homogeneity.
We spoke for a while about his project. He wanted to be independent from the UK, as one of a number of states set up in a loose association with others along the lines of the heptarchy. Under the heptarchy, England was comprised of 7 major nations - Wessex, Essex, Sussex, Northumbria, Mercia, Kent and East Anglia - alongside a handful of smaller regions such as Cornwall. An archaic idea, perhaps, but one that takes seriously the strong regional identities that exist not just between the nations of the UK, but its regions. Anyone who has spent time outside of London, for example, knows of the disdain and bemusement that is often felt for the city and similar sentiments are echoed across the UK.
The Wessex Regionalists are part of a growing movement of regional identity which is often presumed to be the preserve of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Much is made of the Welsh language and its role in the revival of Welsh nationalism. But more interesting is the Cornish language, Kernewek, brought back from the dead in 1904 by Henry Jenner after a 100-odd year hiatus. It is now a lively language as seen in names, schools and the arts. Electronic musician Aphex Twin has used Cornish words as track titles, and indie-popper Gwenno released Le Kov in the language in 2018. Cornwall has had a thriving independence movement for a while now, with a militant wing claiming responsibility for a fire that tore through one of Rick Stein’s restaurants. It has a cultural heritage distinct from England as a historically Celtic, rather than Anglo-Saxon nation (it was known to the Anglo-Saxons as “West Wales”).
But the Wessex Regionalists show that at least on some level there is a hunger for independence in other parts of the country. There is a similar movement in historical Mercia, whose platform is quite developed and whose constitution for the proposed nation is among the best that I have ever come across. The Yorkshire Party ride on a wave of regionalism perhaps inspired by the county’s showing at the 2012 Olympic Games, where they would have finished 12th if counted as an independent nation. I floated the idea of taking my native Essex on its own path to independence. The more independence the better, was the response. After a tense negotiation over whether it was those in Essex, Wessex, Sussex, Kent or Mercia who could lay claim to London (we agreed to shelve the discussion), we parted ways.
Is this man and the movement that he represents paving the way towards a solution to the constitutional imbalance that exists between the nations of the UK? Scotland on its own can have little power in a representative system, with only 8% of the UK’s representatives. The same goes for Wales and Northern Ireland - areas with their own distinct cultural heritage and particular political requirements, but only a minor voice in Westminster. Scaling up their power in parliament would mean steamrolling the principles of proportional regional representation. Scaling down the rest, however, might be the answer.
Balanced against the regional power of Wessex, Mercia, Northumbria, or Yorkshire these blocs suddenly find themselves as partners in a system that is sensitive to regional sentiment. It would be strange for many to discover a new identity beyond the embedded, but eroding, “Englishness”. But stranger things have happened, and perhaps the future of our constitution really does lie in our pre-Norman past.
Boris Johnson has claimed the phrase “the people” for himself and his party. How has this been allowed to happen?
It is interesting how we choose to refer to members of states. Some countries employ the word “citizens”, which carries with it connotations of rights, powers and equality. Other countries, particularly former and current communist states, use “people” - People’s Armed Police in China, Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea, for example. This functions as a useful branding technique to assert that bodies are acting on behalf of the people as an entire unit, when the reverse is often true.
Although in the UK we do have citizenship, we cannot correctly be termed citizens as we are technically subjects under monarchical rule. And we tend to shun the use of “the people” as being populist (the two terms have a common Latin root, populus). Generally, we have stuck to “public” or “general public”, which carries limited connotations and is an intentionally neutral term. It implies adulthood and membership of the state, but little else.
