Wednesday, July 21, 2010


I caught up with a recent contribution to the Channel 4 documentary strand, Dispatches. The film was called Africa’s Last Taboo and it may still be accessed, but not for much longer, at so do not delay. In the programme, which was filmed, produced and directed by Robin Barnwell for Insight News TV, African-born Sorious Samura visited several countries on the African continent, seeking evidence of the new militancy against gay people. It was clearly not hard to find.

In four African countries, Sudan, Somalia, Mauritania and Nigeria, male homosexuality can attract the death penalty. In two thirds of countries on the continent, homosexual acts are illegal. World attention has lately been attracted by the fundamentalist stance of many of the African bishops towards moves to liberalise the position of the Anglican church on homosexuality; by the proposal to introduce swingeing anti-gay laws in Uganda (including penalties for failing to report gay people to the police, a recipe for a culture of smear, slander, vengeance and vindictiveness); and by the case of two gay men in Malawi imprisoned for fourteen years and then pardoned after personal representations by the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon.

Anti-gay rally in Mbale, Uganda

Barnwell and Samura were filming before the Malawian case came to court and they covered the men’s release. A condition of the pardon was that the pair live a considerable distance apart. One took to the bottle, reckoned he had found a woman friend and, refusing an interview, was last seen weaving pathetically into the bush. The other was luxuriating in his unexpected freedom but the prospects are no better in Malawi than elsewhere in god-fearing Africa.

It is clear that religious bigotry is fuelling this cruel outbreak of witch-hunting. Prominent in the campaign to bring greater oppression to Uganda is Bishop Julius Oyet, the Vice President of the Born Again Federation of Churches, which claims four million adherents in Uganda. Oyet’s preaching style makes Elmer Gantry look like a wimp. “Now listen to me” he bawled. “The sodomy people, the homosexuals are even more foolish than dogs. There’s no female dog that mates with a female dog. There’s no male dog that lusts after a male dog. Even animals are wiser than homosexuals. Do you hear me?”

Oyet knows as little about dogs and other animals as he knows about people. Anybody idly watching dogs in the street will soon see that he is an ignoramus. The preacherman continued: “We do not condemn homosexuality just because we are Africans. We condemn homosexuality because it is written in the holy book. The Bible tells us, according to Leviticus chapter 18 verse 22, ‘You shall not lie with a male as a man lies with a woman. It is an abomination’. I want to invite you to declare no to sodomy, every one of you, I want us to say today ‘Uganda says no to sodomy, Uganda says …’ …” and so on endlessly.

There are a number of matters I would have liked Samura to raise with Oyet. For instance, homophobes routinely quote Leviticus, and selective quotation from scripture has been an easy crutch for bigots since the texts gathered in the Old Testament were first circulated. It’s actually Leviticus 21:13 that really puts the boot in, including the death sentence for men who “lie with” other men. But in fact almost the whole of Leviticus 18 is concerned with rulings against “uncovering the nakedness” of various classes of person and then, in verse 20, against “lying carnally with thy neighbour’s wife”. I would venture that such sins are far more frequently committed among Oyet’s flock than the one that preoccupies him.

Sorious Samura

Elsewhere in the Old Testament, we are instructed that “every man child among you shall be circumcised” [Genesis 17:10] and that "whosoever doeth any work on the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death” [Exodus 31:15; not my italics], which could certainly tie up a few courts all around the planet in trying to determine what exactly constitutes “work”.

And then there is the matter of sodomy. This is not exactly the only sexual act that men can and do commit together, nor is it the sole prerogative of same-sex couples. Indeed, Bishop Oyet must very well know that sodomy is by far the most widely favoured method of “contraception” practised by men on women right across Africa. Anal penetration is also much the most common route by which the HI virus travels. And this is precisely why Aids is pandemic on that continent, though not among gay men. Samura might have pointed this out.

If Oyet has an aversion to sodomy, he should turn his attention to heterosexual sodomy, about which education on safe practice is desperately needed. Samura, interviewing a gay sex worker who is HIV positive, might usefully have made that point too, rather than half-heartedly excusing the guy because he is the sole supporter of his six year-old sister.

I would also have asked Oyet what I always ask the supernaturally deluded when they invoke scripture against anal intercourse. “If your god did not intend penetration of the anus,” I should have enquired politely, “why did he in his infinite wisdom make the anus an erogenous zone?”

At a rally, Oyet literally blew his own trumpet and then bellowed: “Our children today are being deceived by the West to buy them, to give them school fees, so that they can be homosexuals”. What in god’s name does that mean? Oyet is so obsessed with his mission that coherence goes out of his mind. Later, he told Samura that homosexuality is “an external economic manipulation, economic colonialism”. It’s an old trick to blame foreigners for what you dislike but if Oyet took the trouble to read history he would soon discover that homosexuality has been endemic in every culture and every community and every recorded age of humanity. As Gerald, a smart, articulate gay activist in Uganda, observed drily, it’s homophobia that has been imported from the west, not homosexuality.

Bishop Julius Oyet

But of course this tide of homophobia is not fuelled by reason among any of the population, let alone the clerics. Declared a Kenyan described by Samura as “well-respected locally”: “I don’t care if it’s my own brother, my own son, I will burn him”. This is a mindset in which murder is less troubling a notion than whatever sexual insecurity or fear of loss of control informs him. The leader of a women’s group cried, to noisy approval from her sisters: “Where are women going to go if men are marrying men?” Well, think about it, dear. Are all men marrying men? Is this really as big a problem as you make it seem? And anyway, where are men going to go if women are as ugly as you? I don’t think that’s a more offensive question than your own.

