Post-Brexit Leicester?

 Debate, Greens, Politics  Comments Off on Post-Brexit Leicester?
Jun 272016

In the Post-Brexit political landscape it’s going to be interesting to see what changes in practice, and how people will adapt to the reality that the whole economic and fiscal order of the United Kingdom has to change. This was a vote that I disagreed should be held, and I’m deeply disturbed by the result because it fails to engage with the practical consequences of the decision.

So, here’s some suggestions, a couple of things that are going to have to change over the short-term in order to pay for and adjust to the new reality of Post-Brexit Britain.

Proportional Representation: First, it looks like we got into this mess because we don’t have a fit-for-purpose electoral system. The present system polarises people, and it ensure that parties are embedded in traditional areas without any challenge. This is both Labour areas and Tory areas. Look at Leicester and Leicestershire? Each are rock-solid holds on thirty-five percent of the vote. The priority has to be a proportional election system at all levels of government. We pay our taxes but we don’t get fair representation.

Congestion/Pollution Charge to Pay for Integrated Trams: Leicester is a car-based city, but the damage this does is immense, both to people’s health and to their well-being. The roads in Leicester are constantly clogged and the side-streets where people live are unusable by anything that doesn’t travel with an internal combustion engine. Families and children are cut off from one another because the roads aren’t safe.

Many of the people who drive into Leicester are getting a cheap deal. They pass through and don’t have to live with the consequences. This has left us with a devalued urban environment, and the heavy pollution that an over-reliance on cars causes.

Many other cities in the United Kingdom are successfully building integrated tram networks to change the culture and the feel of the spaces we share. Manchester, Nottingham, Birmingham, Edinburgh, are all building tram systems as a viable and preferred alternative to congestion.

Let’s bring in a congestion and pollution charge so that the money raised from excessive road use can be invested into a modern tram network. Leicester is the perfect type of city for a tram, indeed until the 1950s Leicester was mainly served by trams and buses. So it can be done here.

Property Tax – Rates Based on Market Value: The United Kingdom economy has been based for the last forty years around a number of financial imperatives, the main one being home ownership. Since the 1980s, and the Thatcher revolution for a home-owning democracy, the whole focus of housebuilding has been about property speculation. Some people have done very well out of this gamble and have accrued substantial resources as a nest egg for their retirement.

The problem is that the taxes that are raised locally are regressive, so those people who live in poorer areas and who have not benefited from the gains in property prices that other areas have seen, are paying more than their fair share.

The answer is to return to a rating system similar to that used prior to the Poll Tax. Those who have the greatest wealth and the strongest assets should be taxed fairly, and those who are working their way-up in life, and who generally live in cheaper property areas, should be taxed fairly but less. If a pensioner is living in a mansion by themselves then they should think about downsizing.

The suburbs would suddenly become a less desirable option for people to live in, and the inner-cities would become more attractive. This would reverse the wastelands that typify British urban planning, and the lack of integration of social activities, essential services and amenities. The city would be the place to retire, and we could focus on the quality of people lives.

Business rates stay in Leicester: If businesses are successful in Leicester the money that is raised from their local taxes should stay in Leicester. There is plenty of work that needs doing in Leicester. Walk along any high-street out of the city centre and you will see a picture of decay and a lack of maintenance. Local business taxes will provide money that can be used to invigorate local communities, rather than being syphoned-off to a distant market town or shire county to be spent maintaining the generous lifestyles of rural communities.

Local taxes staying in Leicester would also reinvigorate local civic engagement, as there is no stronger impetus to get involved in local politics and community life than the feeling that you are guiding the resources and the assets that are raised locally.

End to pensioner discounts and benefits: Young people need to be invested in if they are going to have confidence to learn, work hard and achieve in the future. Our economic prosperity depends on how we treat our young people. And yet there has been an asset grab on recent years that has seen resources taken from the young and from working families, and used to secure the prosperity of the older generations.

The referendum indicates that we have to make a choice, we can either have one or the other, but we can’t keep milking young people in order to pay for the leisure pursuits of the generation that has pulled-up the ladder. I’m sorry, but free television licences and bus passes will have to go.

Support University Internationalist work: Supporting younger people means supporting local schools, colleges and universities. I would like to see schools and colleges brought back under the control of local councils, and hence local democracy. So that they can be managed and funded for the long-term, with an international agenda that suits the aspirations of the of the tech-enabled young people of Leicester who aren’t afraid of globalisation and don’t see national barriers in the way that the older generations fear.

Support for Language Communities: One of the things that got cut as a sop to the anti-integrationists was the support given by local councils for language classes and translation services. This act of self-harm just made it more difficult to deal with the changes we have seen in our communities, as the transitional support that people might have benefited from was cut on the basis of irrational prejudice. Every school, college and workplace should have language clubs that help people to improve their non-English speaking skills, as well as help and support for people to learn English so that they can be integrated much more quickly.

Scale-up of infrastructure work to modernize urban areas: Walk around Leicester and take-stock of how much work needs doing to deal with the decades of neglect. Simple things like painting railings, fixing traffic junctions, clearing road signs, repairing and improving pavements. Austerity and the cuts that George Osborne imposed on local councils have taken a heavy toll on the infrastructure of Leicester’s urban environment.