But “people”, has started recently started to crop up in British politics. One of the most notable recent applications was Brexit being branded "the will of the people," although no one could quite distil what this actually amounted to. This was inherently populist as, despite being backed by elites in government and the media, it was pitched as an opportunity for "the people" to take on "the establishment." In the following years, the People’s Vote campaign, which although anti-populist in nature, did attempt to turn itself into a populist movement, albeit with limited success. Its attempt to turn “the people” against the Brexiteers was undermined by the fact that it relied too heavily upon its supporter base of celebrities. Instead of targeting elites, it targeted what it perceived as the uneducated masses. It faced an uphill struggle as they were using the term “people” in an attempt to overturn what was, despite its shoddy foundations, a direct democratic mandate.
And in the preceding years, we had observed the phenomenon of Nigel Farage being branded a “man of the people” for no other reason than his chain-smoking and love of heavy, dark real ale. This was despite his private education at Dulwich College, and his background as (an admittedly not very successful) stockbroker in the city, like his father before him.
And now we have seen old Etonian Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson unveil his People’s Parliament, People’s Cabinet, and, most recently, his People’s PMQs. And in the wake of the mainstream opposition’s wipeout at the last election, there has been no one able to seriously challenge these outlandish labels. Whilst he holds the majority of the seats, only 43% of the population voted Conservative - hardly a “people’s mandate”. Perhaps he means to operate in the interests of all the people, regardless of who voted for him. But it is hard to reconcile this interpretation with an attempted steamrollering of the BBC and the devolved assemblies, along with the removal of workers’ rights and protection of unaccompanied child relatives of British citizens from the Withdrawal Agreement Bill.
And yet in the face of a Labour party distracted by internal elections, a Liberal Democrat party reduced to a murmur, and the SNP derailing debate to focus on their single-issue approach to parliamentary politics, the messaging from the Conservative party is able to cut through. They are the only major party that can currently claim, however outlandishly, to be acting on behalf of the people, and in hammering home that message it may well stick.
The far-right’s greatest con is to convince working class voters that people like Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage are more like them than working class members of the opposition. Labour’s messaging which appeals to academics and liberals has cemented this illusion, and it will take a party that has the right message and can harness the power of real people - actual men and women of the people - to undermine the claims of the hyper-privileged far right. Labour and the Liberal Democrats are far from showing that they have this capacity. If we’re going to take on this image, we need something new - radically inclusive and open politics.
As Storm Brendan sweeps across the British Isles, it seems oddly poetic for the 58% of the UK who have embarked on a new decade with a government that they did not vote for, and that for the most part they vehemently oppose. How we react to this political deluge is crucial.
Picture this: you’re in a queue outside as the rain pours down. Some people have umbrellas, some don’t. Those who do, raise their umbrellas and weather the storm on their own. They’ll stick it out. Those who don’t will give up, and suddenly we have fewer people. Some umbrellas get blown inside-out by the rage of Storm Boris, these too give up. What are we left with? A depleted group each under their own umbrella. In close quarters and jostling for space, the umbrellas cross over, knock into one another, and people are going to get poked in the eye.
We need a different approach, otherwise most of those who oppose the Tory government will pack it in and go home. The remainder will be too easy to defeat. We need to share our umbrellas, share our resources, and remember that we have far more in common than we have that divides us. Or better still, let’s get a gazebo.
After the election result and the failure to overcome the Tory narrative, there are hundreds of groups that now need to find a renewed sense of purpose. The campaign that formed behind the second referendum encompassed hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom had never been strongly politically active before. And despite the fact that they now lack the clear unifying purpose that they had before, there are clear threads that run through their political identities. One of these is electoral reform, that we’ve been pushing since we formed. We want to see a proportional electoral system, and groups such as Make Votes Matter, that have recently climbed high in the public consciousness, have shown that the appeal is broadening (especially since the election, where only 42% of us voted Conservative). Another is a change to our political ethos. We formed with several driving motivations, one of which was to “stop the lies” in a post-truth age. Now we can be pushing for a post-post-truth age. Another thread is the desire to be an open, progressive and forward looking country, fighting against the culture of division and persecution that has overcome the Conservative party. The list goes on.