Gay people in Africa inevitably talk of going underground. Here is another quotation: “There comes a time, as it came in my life, when a man is denied the right to live a normal life, when he can only live the life of an outlaw because the government has so decreed to use the law to impose a state of outlawry upon him. I was driven to this situation, and I do not regret having taken the decisions that I did take. Other people will be driven in the same way in this country, by this very same force of police persecution and of administrative action by the government, to follow my course, of that I am certain”.

Those lines are not from the Africa’s Last Taboo programme. They were spoken on the same continent but a long time ago, almost fifty years. They come from the plea in mitigation offered at his trial by Nelson Mandela before he was jailed in 1962, initially for five years. I could have quoted almost anything from Mandela’s hour-long address; all of it pertains to a person’s right to lead a free life by his own lights and according to his own nature in the country of his birth. The superstitious confusion and brutal oppression meted out to gay people by authorities across Africa is no more nor less enlightened or moral than the arguments used by colonialists and racists to oppress Africans under apartheid. Today, South Africa grants freedoms to gay people that set a standard for the whole continent and are more progressive than in almost any country anywhere in the world, including Britain. South African gays have full rights including those of marriage, adoption and the option to serve openly in the military and they are statutorily protected from discrimination in all and any circumstance. This is one of the greatest legacies of Mandela’s presidency. Every African government should be obliged to justify itself against the record of their land’s most beloved figure.

Monday, July 12, 2010


Raoul Moat: it’s a name for a character in a comic novel, isn’t it. Perhaps one by David Lodge or Tom Sharpe. Come to that, so is Derrick Bird, especially spelt that way. Well, perhaps not now.

I tended to avoid coverage of Moat’s week on the lam in Northumberland, as far as I could. So I don’t know whether commentators were drawing clever parallels with Derrick Bird’s rampage through Cumbria last month. But somehow I doubt it. Bird is last month’s chip paper.

For my readers who do not or are not able to follow what now passes for news on television and radio and in the papers in Britain, the tale is easily told. Raoul Moat, a bouncer and small-time criminal, was released from gaol at the turn of the month, despite giving every indication that he intended his former girlfriend no good. He promptly shot and wounded her, shot and killed her new man (whom he believed to be a police officer), shot and gravely wounded a traffic policeman, went to ground for a week and was cornered for some six hours at the end of which he fatally shot himself.

Moat in the media's eye

Derrick Bird, a taxi driver, shot and killed his twin brother, then led police on a frenzied chase across Cumbria, killing eleven more people, some of whom he knew, some evidently at random, before shooting himself dead. By a curious coincidence, Cumbria County Council has offices in the small town of Brampton. In Moat Street.

The media calculate that there is a strong public appetite for stories like this, particularly ones that are decently contained. Had Moat held off the police well into a second week, he would have lost his place as the lead story. As it was, he timed it nicely to allow the result of the World Cup final to become tonight’s pressing report. His death almost closes down his news value, save for the fact that his brother is now giving the media an extraordinarily fanciful account of what he reckons took place in Moat’s last hours, though of course he wasn’t there.

Such stories hold little interest for me. I’d much rather have proper reporting of the spy-swap negotiation, the details of the government’s botched cancellation of school rebuilding projects and other real news. I can’t be doing with the question upon which the media harp – “why did he do it?” – because I know perfectly well that if they essay an answer it will be of the most banal kind, psychology got out of a total ignorance of either the particular circumstances of the case or the accumulated literature of psychopathology.

Derrick didn't get to do bird

During the days and days of coverage that succeeded Bird’s killing spree and death, BBC reporters several times observed in so many words that what the residents of Whitehaven most fervently desired was for the media circus to go away. But as so often when they talk of the media, they mysteriously exclude themselves from it, as though nobody in their right mind could possibly object to several BBC camera crews recording everything that moved, researchers collecting endless pointless vox pops in the street and a succession of senior correspondents doing grave think pieces to camera. Clearly, the BBC reporters implied, what the good folk of Cumbria really didn’t want was tabloid reporters trying to work up something salacious. I suspect that the BBC and other television news outfits rubber-necking on the assumed behalf of the nation was no less unwelcome.

What makes one situation a major candidate for a nightly fiesta of “human interest” overkill and another only worth a paragraph in a weekly local newspaper? There were 648 homicides in England and Wales in the twelve months to March 2009 (the figure for the following twelve months is due out this week). Interestingly, only 38 of them were shootings, the preferred method of Bird and Moat.

Meanwhile, the child murder rate runs at more than fifty per year but only a very few receive the attention accorded to Peter Connolly – “Baby P”. No one knows how many children go missing each year – the definition of “missing” is elusive and the police and other authorities have difficulty amassing reliable statistics – but there cannot be much doubt that the coverage accorded to Madeleine McCann in the first weeks of her alleged disappearance was vastly more extensive than that lavished on any before or since. Without belittling the ordeal of the McCanns, there was clearly a certain iconography about the case of their child that commended itself to the media, from the relatively exotic holiday setting to Mrs McCann’s gambit in always carrying her daughter’s “favourite” toy. Kate and Gerry McCann were themselves highly skilful at keeping the story bubbling.