The City Council has to be able to gear-up as many projects as it can quickly to deal with the blight of the urban environment. Leicester’s Mayor has made some progress with the Cathedral, Jubilee Square, the Haymarket Bus Station, and so on, but there is so much more to do. And it is money well spent as it goes back into the local economy, thus generating more taxes.

Scale-up of social services teams to deal with anti-social begging: Anyone who visits Leicester and travels along Granby Street should be able to attest to the problem of street drinking, begging and people who are damaged by drugs. An immediate and practical action plan needs to be put in place so that people who have dropped through the safety-net can be helped and supported.

The scourge of Leicester being used as a dumping ground for other local councils who export their problems needs to end, and the police need to be much more visible in ensuring that forms of anti-social behaviour are discouraged.

Clampdown on noise pollution and anti-social behaviour from bars: I firmly believe that Leicester can be one of the best family friendly cities there is. The problem at the moment is that it is being run on the basis of the so-called night-time economy alone. This is a world of cheap bars that encourage people to crowd in the streets and often ends in violence.

Who would want to live in a city and raise a family in this environment? I’m quite happy with liberal opening hours, but a culture shift has to take place that see the licensing regime changed. Yes, people should be able to go for a drink whenever they want, but there should be zero-tolerance of noise pollution and anti-social behaviour from bars and clubs.

There should also be a dispersal of venues away from the centre so that there is less concentration on large numbers of people gathering in one place. Meals and water have to be available at all times, and everyone has to sit down, just to take the concentration and density of a venue down. The free-market and commercial exploitation can’t be the only deciding factor for permission to open and run a business.

Anyway, these are just a couple of thoughts that I’d want to put forward as practical, local issues that can be dealt with quite quickly, and none of them are the responsibility of the European Union, but can be enacted and dealt with locally.



Post-Brexit Blues and Action Plans

 Debate, Politics  Comments Off on Post-Brexit Blues and Action Plans
Jun 252016

If there’s one thing that people didn’t need following the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, it is turbulence and instability. Those of us who voted to remain probably feel dejected and isolated at the present time. I know my anxiety levels are all over the place.

The financial markets are going to be uncertain for some time. We have seen a run one the pound in all but name. Thomas Cook has suspended selling Euros to Brits online. In the past we would have seen queues outside banks, and the effects would have felt much more immediate. It’s online, so it seems hidden.

There is now going to be a battle over the type of Britain that emerges from this calamitous decision, and every chancer and charlatan is going to be jockeying for a slice of the action, and to set the framework of how we get along. The Brexit camp have been clear, they want to rip-up the rule books on Human Rights, Workers Rights, Social Protection, Freedom of Movement and Trade.

This is going to be one almighty bear-pit not seen in the United Kingdom since the 1970s. No wonder Scotland wants its independence.

However, in the political and social turmoil that is going to follow in the United Kingdom, there are some practical steps that we can all take to help us feel less alone and less subject to the storm that has hit us.

First, join a Pro-EU political party – this will be either the Greens, the Liberal Democrats or Labour (on a good day). To declare an interest, I’m a member of the Leicester Green Party, though progressive parties are going to have to form an alliance and work together to challenge the neo-liberal and right-wing agenda that is being set in the post-Brexit shakeout.

It’s impossible to set and secure the agenda on environmental protection or climate change without cooperation and collaboration with our neighbours and partners. A collective approach is the only solution to the practical problems we face in a global and interconnected world. Being part of a party that recognises that is the only way to advance these ideas.

This is why proportional representation is now so important. If the UKIP wing of opinion had been fairly represented in parliament, then perhaps these issues wouldn’t have spilt over. They would have been discussed and debated. The two-party politics of the past is dead, but our system of representation is inadequate to deal with the differences of opinion. It can’t be right that fifty-two out of fifty-four council seats in Leicester are held by Labour councillors, when nearly a two-thirds of the city voted for other parties.

Second, join a trade union. Worker’s rights are at the front of the queue to be thrown on the bonfire by Michael Gove and Boris Johnson. Johnson’s record as Mayor of London shows that he was more interested in billionaire property speculators than working people. Your working rights will not defend themselves. Unscrupulous employers will want maximum flexibility and will try to drive down costs by slashing wages and work-place protection.

Third, educate yourself. One of the complaints of the referendum debate was that there was not enough facts and information given to people. I’m sorry, but this is a democracy, you have a responsibility to find out for yourself the information you need. If you end up trusting biased newspapers, then you get what you deserve.

Educating yourself works on another level as well. Without skills, knowledge and aptitude to get ahead in the global world, with the knowledge-based jobs that will create the future wealth, then you will be left behind.

I’m in favour of a building and securing a robust and accessible social ladder so people can get on, with help for people who need help. But each of us as individuals have to take responsibility for starting our journey up that ladder.

It’s no longer any use to blame someone else for our problems. We are now frozen out of the European Union. In practical terms we are on our own. It’s also no use holding on to the past and feeling aggrieved about the damage done by former governments, which was a large part of what this referendum was about. It’s also no use thinking that this isn’t real, or that some great saviour is going to come and charismatically hand us the solution.

The solution will be made by people coming together and taking small steps. A good friend of mine has a great turn of phrase which I think is useful at this moment: ‘I don’t know what I should do, I only know what I can do.’ Focus on the simple steps first, and the bigger change will happen in time.