Once we realise this, we realise that the approach of hogging our own umbrellas and jostling for a position leads to a lot of eye-poking and not much progress. We need these groups, that only a few months ago looked to have the energy and organisation to change the course of British history, to come together and cooperate. We’ve been advocating this approach since day one. In Peterborough, we led a failed charge for a Remain Alliance, and in Brecon and Radnorshire we made it happen. In the European elections, we assisted Change UK. In the 2019 general election, we stood down all our candidates in marginal seats - if this approach had been adopted by Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, we would be looking at a very different parliament, and future, going into 2020.
As as we enter the new decade, we are embarking on a phase of reaching out to all those groups who find themselves disorientated, confused (and soaked to the bone) and looking to cooperate. We are stronger together and until everybody comes to terms with this new reality, we cannot be strong enough to win.
There are many exciting models that can help fix our broken democracy, writes Henry Bettley, and proportional representation is just one of them.
Not since 1931, when in the wake of the Great Depression Baldwin’s Conservatives romped home with 55% of the popular vote, has a party managed to command a majority of the popular vote at a UK general election. Yet in 18 of the subsequent 21 elections, we have seen majority governments returned. Blair’s 1997 landslide was the largest of these, winning 63% of seats on just 43% of the vote. And most recently, we have seen Boris Johnson’s victory handing him a majority of 80 but with a minority, 44%, of the votes. What we are seeing here is not the “tyranny of the majority” that John Stuart Mill warned against, but rather tyranny of the minority. As I write, a party with the support of the minority of the electorate is being given near-complete power to set the agenda in the House of Commons and can ensure that their legislation will withstand even large-scale rebellions from their own party.
Clamours to do away with first-past-the-post (FPTP) and replace it with a more proportional system have recently grown, but the debate is not new. Between 1917 and 1931, a shift to the single transferable vote or the alternative vote (AV) was debated several times in the Commons, but was never adopted. More recently in 2011, the British public were offered a departure from FPTP in favour of AV. Voters could rank their preferences, with second, third, fourth and so on choices being taken into account until any one candidate gained an outright majority. However, even the leader of the campaign for AV, Nick Clegg, had described the mechanism as a “miserable little compromise”, as it was not truly a proportional system. Needless to say, it was resoundingly rejected at the ballot box.
But now there is a new wave of supporters for real, proportional electoral reforms, vocalised through groups such as the Electoral Reform Society and relative newcomers Make Votes Matter. They have gained support from most parties from across the spectrum, with the exception of Labour and the Conservatives. This can be seen as acute gerrymandering, cartel politics at its finest. There is a growing movement within the Labour party to overturn FPTP, but there are suspicions that the hardline left-wing elements of the party feel that to implement rapid and seismic change, they would need an outright majority that could only be delivered by FPTP.
Changing the voting system would instil the most fundamental constitutional change to our political system since universal suffrage was granted in 1928. Proponents claim that it would reconnect the millions who feel disenfranchised back to the political system. It would certainly be fairer, and we would see an end to majority governments, instead seeing the rule by consensus that has come to characterise the Nordic states amongst others.
But the case for democratic reform does not stop with the voting system, although this is the largest possible upheaval, why stop here? Proportional representation is still a manifestation of representative, rather than direct, democracy. Attempts to assimilate aspects of direct democracy into our political system has so far been via the blunt instrument of referendums, with their associated ambiguities. There are lots of ideas that have the potential to give serious democratic power on a local and national level, harnessing the power of communities and online platforms.
One of the most exciting models that has been applied is participatory budgeting. It was trialled in Porto Allegre, Brazil, between 1989 and 2004. Citizens were given complete control over the allocation of the local budget for the city, and some 50,000 of them participated in the process. In a region that had been racked by mafia and cartel control, resources were diverted towards health, sanitation and education - areas that needed support the most. And with no parties seeking quick returns in pursuit of reelection, policies became less short-sighted.