McCanny Scots

It’s debatable whether the McCanns exploited the media or vice versa, just as you can argue that, in such cases, the media is satisfying a public appetite or creating it. News professionals of my acquaintance have hung on every word of the Moat, Bird, Baby P and McCann stories, professionals for whom, you might think, the real substance of news was the playing out of the fates of the Con-Dem coalition, the Labour leadership, the Obama administration, the tottering rules of Sarkozy, Merkel and Berlusconi, the perilous government of Zimbabwe, the fractious coexistence between Russia and her former satellites, the defiant regimes in Jerusalem and Tehran and the still new, still scorned leadership in the European Union. I don’t mind admitting that those Shakespearean dramas engage me much more than the pitiful soap operas unfolding in picturesque little northern towns.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


On June 9th, I sent a bunch of policy proposals to the five candidates for leadership of the Labour Party. I declared in my covering letter that "I represent no lobby, faction or interest but myself. I am not even a member of the Party but I have long supported it at the ballot box and I always wish it well". I made brief quotes from each of the candidates' statements reproduced in The Guardian eight days earlier, describing them as "what I call 'Mom-and-apple-pie' politics, full of warm generalities against which no one even mildly small-l liberal could argue" and I asked "are you all interchangeable or just too timid to make concrete, radical proposals that the others might shy from?" I concluded: "The coalition has proposed that we must think the unthinkable. For Labour to be outflanked in imagination and boldness would be nothing short of a tragedy. I hope my contribution is useful and will be taken in the spirit in which it is offered".

Only the office of David Miliband has so far responded to the document, in warm generalised terms. Not a peep from any of the others but we live in an age when the elementary courtesy of an acknowledgment of receipt is no longer thought necessary, even though email avoids the trouble of signing, putting into an envelope and posting such an acknowledgment. Following an excellent article by the former Labour MP Tony Wright in The Guardian last Wednesday, I have also sent him a copy. Dr Wright is now based at the Institute of Public Policy Research, the function of which is to do left-of-centre thinking.

For the record, I post my proposals below. Some of these notions will be familiar to the more devoted of my readers and of them I beg their indulgence.


I am 63. In only the first four years of my life has there been a Labour government that made a fundamental and lasting difference to the life of the nation. Subsequent Labour governments have certainly made contributions to the lives of various groupings, but almost entirely in the realm of social policy. And none of these achievements – the Open University, say, or civil partnerships – is unthinkable under a relatively enlightened Tory government. What is more, many of the most far-reaching measures – reform of the divorce and abortion laws and abolition of the death penalty, for instance – have only succeeded by the stamina and determination of backbenchers introducing Private Members’ Bills.

Both Clement Attlee and Harold Wilson invoked Lenin’s phrase about the need to take over “the commanding heights of the economy”. Attlee achieved more by that measure than did Wilson. Some 18 months ago, when the Brown government began to take significant stakes in high street banks, I dared to think that this dream might come to pass after all. But the imperturbable city easily frightens ministers with its patently empty but apparently convincing talk of the need to remain independent, just as with its sophistry about attracting “the best”. Someone who will only work for a salary to which is attached a seven-figure bonus is not interested in service, only in self-service. Personal greed is not some kind of measure of financial acumen. In any case, under a global financial crisis, how can any self-important trader be sure that there are jobs elsewhere ripe for the picking? The city plays many bluffs that need to be given short shrift.

When it is being “pragmatic” – a favourite term of Wilson’s that has been taken up by Cameron (and John McDonnell and Andy Burnham) – Labour risks offering merely a less economically competent alternative, to which voters turn when the Tories are exhausted and corrupt (1964, 1997). But Labour must present itself as creative, energetic and fearless. Just before the last televised debate, I wrote to Gordon Brown, recalling the catalogue of Labour’s achievements that he presented to conference a year or two ago; it brought the hall to its feet. I urged him to rerun the list in his television peroration. I still argue that Labour needs to think positively about what it has done; but even more so about what more it must do.

The following proposals are radical. Many of them will of course have been discussed at policy meetings but few if any of them have, I think, been advocated publicly by frontbenchers. But all the leadership candidates have spoken of the need for the party to listen so I hope some practical, imaginative suggestions will not come amiss.

Bring public transport back into public ownership and make it free

Transport accounts for a greater proportion of expenditure for the poorest in society than for the richest: since 1997, bus and coach fares have risen 24 percent above inflation, whereas overall motoring costs have fallen 14 percent in real terms. Public transport accounts for far less pollution than does private. Road building destroys more valuable land than does rail extension. For all these reasons, a properly integrated transport policy requires that the bus, coach and tram network, the underground system and the railways be brought back together under public ownership and run for service rather than for profit. Then all public road, underground and rail travel should be free to all at the point of delivery, not merely for over-60s. There would be a major saving in infrastructure and staffing in the removal of the ticketing operation. Redundancies may be offset by the expansion of services (including through the night) and the commensurate recruitment of more drivers. More security and information staff would be appropriate too. On the railways, the ending of first class tickets could be cushioned by the provision of more “quiet carriages”, from which under-18s, mobile phones, personal sound systems and alcohol would be banned. More staff would be necessary to enforce such regulations.

Once there is a free public transport system, measures can be put in place to encourage the public to use it rather than to rely on their own cars, on taxis and, within the UK, on air travel. Road tolls must be introduced, graded according to the number of occupants of each car, so that car-pooling is strongly encouraged. Many more routes through unsuitable areas should be denied to all but public transport and essential business. Surcharges on vehicular fuels could favour commercial vehicles over private and much more strongly advantage unleaded petrol. A judicious combination of tax advantages and cost grading could offer incentives to companies to favour rail freight over road haulage; perhaps in time freight too could travel gratis on the railways, thereby encouraging firms to relocate close to the rail network and disused lines, stations and depots to be reactivated. Naturally, specific tasks and needs delivered by road vehicles would be exempted (GPs, emergency services).

