A couple of weeks ago the Western Morning News asked me to write something for a new feature they were starting called ‘If I Ruled the World’. “Feel free”, they wrote, “not to take it too seriously – after all (unless you know something we don’t) no one is really about to make you ruler of the world”. So here is my (admittedly south west England-oriented) piece:
“In the highly unlikely event that I ruled the world (well, the UK anyway), the first law I would pass would be to nationalise the railways and make all short to medium distance public transport free of charge, so as to give people a real alternative to cars. I would legislate to ensure that it is powered by renewable energy or biogas.
I would move the capital city to Bristol, bringing more influence to the southwest, allowing London to declare independence as its own nation state and allowing the rest of us to get on with it. Bristol is next year’s European Green Capital and looks as if it might be about to leap ahead in modelling what a sustainable city might look like. Its Mayor takes his full salary in the city’s own currency, the Bristol Pound!
In my Cabinet would be Pam Warhurst of Incredible Edible Todmorden in Yorkshire as my Food Minister. I would create a special post for Simon Cowell just so I could have the pleasure of sacking him again. I would put Peter Capener of Bath & West Community Energy, who recently won the Community Energy Organisation of the Year, in charge of energy policy. I would create a cabinet of vibrant, solutions-focused people, with lots of younger people in there too. Saying “that’s impossible” would be outlawed around the cabinet table.
My Community Empowerment Bill would give communities the right to compulsorily purchase assets they felt key to their future development. I’d bring in the supermarket tax being considered by Derby City Council to give local economies more protection. For me, local economies, which we do so brilliantly here in the South West, are the foundation of the economy of the future, not just expendable in the face of the onward march of identikit High Streets.
Among my advisers would be the brilliant Camila Batmanghelidjh, founder of Kids Company, George Monbiot, one of the sharpest thinkers I know, and Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre. I’d put solar panels on all government buildings. I would outlaw the influence of fossil fuel companies, defence companies and mining companies within government. I would declare Goldman Sachs a rogue organisation and not award them any government contracts or employ any of its former staff.
MPs would earn the average national salary (currently £26,500). I would stop blaming our problems on migration and on the EU and instead focus attention on the real crises we are facing, climate change (recently described by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as “severe, widespread and irreversible”) and the widening gap between the richest and poorest in this country.
I would outlaw zero hours contracts. I’d set real and ambitious climate targets and argue passionately that our economic future lies in addressing climate change, not putting it off until we see economic growth again. Any brownfield sites unused for more than 2 years would have to be gifted to a Community Development Trust.
I’d roll back much of the legislation that enables surveillance of our phone calls, emails and so on, reintroducing genuine privacy in our online lives. I’d lower the voting age to 16. I would make it illegal for Oasis to reform, given how unforgivably dreadful their last 3 albums were.
I would ensure that each NHS Trust, rather than tendering its services to companies like Serco, would set up co-operatives to do those things: laundry; catering; cleaning and so on. This would keep money local and bring more empowerment to local communities. Zero carbon homes would be the norm, where possible using local materials so that any new housing built would have the maximum beneficial impact on local communities. I would ban new out-of-town retail. I would ensure that every child leaving school is not only able to read and write but also grow at least 10 different vegetables to a basic level of proficiency. I would ban advertising in public places and any advertising aimed at under 16s.
How would I pay for all this? I’d introduce a National Maximum Wage (set at 10:1 in relation to a raised Living Wage). I would outlaw tax havens and introduce a Land Value Tax. I would scrap Trident, and use the money instead to roll out a programme to insulate every home in the UK by 2025.
It would be a government of the long term, not the short term. It would be straight with people. It would usher in a new culture of co-operation, inclusion and entrepreneurialism. It would be a lot of fun too.