Citizens’ assemblies have also burst their way into headlines, in no small part due to their support from climate activist group Extinction Rebellion. The model, under which a representative cross section of the public based on geography, age, gender, race, income, class among other factors is then informed by a balanced panel of experts before making policy recommendations, is not new. In fact, it was used in the UK in 2018 in an enquiry on Social Care, but its possible applications are broad. Rory Stewart advocated its use to break the Brexit deadlock, due to its ability to provide an independent analysis that also takes into account representative viewpoints. Few other tools have that power. It remains to be seen whether people would ever believe in the legitimacy of a citizens' assembly, but they tend to provide recommendations rather than legislation. And they can be used to breach divisive topics, such as the issue of abortion in Ireland. There, it had an ability to remove partisan entrenchment, instead instilling a sense of rational and independent debate.
And in an increasingly interconnected age of the internet, politics and democracy have been slow to react. Whilst e-petitions have been popular for campaigners, their leverage is limited. The petition to revoke Article 50, for example, which gained over 6m signatures, was only debated in the Westminster Hall chamber rather than being given time in the Commons. The problem with e-petitions is that, unless they gain the support of over half of the population, there is an open question as to their real popularity - they only tell one half of the story. Far better is the example set by the Better Reykjavik forum (which is not unlike Renew's Digital Democracy platform). Citizens make suggestions on the online platform, where citizens can up- and down-vote each proposal and leave comments. The most popular are passed on to the local council for their consideration. It is used by over 56% of the city’s population and as of 2017, $2.2m had been spent developing over 200 citizen-generated proposals.
There are hundreds of models like these, some of which may hold the answers to the problems we face. As we seek to fix our broken political system, eliminate the democratic deficit and bring people back into the decision-making process, we need to be ambitious. Proportional representation is a step in the right direction, but it is only the start of a long journey towards real empowerment for people and communities.
The world is finally beginning to react to “natural” disasters as human caused, but we need this to translate into real action worldwide, argues Renew’s Henry Bettley.
Since August, more than 6 million hectares of land across Australia - an area equivalent to 3 times the area of Wales - has been engulfed in flames. Tales from the frontline of the firefighting effort have been hard to bear. Over 2,000 homes have been destroyed, and 25 people have been recorded dead. But the effects are being felt by more than just humans. Over 8,000 koalas are thought to have died, and this makes up just a minute fraction of the half-billion total toll of animal deaths. Farmers in the most affected areas are reported to have run out of bullets being used to end the suffering of animals dying from heat and flames. Recently, authorities announced that more than 10,000 camels will be shot from helicopters as a measure to reduce water consumption.
Many would like to brand these fires and their consequences a natural disaster, but the term “natural disaster” is defunct. Every event that has to do with weather systems occurs within the altered environment that we have created through pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and mass environmental degradation. Whilst there have always been fires, flooding and tornados, the scale of these disasters we see now cannot be separated from the impact that human activity is having on the planet. The responsibility for these fires lies with inactive governments and unscrupulous corporations, and if we continue down our current path and let these entities continue unchecked, expect events like those in Australia to become the norm.
It might seem strange to talk of silver linings whilst the fires still rage and the dust is not yet settled, but we have to look for them. We can see the generosity of individuals that was lacking when similar, although smaller, blazes tore across the Amazon, Siberia and Greenland earlier this year. For once we can see the press covering the fires as what they are - a terrifying consequence of decades of human activity. Sadly, much of this is down to the human cost involved in a first-world country. We are used to disasters happening in the global south, but when it happens in white, English-speaking countries it suddenly becomes harder for people and the media to ignore. But regardless of the reasons, we’ve seen Australian PM and long-term climate inertia advocate Scott Morrisson accept the link between climate change and the fires, and Piers Morgan (yes, Piers Morgan) berating an Australian MP for denying any relation between Australia’s inaction and the current situation. This shows a real step forwards.