There would be long-term savings in the reduction of, inter alia, wasteful traffic jams, the dominance of carbon-emitting vehicles, the undermining of buildings and the continuing need for roadworks and expansion. Fewer people would be killed or maimed in road accidents too. The public may well rebel at the notion of “the driver being penalised again” but government needs to be strong enough to lead a change in the culture.

Bring the utilities back into public ownership

I am far from being alone in decrying the conduct of the enterprises that have taken over the utilities, the ownership of many of which is now in the hands of foreign companies and shareholders who have no concern for British consumers. It is a nonsense that, for instance, the “big six” power companies can act as a cartel; that water in Scotland is administered by Thames Water; that British Gas perpetually harass us to accept them as our electricity supplier when so many improvements could be made in their service of gas; that BT cannot attend to network faults for its own customers until the time has elapsed (by Ofcom fiat) that it notionally takes to see to such a repair for the customer of a rival company.

In practice, many utility companies enjoy a practical monopoly in the areas where they operate and their charges relate not so much to market forces as to the often fanciful claims that they make for their commitment to modernisation and the safeguarding of resources. But what consumers most fervently deplore is the colossal greed that these companies betray in their scales of charges. The most recent quarterly gas bill for our four-bedroom house is above £825. All the utilities are gratuitously overpriced and these prices of course hit the poorest disproportionately.

The last Labour government wanted to propel the Royal Mail into the same culture of profit-before-service, and very unpopular the proposal was too, particularly because the efforts to stem the service’s losses have already greatly reduced the quality of its performance. Moreover, the departing CEO, head-hunted for an even more lucrative post at ITV, has been allowed to plunder Royal Mail to the tune of £3.5million as his “golden handshake”. Now the coalition government plans to execute the part-privatisation policy. When the Tories first split off the telephone system from the Post Office, they neglected the fact – or most likely didn’t even know – that the only reliable, unvandalised public phone boxes (this was long before the spread of mobiles) were those to be found in post offices. And these boxes were all promptly ripped out. The great practical virtue of public ownership is that it permits of integrated systems.

Government need not be fearful of the resistance that companies would offer to take over. Labour has long experience of nationalising private industry. Shareholders are routinely advised that the value of their investments may go down as well as up and the losses that stakeholders in utilities will claim to have sustained by what they denounce as a “state grab” will be as nothing compared to the value wiped off shares during the downturn over recent months. The public can only gain by the public ownership of the public utilities.

Overhaul the criminal justice system

If the courts stopped committing those convicted of non-violent crime to prison, there would be no need for capital expenditure on new gaols. Financial crimes could be countered by punitive financial penalties over a commensurate number of years (those convicted would have their finances regularly audited by court-appointed accountants and would be obliged to lead a palpably circumscribed life). Other white-collar crime, burglary and petty offences could be penalised by rigorous regimes of community service. It serves no purpose to incarcerate the likes of Jonathan Aitken, Jeffrey Archer, the royal correspondent of the News of the World or people who have failed to pay their television licences. Prisons too often act as universities of crime, dispatching their “graduates” better able to break the law than when they arrived. A programme of emptying gaols of prisoners who constitute no danger to the public ought to be drawn up within days of coming to power.

There should be a new test imposed by the courts on all those found guilty of violent or coercive crime: is this convicted individual objectively a danger to the public? If the court finds this to be the case, the presumption should be that the offender, whatever his or her age at the time of conviction, will be detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure until past the age of 60. The concept of parole would be abolished. Incarceration should be reserved for those so convicted by the court. This way society benefits from – rather than paying the keep of – supervised restitution from all but its most recalcitrant and antisocial transgressors.

At the introduction of this new test, it could be made clear that the carrying of an offensive weapon would be a strong factor in determining whether an individual were deemed a danger to the public. A couple of exemplary convictions of 17 year-olds for a minimum of 43 years, allied to a wide and sensitively handled weapons amnesty, ought to have a profound effect on the safety of the streets and the gang culture in British cities. It follows that some crimes, even though clearly serious, would not necessarily carry the additional judgment of the perpetrator being a danger to the public – a crime passionnel, for instance – but rapists, child molesters, muggers who use violent assault, armed robbers, large-scale drug dealers and indeed dangerous and drunken drivers would be subject to this test. There ought also to be a presumption that any driver found guilty of killing or maiming or even endangering members of the public while in charge of a vehicle would at least be banned from driving for the rest of his or her life, whatever the impact on that person’s means of earning an income. This is another cultural change that a government ought to be strong enough to lead.

There are many different kinds of pollution that require to be tackled through government regulation

There will always be vested interests and cranks who refute climate change – the Holocaust-deniers of a “final solution” that threatens the planet’s very survival – but most political leaders across the world do recognise the peril in which we have placed ourselves. Whether there is the political will sufficiently to address the challenge is another matter. International capital is notoriously protective of its own short-term interests and will fight viciously to eschew what it deems burdens and restraints imposed on behalf of prospects and populations that do not register on its balance sheets. The efforts to turn the tide of global destruction depend largely on the governments of China, Russia, India, the United States and Latin America but European nations can certainly lead by example.