The concern is whether this will translate into real action. Whilst we are likely to see more people making well-meaning but ultimately insignificant lifestyle choices and sharing more videos grieving the losses of the fires, the question remains whether this will lead to people demanding real action from the government. Don’t expect to see the Conservatives doing anything to fundamentally redesign our economy and industry to fit a sustainable model without serious pressure from the media, pressure groups, opposition parties and mass movements of people. We can hope that more people than ever before will be talking about the climate crisis and making it a core feature of their political identity, so that come the next election, the climate will be at the top of the agenda where it belongs.
James Clarke, Renew's Deputy Leader, reflects on the passing of 2019 and looks forward to what 2020 has in store for Renew.
So, a turbulent year is over, and with it, a turbulent decade.
We find ourselves, at the opening of 2020, at what feels like the start of a new era. The post-referendum years of chaos, division, confusion and acrimony reached the end of a chapter with the election in December. The Conservative victory means that the UK will almost certainly leave the EU and that the country will be governed by a new kind of Conservative party, one that is neither liberal nor conservative in any traditional sense, but whose emergence presages a nascent ideology of national populism.
This realignment of politics away from a left/right axis and towards an open/closed one has been much anticipated and reflects similar shifts in Eastern Europe, the USA, Brazil, India and elsewhere.
Renew was formed in 2017 as a platform and a vehicle for those opposed to the trend towards extremism and polarisation in UK politics, and for those who wanted to step forward and be part of the solution. During these years, we have reached out, expanded our network and built alliances with many groups in a similar space. There are now hundreds of thousands of new activists, those who, before 2016, had never joined a political party, never donated, never marched, never felt themselves part of the political life of the country.
Our job, for 2020 and beyond is to harness that passion, those skills and that energy; to work with other groups and to help build a movement that can operate as an effective opposition; to be a part of what comes next.
Since the election, we have been approached by numerous individuals and groups who have broken with the old parties and old allegiances and who want to help build Renew as a viable force.
I would ask all of you, individually, to help us in this task. Reach out to friends, family, colleagues and local organisations, tell them about Renew and let's make sure that the next chapter is more hopeful than the last.
2020 and the following decade will define who we are as a country.
Let's make it our year and our decade - it's time for something new.
Draeyk van der Horn is a Renew member and a smallholder on Dartmoor. He reflects on the effects that tourism and intensive farming methods are having on the local and national environment.
Living on Dartmoor is an honour, running our smallholding with sheep and apple orchards is a pleasure. Yet the yearly influx of visitors, the competing demands for access, these are costs often borne by the farmers who take pride in the land they farm and are happy to share it - but as the environmental costs are rising, who will pay?
Visitors come to the countryside to enjoy a break from a city, but are we killing what we love?
There is change in the air, and the environmental costs are becoming more and more tangible, impacting our food and growing culture. We often don’t notice the impact of unreliable seasons and less predictable weather on our countryside. The realities of climate change are not in some far-off land but in the here and now and affecting the uplands and lowlands of the nation.
What is now rightly termed a “climate crisis” is impacting access to quality feed, harvests and the wellbeing of our animals. Articles in many farming publications have highlighted impacts such as soil health and water management and rewilding. Yet how many visitors to the countryside consider this?
One huge and unimagined impact of the climate crisis and industrial farming practices, driven by the idea that food should be cheap at any cost, is the utter collapse of insect life. As is so often the case, so called “pest insects” seem to fare better, but overly focusing on pests (fuelling the idea we must spray even more chemicals to deal with them) diminishes the value of all insects in a balanced ecological and indeed agricultural system. We rely on bee and insect pollination for our harvest. Yet we are doing little to rectify the devastating impact of bee colony collapse and rapid loss of our many native bee species. Yet bees pollinate a third of our UK crops? Crudely put, that is a third of our food!
An April 2018 article in the journal ScienceDirect highlighted this impact. For example, butterfly species numbers fell by 58% on farmed land in England between 2000 and 2009, while the overall abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years, according to the journal PlosOne.
The loss of these species impacts not just farming but the wider ecosystem and the health of the land, and the greatest danger is that we do nothing.
We can improve our soils, create pollinator corridors, rewild, question pesticide practice and look at agri-environment ideas, such as the Dartmoor Farming Futures pilot which promoted a re-think and allowed farmers skills and expert knowledge to achieve beneficial environmental goals and encourage the development of new “traditions” in farming practices. Ultimately, to safeguard our food, we need to safeguard our countryside and our environment.
We have a choice, and as someone who is passionate about farming, my choice is to make a stand and speak up. Renew, a party that is growing ideas from the ground up - without a politician in sight - is doing just that. Farmers need a voice, and skills, knowledge and heritage need to be celebrated and reflected in environmental policies that will sustain our environment, our land and our future.
Renew intern Logie MacDonald-Winship takes a look at mental health in our schools and how a model used in secondary schools in Wales could seriously benefit children across the UK.
We often hear promises of more mental health funding on the campaign trail, with certain parties pledging billions in investment, claiming to have a solution to the ‘mental health crisis’. But what does this mean for education?
According to the Anna Freud Foundation, 1 in 8 school children suffer from a mental health problem and around half of adult mental health cases have their roots in childhood. Schools now have a huge responsibility to tackle the issue of mental health, meaning teachers are on the front line - but teachers lack the time (as well as training and resources) to attend to children’s mental health needs as their primary focus is education. This issue been neglected for too long, and the poor infrastructure for mental health help in schools means that, according to the Missed Opportunities Report, 2016, young people suffer from diagnosable conditions for an average of ten years before receiving any treatment.
The Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, has targeted ‘healthy minds’ as a focus point for development in education in her latest manifesto. Over the last few decades, pressure on children has been increasing as a result of stricter targets set by Ofsted, the government and headteachers. The increased pressure is leading to more and more children developing mental health problems and the National Education Union reports that 8 out of 10 teachers say mental health among their students has deteriorated. Funding cuts mean that more vulnerable children are finding it harder to reach out to due to the high class sizes, with less than half of children having access to mental health services.
So what can be done to begin to reach children in need?
Longfield has suggested a simple step that could start to reshape the way we approach the education system. Having a counsellor present in every school is already mandatory in Welsh secondary schools, and this could hugely benefit the rest of the UK, as well as Welsh primary schools. This would give children a safe space in which to go and be properly listened to, as well as recognising the difficulties children can face. There are already a number of more fundamental aspects that affect children's mental health, ranging from socio-economic factors, to life at home, however, school is a centralised, compulsory environment and is therefore a good place to target efforts for counselling and early prevention methods seeking to tackle mental health problems. If children are not happy in their school environment it can become a huge obstacle to educational achievement. This must be a priority for the next government.
An increase to in-school services is only one step towards a healthier school environment, but could send the debate in a positive and constructive direction.
More funding for counselling in primary and secondary schools can lead to a better functioning society, as well as saving time and money later on.
In the second of a two-part series on modern capitalism, Gwen Jones proposes some major changes to help fix our broken economy.
Part one of this article described the ways in which capitalism tends to adapt and mutate in response to crisis. It then went on to argue that the current situation represents an end to the long-term pattern; in part, due to a failure of understanding, and in part, due to a failure within the system itself.
The solution lies, perhaps ironically, with the most disruptive force we’ve experienced as a species to date : information technology. With capitalism stalling, we should be looking forwards towards an entirely different model, built around this new and invaluable tool. Let’s call it the information economy.
1. Saving the planet
First, it’s worth outlining the things we actually want this new economy to do. Unlike the neoliberal model, any alternative must prioritise environmental sustainability; the rapid reduction of carbon emissions and the mitigation of the impacts of climate change after that. The key will be investment in technologies that respond to these challenges through sustainable growth - it is not the case that we have to go backwards in growth-time to protect the climate.