Environmental damage is too readily committed and too lightly dismissed. The law in Britain should be changed so that where, for instance, waterways are impaired or cancer clusters are found in the population, the onus will fall on the enterprises accused of responsibility to prove that their own systems and tests are such that they can only be blameless. The possibility of being found guilty by default will oblige all organisations whose activities might conceivably leach toxins into the environment critically to review their preventative measures.

There are other sorts of pollution that require imaginative government intervention and regulation. The intrusion of noise and light, not only in built-up areas, is growing unchecked. The physical and mental health of countless individuals is undermined in subtle and profound ways by the increasing inability to enjoy darkness and quiet. Two false gods are given precedence here: the god of personal freedom, who demands that we must be allowed to impose our noise on others; and the god of security who must be appeased by the driving out of dark places. In each case, personal freedom and security is paradoxically reduced because the health (and therefore the freedom and security) of the victim is undermined.

Another pollutant is advertising (including the disguised promotion that is excessive packaging). The intrusion of marketing onto every possible platform has a long-term impact on the population, especially the young who are taught to believe that telling the world how flawlessly fabulous you are is the route to success and that only by conducting yourself as the modern equivalent of a sandwich-board man can you achieve anything. By its nature, advertising promotes both excess and blind acceptance, two psychologies of dangerous exploitability. Government should intervene.

Significantly increase duty on items that damage public health and ring-fence the income for the NHS

Whenever governments attempt to intervene in private activities that have a deleterious effect on those who pursue them (and, though this is routinely ignored in the argument, on others too), people complain about “the nanny state”. Oddly enough, the same people scamper to nanny NHS when they begin to suffer the diseases caused by smoking, drinking, obesity and so on. This point might usefully be made more often.

Recurrent proposals for price controls and consumption restrictions, advertising and sponsorship bans and other such measures (ones that also punish responsible consumption and adversely affect enterprises that are innocent third parties) are always fiercely fended off by vested interests. Rather than fixing a minimum price for alcohol, a simpler measure would be to revoke the licences of all supermarkets and non-specialist chains to sell alcohol and indeed smoking materials. This would also be a useful counter-balance to the over-mighty supermarkets that have driven so many off-licences, pubs and newsagent/tobacconists out of business. Many young people find an off-licence a rather more daunting outlet than a corner Costcutter with its discounted plonk and strong beers.

Then a Labour Chancellor might impose new, swingeing duties on smoking materials and alcohol that are strictly and accountably ring-fenced for payment direct to the NHS, so that smokers and drinkers may know that they are contributing towards the treatment that they will themselves require. A similar imposition might be made on processed foods, using a sliding scale dictated by objective nutritional assessments, with more stringent tests and surcharges imposed on catering supplies, the contents of which are not (but could be and should be) vouchsafed to consumers. If that works well, all foodstuffs that cannot demonstrate that they are organic might subsequently be surcharged in the same way. Food producers will have an incentive to put themselves in a position where they can demonstrate the healthy nature of their ingredients and processes. This is taxation as organic carrot rather than as resented stick.

Then government should introduce punitive surcharges on those whose drunken behaviour necessitates the calling out of emergency services. Specific spot charges for the handling of incidents need not be the thin end of a wedge of general charging for police and/or paramedic services; rather, voters generally would welcome knowing that they are not having to pay for the clearing up after anti-social indulgence in town centres. This would be a targeted surcharge that would also win a lot of votes.

Ensure an equitable system of income tax

It is a puzzlement that, over the last thirteen years in power, Labour never managed to close the many loopholes in the taxation system that allow those who can afford smart accountants to avoid paying their dues. Tax avoidance is a major industry in Britain but it should not be beyond the wit of either Treasury or HMRC number-crunchers to scale it down significantly, if not eradicate it altogether.

Meanwhile, the issue of “nom doms” has greatly exercised politicians and commentators on all sides. The question of whether someone who lives abroad for tax purposes should enjoy status privileges in Britain is, to my mind, an irrelevant and misleading question. Where someone designates her or his principal residence is far too manipulable a matter. After all, the proprietor of The Daily Mail lives to all intents and purposes in Wiltshire but, by some sleight of hand, pays tax as a resident of Paris at a much more favourable rate than do run-of-the-mill Wiltshire multi-millionaires. Those who bear the onerous task of owning The Daily Telegraph from their tax exile in Monaco must laugh to scorn the fainthearted level of graft in the Westminster village, that has been so comprehensively uncovered by their organ. Moat-cleaning indeed! Why not acquire a Channel Island? That’s a vastly more cost-effective scam.

The problem of nom doms is readily solved. Income should be taxed not on the basis of where the earner lives but where the income is earned. Better yet, follow the practice of the IRS in the United States: tax without reference to either the location of the earner’s domicile or the country of the income’s origin. To avoid taxation, Americans have to renounce their US citizenship and even after that their US income is taxed on the same basis as that of a guest worker. If Americans can live with such a system, Brits sure as hell can too.

No doubt there would be a degree of departure from these shores among those unwilling to submit to contributing an appropriate proportion of their wealth to public provision. Such people merit a one-word response: “Goodbye”. If, to continue owning several mansions and a private jet, they are obliged to be based in a country where, beyond their gated communities, they are surrounded by abject poverty, that is for their consciences to reconcile. But it is a self-serving myth that our industries cannot survive without greedy, grasping individuals. They can and will survive (the BBC will go on after Jonathan Ross, for instance) because there are always people who are thoughtful as well as talented, who want work that is stimulating first and lucrative only as may be, and who will choose to stay in a decent society that diligently cares for all its members.

Revivify manufacturing

Britain’s manufacturing base was destroyed by Margaret Thatcher: everybody knows that. But Jim Callaghan’s Selective Employment Tax, if not starting the rot, certainly helped it on its way. This was a piece of government intervention in business that calculatedly favoured service over smokestack industries. The result is that financial arrangements are sold, planners are advised and shelves are stacked in Britain, but things – machines, materials, objects – are made in eastern Europe and the Far East. People still think of factories, plants and workshops as providing “real” jobs, and offices, shops and call centres as nothing to inspire pride in work and job satisfaction. Tangible products bear powerful magic.

David Cameron talks airily about Britain being a “broken society” without looking hard for the origins of this breakdown. Job security – in service industries as well as in manufacturing – died under Thatcher. The taking-over, asset-stripping, franchising, Friedmannite free-for-all of those days ensured that no brand can be relied on any longer or can even be understood to mean what it seems to mean, even outside of manufacturing (for Coutts read RBS; for Selfridge’s read Weston; for Manchester United read Yankee fraudsters). Fifty-five years of covetousness-inspiring advertising (“it takes the waiting out of wanting”) pumped directly into people’s homes, as decreed by Churchill’s 1950s government, has had a profound effect on the public’s sense of entitlement. If you undermine people’s sense of who they are and then encourage them to think they’re somebody else, it’s little wonder that they start to get narky.

With a judicious combination of investment and incentive, government can begin a revival of manufacturing that would recreate a true sense of community wherever it is located. Tax breaks for firms that do not outsource to countries where labour is grossly underpaid would help to rekindle domestic output. Britain used to glory in a skilled workforce and could do so again. New demand for apprenticeships would keep young people out of the clutches of both the gang and the cheap booze cultures. Almost a million now registered as out of work are aged between 16 and 24; almost half of the black people in that demographic are unemployed. Nick Clegg was “lost for words” according to the Birmingham student who confronted him on youth unemployment during the election campaign.

Clearly Britain can never again be “the workshop of the world” but she has no need to be a parasite, the eternal middleman whose only contribution to trade is to add to its cost. As international capital shows so little interest in investing in British skills, government will have to take on the task. But we shall need to start by bringing on the skills in the first place.

The promise of “education, education, education” must be fulfilled

Jonathan Swift (wise in all things) originated the notion that “parents are last of all others to be trusted with the education of their own children” [Gulliver’s Travels chap VI]. It is a Tory mantra that parents alone ought to decide what education is available for their children; Labour should set its face against such a nostrum.

Education is not a branch of business and its nature must not be determined by the (imagined) demands of the market. Nor should private capital be allowed to penetrate any deeper into schools and universities than at present. But equally education needs to be freed of the growing infrastructure of quotas and league tables. These yardsticks are far too reductive. Teaching is an art, not a science, and does not lend itself to mechanistic measures. Politicians need to be willing to trust teachers and head teachers; they will certainly be rewarded by perceptible advances in the overall quality of the school system.

The thrust of education is to widen the horizons of pupils, to present them with the rich variety of society, culture, history and intellectual enquiry and to encourage them to ask questions. Supernatural superstition, by contrast, seeks to confine minds to narrow paths, to prescribe a fixed Weltanschauung and to proscribe alternative views, to require unquestioning fealty. Accordingly, the very notion of “faith schools” (a contradiction in terms) ought to be banished from the Labour lexicon. Any teaching that smacks of indoctrination should be disallowed in all publicly funded education establishments.

Centres of study outside the state system need to be closely monitored too. The unfolding revelations about child abuse in the Catholic church give government an opportunity to impose more rigorous vigilance on convent schools and seminaries, including a requirement that such institutions introduce their pupils to wider supernatural notions and, more important, to rational, science-based readings of history, nature and psychology. For the security of the indigenous population, Islam must not be permitted to build a network of madrasahs here (or indeed to shape a foothold for Sharia law). The presumption ought to be that the education system is wedded to the dissemination of factually-based knowledge and formally neutral on matters of interpretation. To those who claim angrily that “this is a Christian country”, the present Archbishop of Canterbury’s calm adumbration of a separation of church and state [New Statesman interview, December 22nd 2008] may be pointed out.

Create an environment in which people do not need to feel that incomers of any kind get preferential treatment

The general election of 2001 was the first in which I did not vote Labour (I only returned to the colours this year when it seemed really necessary). There were two reasons for this disaffection; I will come to the second in due course. The first concerned the immigration policies being pursued by the Blair government that, poorly represented as they clearly were by ministers, appeared to be imposing cruel restrictions on asylum seekers. As the sitting MP in the constituency where I then voted happened to be the immigration minister, it suited my purpose to register a protest. I am pleased to record that the swing from Labour to the Liberal Democrats in that seat in 2001 was exceeded only in the constituency of the then Lib Dem leader, Charles Kennedy, and proud that the reaction in the area was strongly to liberalism rather than to racism. After I had moved out of the constituency, the Lib Dems took the seat in 2005 and retained it this year. (Labour’s majority in 1997 had exceeded 20,000).

Seasoned politicians know that how things look is at least as important in politics as how they are (something apt to be forgotten when MPs try to fend off scandal: for instance, the long-running expenses saga and the Lord Levy/“cash for honours” debacle). While it is a relief that support for the BNP appears to be in retreat across the country, the widespread fear of immigration, however unjustified that fear may be, needs to be recognised and addressed. Politicians have a duty to pursue measures that may not be taken to legitimate xenophobia or racism. How policy in this area is presented – how it looks – is quite as critical as what it is.