The state has a role to play here; one of the most common misconceptions with regards to neoliberalism is that the state is passive. In fact, the state is essential to the survival of neoliberalism via active intervention to support markets, privatisation and the interests of finance. Hence, shifting the actions of the state towards the creation of new markets that produce sustainable, collaborative and socially desirable outcomes - or away from market forces entirely - could put an end to growth at the expense of the planet.
For example, by subsidising solar panels, the state encourages people to install them in their homes. But without proper regulation, these panels will be produced in factories overseas where wages and low and working conditions are poor. So we can go further - by incentivising localised energy production schemes, communities are allowed to self-regulate their own energy supply and use, as well as to sell excess to local businesses, generating positive multiplier effects.
2. Reducing inequalities
The second goal must be to reduce catastrophic inequality by delivering high levels of prosperity to the majority of people. We should first put an end to the state-led deregulation of finance and support for growing privatisation. Shrunken state power and resources force governments to outsource vital services, and a race-to-the-bottom style competition between contractors leads to poor quality provision in areas like housing and health.
In many cases, the state is better placed than private agents to fill these roles - it is larger, better resourced, more able to take risks and less vulnerable to the short term interests of share-holders. Thus, the state has a unique ability to create and shape markets towards a socially productive end. By reframing our idea of the state as an investor and provider, we are able to socialise reward, as well as risk.
3. Harnessing the power of the network
The most important tool in the arsenal when beginning the transition towards an information economy is, of course, the information itself. We live in a world where many of the actions we take, online and in ‘real-life’, are recorded and fed back to a corporate owner. These huge pools of aggregate data are used to better understand consumer behaviour and improve the quality of service provision on this basis.
The real potential lies in what happens when this information is transferred from the private to the public sphere. Info-capitalism relies on knowledge asymmetry; corporations get rich because of what they know and what their customers and competitors do not. A guiding principle going forward should therefore be that the pursuit of knowledge asymmetry is wrong.
Harnessing the power of aggregate information has enormous power to eradicate social challenges, be they poor health, welfare dependency or air pollution. As an example, utilising aggregate patient data sets could have a huge impact on improving the quality and efficiency of NHS service provision.
The capacity of information-rich technologies for solving these sorts of problems will only grow as other structures, like food supply chains and transport and road networks, become ‘intelligent’.
4. A work-free world
Innovation is often kept from vital industries by the availability of cheap and unorganised labour. The need to invest in streamlining or automating production isn’t always viable under these circumstances. In reality, we are quickly moving towards a situation in which this will no longer be the case - this transition can either be managed or unmanaged.
A government serious about moving away from capitalism will gear the development and uptake of technology towards the reduction of necessary work. In an automated world, work is voluntary, many commodities are free and economic management becomes a question of energy and resources, rather than labour and capital.
To secure a smooth transition, we should begin by starting to reshape the tax system in favour of collaborative and not-for-profit industry. These kinds of actions allow market forces to disappear gradually, as a growing proportion of the economy is occupied by non-market actors.
Finally, issuing a universal basic income would make concrete the separation between wages and work. The benefits, in terms of productivity, of automation will be enormous, but it is vital that this growth is shared, and that the old patterns inequality - of widening disparity between wages and productive assets - are not repeated.
Trusting the truth
The sheer scale of these proposals can make them difficult to accept. It’s hard to believe that markets, businesses and government policy will ever be able to keep pace with the information-technology boom.
Yet in truth, huge developments like this have revolutionised our society for years; the mobile phone, the contraceptive pill, the internet, modern democracy. The economy should not be off-limits. We live at a point in history where traditions dating back 10,000s of years are being demolished at a rate of knots; it is ridiculous that some still see the end of a 200-year-old economic paradigm as utopian.
Real change is possible, if not essential. In order to secure a future that works, we must not be afraid to challenge our preconceptions and initiate change.