It would be reasonable to impose upon local authorities the obligation to pursue policies concerning housing and other benefits that favour citizens who can demonstrate that they have local roots. Where people imagine that (im)migrant workers are permitted to “jump the queue”, there is resentment that can turn ugly. The criteria to be used would speak to history and longevity and their use would have the added effect of encouraging incomers to seek legitimacy.

Ed Balls is clearly right to seek a Europe-wide solution to these issues. Little in recent times has been more perplexing than the phenomenon of the refugee encampment at Sangatte, Pas-de-Calais. Why did so many asylum-seekers, having already reached the security and stable job-market of France, yet risk life, limb and arrest by attempting to cross to Britain? Why was European policy not sufficiently co-ordinated for this shaming spectacle to be unnecessary?

If British policy towards economic refugees and asylum seekers differs significantly from that of other EU member states, it is proper for Britain to take up the matter. The free movement of workers within the EU clearly needs to be revisited. In an era when, for instance, British university students have been and are being impoverished by the system of loans, it is cruel to deprive them of the traditional supplementary jobs in bars and restaurants by allowing those jobs to be taken by incomers from the new member states.

That Turkey is a Muslim country is not the only reason to oppose her membership of the European Union – although it is a sound one: Islam is highly inimical to many strands of tolerance that have been hard won across Europe since World War II. But Turkish membership will bring a whole new influx of migrant workers into western Europe with all the potential for localised racial tensions that such a change will surely bring.

Successive British governments’ attitude to Europe has been highly equivocal and has prompted the electoral scepticism that it deserved. Labour ministers contrived to fight the European parliamentary elections of 2009 almost entirely without mention of Europe or its parliament. Labour was rewarded with a third place behind UKIP, with strongly pro-EU Lib Dems fourth. The arguments made by interests that oppose European membership are patently meretricious and will bear no serious economic challenge. But these arguments are rarely engaged by EU apologists, who appear to take the view that they know best and hence that the electorate should not worry its pretty little head. From Edward Heath and Roy Jenkins on, advocates of the European Union have rarely deigned actually to make the case to the electorate. It is true that the British media carry minimal coverage of European affairs. That is not an excuse for European enthusiasts to allow scepticism to take root among the public by default.

Rather than as English, I see myself as a citizen of the world. Not many do so; certainly no politicians that I can name off-hand. (Michael Howard’s Tory Party fought a European election with the designation “The Conservative Party, putting Britain first” on the ballot paper. What does it mean?) The day will come, in this marketing age, when the declaration “I love this country” will be deemed a sufficient platform from which to seek office, as it certainly is in the US (viz John Edwards). After all, we live in a time when some British politicians imagine that an undertaking to “take” an issue “forward” amounts to a statement of policy. Of all politicians, Labour ones should be ready both to talk and to listen to the electorate as to adults, acknowledging the voters’ keen concerns but taking the time to try to ameliorate them and to put them into context. Pace Margaret Thatcher, we are not about to be swamped. We should say so.

We must significantly reduce our armaments and disengage from international military adventuring

The abiding reason why, for the first time, I did not vote Labour in 2001 was that Mr Blair had by that date already taken this nation to war on more occasions than any other leader in history, monarch or minister, and his incursion into Afghanistan and his second into Iraq were then still in the future. I had not enthusiastically voted Labour in 1997 in order to offer a blank cheque for death and destruction.

Whatever one’s moral stance, no activity is remotely as extravagant as waging war. The cost of materiel dwarfs the equipping of any other enterprise and we know well enough that the generals are never satisfied with what they are given. We need those resources to fund the other policies put forward in these pages. Moreover, no activity inflicts more damage, both immediate and lasting, on the planet. So indeed does the absurdly expensive training for war (as anyone knows who lives under RAF flight paths). And the numberless war casualties are largely innocent bystanders with no means to protect their homes or to find refuge.

Troops sent to the frontline, whom it is sacrilege ever to criticise, are routinely brutalised and commit atrocities they never imagined before joining up. We are righteous in condemning the cavalier behaviour of the troops of other nations – those of Israel most lately – but will concede no ground to critics of our own and permit the military (and the police) to continue to act as judge and jury on their own catastrophes (think of Deepcut Barracks). Yet, to our age-old shame, successive governments treat those who return maimed from action in a pitifully shabby fashion, and this has been a stain on our society for centuries, as Kipling testified.

What is the argument in support of our continuing to act as a moral police force, strutting around the globe and breaching the sovereignty of other nations with our interventions, invasions and attempts at “regime-change”? It is proposed that this somehow guarantees our own security. But it is no coincidence that Islamist terrorist attacks have occurred in New York and Washington, Madrid and London, rather than Bern, Oslo, Tokyo or Wellington. Aggression abroad and vulnerability at home are in a chicken-and-egg relationship. Who can seriously doubt that our continued presence in Afghanistan acts as recruiting sergeant for the Taliban? These guerrillas see themselves as freedom fighters, much as did the resistance to Hitler in Europe in World War Two, and in the same way they attack through the ambush, the crude bomb and the sniper. We condemn in our enemy what we applaud and memorialise in our ally.

Unable to learn from experience, we continue to plunge into unwinnable wars that armchair generals assure us will be over in a fortnight. We are soon mired in gore from which we can contrive no withdrawal acceptable to our own amour propre. The elegant and shrewd diplomat Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan likes to quote this saying: “The gentle art of saving face/May yet destroy the human race”. So we are told the Gaza blockade must continue or Hamas will “claim victory”. So what if they do?

Why does Britain remain in the Nuclear Club? Like everyone else, we call our nuclear capacity “defence”. Realistically, Britain is so strategically situated that it is unthinkable for either Europe or the United States to allow us to be seriously threatened. In the European Union, only France also possesses nuclear capacity. Germany’s key role in international affairs does not appear to be diminished by her lack of a nuclear profile. Two independent nations physically straddled by the US – Canada with Alaska to her north, and Mexico with Hawaii to her west – co-exist without being required by Washington to go nuclear. Insofar as Britain might be a target for nations developing nuclear weapons, her own nuclear capacity may just as readily be ascribed as a pretext or as a deterrent. Our oldest and closest ally is, after all, the only nation ever to deploy nuclear weapons against another country. Possession does not preclude first use.

Britain could take herself out of the nuclear equation. Further, she could lead a decisive initiative for global peace. She could forego her UN veto and membership of the Security Council, at the same time urging the other members to follow suit. She could propose a major rewrite of the UN charter, which remains almost exactly as written in 1945. The only way to give the UN actual power would be to ensure that no nation has greater power than the UN itself. The UN should be enabled to order the immediate cessation of hostilities between member states and to suspend any member state that pursues hostilities. Other members, including those sympathetic to any rogue state’s cause, must be impelled by charter to suspend all trade dealings with the suspended member. The UN must have the resources to assume control of negotiations between parties. If both sides are taken out of benefit of membership, the issue of “blame” becomes futile and UN negotiators begin with a level playing field. But waging war must be against the UN’s bedrock principles and in practice a gambit that is made impracticable because each of the warring nations thereby becomes an international pariah and is accordingly hard pressed.

No one suggests that such a scheme would be an easy sell: to the Chinese, to the Americans, to the Russians or indeed to the British electorate. But what is the point of political power if not to aim for the impossible and to change the world?

[Since I wrote this section of the document, Simon Jenkins has argued that the entire defence budget is unjustifiable and that the armed services should be wholly and immediately wound up (The Guardian June 9th). Taken together, his argument and mine make a powerful case but, given the nature of its core vote, the Tory government is never going to carry out such a policy. Labour can and must].

Labour needs to rediscover its core values

The abandonment of Clause IV by Tony Blair in 1995 was the central plank of what was characterised as “New Labour” and, it was argued, would make Labour more acceptable to the electorate. What it really achieved, of course, was to make Labour more acceptable to international capital (personified in the man whom Mr Blair seemed to believe was the key to his success, Rupert Murdoch). International capital is itself less acceptable to the electorate than it was fifteen years ago. It is widely perceived to be responsible for the despoliation of the planet, the exploitation of wars and the impoverishment of many countries particularly on the African continent, along with the destruction of small businesses and the standardisation of shopping areas, the plundering of football clubs and the corruption of all professional sports, the quality reduction of broadcasting (especially in Britain) and the constant bombardment of advertising and promotion.

That successive Labour governments have made no discernible impact on the redistribution of wealth raises the embarrassing question of what the Labour Party is for. Not just to fend off the temporary effect of a recession, surely. Had I been a government minister, I would have tendered my resignation when Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling did not make agreed levels of pay restraint a basic condition of the bank bail-outs that they offered on the tax payers’ behalf.

Since Cameron became Tory leader, there have been many occasions when Labour dismayingly seemed the most right-wing grouping in parliament. Labour ought not to favour cutting into the culture of benefits. It always used to be that the left supported benefits even when some people received them who didn’t need them and the right supported cuts in benefits even for people who could not manage without them: it was a key test by which one told the left from the right. But that distinction has become blurred in both directions. New Labour has grown more prepared to let deprived people swing in the wind and the Tories have become more anxious at least to give lip service to the welfare state (this conversion will be sorely tested over the coming months). But in Labour philosophy, it ought to be better that we risk losing the supposed talent of asset strippers and financial speculators than that we starve a whole class of people that might generate all sorts of talent.

A sure test of a government’s instincts is the stance of the Home Secretary. How disturbing it is that so many of the most reactionary holders of this office have been Labour: Sir Frank Soskice, Merlyn Rees, David Blunkett, Charles Clarke, John Reid and, in most unexpected ways, Alan Johnson.

It is simplistic to argue that, insofar as we surrender our liberties, the enemies of the state have won. but there is more than a germ of truth there and it needs to inform all measures proposed and taken. The policy of introducing ID cards was one that greatly damaged Labour’s reputation. Apart from all the civil liberty objections, there was the obvious danger that some future government would see a source of revenue in offering for sale the information gleaned through these cards, not to mention the sorry record of government agencies in protecting confidential data.

Dismantling much of the surveillance state ought to be on Labour’s agenda too. Britain’s infrastructure of surveillance is, as so often noted, the most extensive in the world, yet so many recent cases have shown that the surveillance simply doesn’t work. Whether it is Britain’s tradition of a chronic lack of maintenance skills or the public’s slyness in avoiding being seen while at nefarious activities, the investment is clearly not worth it.

Labour will not quickly recover the trust of the electorate until it clarifies the distinctions between itself and the Tories. If it appears to cosy up to big business more readily than it requires big business to make sacrifices for the benefit of all, it will merely be fighting the Tories for rich donors and a small sector of the electorate. If it is not prepared to take bold steps in order to redistribute wealth and power, it will only be able to offer itself as a differently able version of the Con-Dem coalition. The voters will be more likely to settle for the cabinet of millionaires that they already have than a bunch of half-hearted free-marketeers.