I have been a card-carrying Liberal since the 1970s, long before the Gang of Four turned us briefly into the Liberal and Social Democrats. While I am definitely no chip-on-the-shoulder socialist, I do passionately believe that the foundation of any enlightened society is the freedom of its citizens to help each other. That is what this manifesto is all about - delivering on that belief.
I have been a supporter of the Green agenda for almost as long; global warming has now reached its tipping point and I make no apology for its appearance here. Policies and proposals aimed primarily at helping to tackle the environmental crisis are coloured green.
This manifesto is still growing, still a bit disorganized and patchy, no more than a rough cut of ideas that have been growing in me over the decades. Since I began it, some government changes have already caught up with it, whether for better or worse. It is slowly improving and gaining more ideas over time.
Freedom: To recognise the right of all individuals to improve their material and spiritual wellbeing as they see fit, subject the second Principle.
Protection: To recognise the right of all individuals to defend themselves against the abuses of their fellow citizens. That is, a citizen may act as they please, only provided that in so doing they do not abuse a fellow citizen either directly or indirectly. If they do abuse another, the injured party has the right to defend themself.
Support: To enable and encourage the exercise of these rights, and to support those who are most in need. In particular, state welfare provision should as far as possible be a hand up, not a hand out. Nor is it the state's business to protect people from their own mistakes; a Liberal state is not a nanny state.
To these ends, and more so than ever in today's Britain, indeeed in today's world, two further principles arise in consequence:
Environment: There can be no society, Liberal or otherwise, on a dead planet. Already it is too late for many coastal areas and for many familiar species of plant and animal. Whole communities, together with the lands they depend on, will be disrupted and destroyed. But all is not wholly lost. If we act now, and with total commitment, we can still save the wider world from ruin. But we have left it so late, it will be a close-run thing. The destruction of our environment is an abuse which cannot be tolerated any longer. The battle to save it must be our immediate and overriding priority, at both national and international levels. We owe this not to ourselves but to all other sentient life form on the planet, of which there are many, and especially to our children and our children's children's children over the thousands of years yet to come. It is my belief that the Liberal approach offered here provides our best chance of supporting and winning that fight, and of persuading other nations to do likewise.
Personal responsibility: The Nanny State does not work. Like attempts to micromanage a business, it institutionalises impossible demands, leading to underground cultures, hatred and corruption. It saps the will of individuals to stand up and do what they know to be right, and blocks them when they do try. Agendas, procedural bickering and administrative costs spiral up out of control. Worst of all, we stop feeling responsible for our own lives, everything becomes somebody else's job to put right. I believe passionately that a Liberal agenda must fight this dead hand at every turn, and seek to restore a sense of personal responsibility and empowerment to the individual. Nor does the traditional opposite of nannying, free-market capitalism, respect the individual's social responsibility. Neither the state nor the markets may be allowed to rule by diktat, but must act with personal responsibility to all.
In no way is this a single-Parliament manifesto, it would probably take at least twenty years to work through and it is unlikely to stop growing.
The constitutional governance of the UK is falling behind in a world that is changing ever faster. Increasing powers granted to successive Prime Ministers have proved unbalanced; insufficient to speed the pace of reform, overly draconian in unilateral powers. Major constitutional reform, a drastic revision of the checks and balances of power, is long overdue (witness the Brexit fiasco). My proposals are outlined in A Radical Liberal Constitution. Among other things I propose; recognising the above Three Principles of a Liberal Society from which everything springs, Monarchy no longer automatically inherited, hereditary honours restored to a limited extent but decoupled from power, a new third House of Parliament to restore to the revised Monarchy a modest and more considered exercise of real power, the Church of England to be disestablished, greater bottom-up citizen and Local Government powers to counterbalance Parliament's top-down governance, and the Supervote electoral system (a form of single transferable vote).
In order to reduce the opportunities for abuse of power, transparency is essential. All official records and supporting documents must be made publicly available without charge, except where privacy or security factors intrude, in which case redacted records must be made public and the justification for redaction also publicly recorded. All official public records, supporting documents and public meetings must be made freely available on the Internet. This applies to all channels of governance, at national and local levels.
The right of the individual to privacy and anonymity must not be compromised. Indeed, where it has been eroded it should be restored. No human rights or immediate needs should be witheld because the individual chooses to withold their name or address or nationality. However privileges granted by the State (such as permission to drive a motor vehicle on the public highway, or to enter this country) may not be forthcoming.
A radical reform of the relationship between national and local government and their citizens is outlined in my radical Liberal constitution. Key to it is the sovereignty of the people at the appropriate local level and the subservience of centralised institutions: the higher-tier Councils will become collective services under the control of the next tier down. Greater freedoms to deliver local services will be accompanied by greater responsibilities and greater accountability. Capping will be abolished, and in its place local tax rises will be open to community challenge. The role of the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) will be strengthened to reflect its position as their representative to central government.
Greater power and flexibility will be granted to local councils to fund and maintain transport, land, water management and communications infrastructures. This will include the power to compulsorily requistion land and related assets, raise a mortgage or other finance on it in order to pay for the necessary works, and in due course to sell it on.
The Parishes and the recent plethora of other bottom-tier Neighbourhood, Community and similar groups, constituted to perform the broadly similar function of administring a local area, will be brought under a streamlined regime as Parish Counciis. The creating of new Parishes and the redrawing of Parish boundaries will be streamlined, and the ability of the higher tiers or central government to interfere or appeal will be reduced.
Where central Government lays an obligation on a Local Authority but fails to provide adequate funding, the Local Authority may raise finance as they see fit, subject to challenge by a public meeting.
Public meetings will be subject to the same rules of transparency as any other level of governance.
Party politics is an unfortunate fact of life. The democratic wishes of the people are best served by excising it wherever possible from the machineries of constitutional governance and encouraging cross-party cooperation, especially between the minor parties whose core agendas are often single-issue and lack the breadth necessary for government. In particular, the Liberal Democrats should constantly seek dialogue with the Greens in bringing our ideologies and policies closer together, with a long-term view to coalition or even merger.
No true Liberal can ever rule out coalition government. What we can do is learn from our mistakes and ensure that political parties who have proved they cannot be trusted, such as Labour and the Conservatives, must in future honour their side of any coalition agreement before we deliver on ours.
Election candidates of minor parties and independents will be able to reclaim certain election expenses which do not scale with their level of support, such as postal distribution of manifesto leaflets. In parallel, major parties will be more restricted than they have been in these activities, for example in the number of campaign leaflets they may deliver to each home during a campaign.
With the Church of England disestablished, the steadily diverging concepts of marriage or partnership held by the secular state and the established religion are released from their uneasy alliance. In a multicultural society, religious and moral views on marriage also differ between communities. The Three Principles require the state to stand back and apply no moral pressure on the citizen's freedom. The state has been moving towards the broader terminology of a "civil partnership" and this will be consolidated. Different religions and interest groups may continue to recognise their own individual systems of marriage, but their legal status will extend only as far as the partnership law requires.
Besides helping along the social equality of women and the LGBT world, partnership law will also help to detach parenting and surrogate parenting from arbitrary impositions, enabling the welfare of the child to always come first.
Those of you interested in exploring this idea further may like to keep an eye out for the philosopher Clare Chambers' new book, Against Marriage (Oxford, 2017), which as I write is due out next month.
Education is the foundation of any enlightened society, and never more so than among the fake news of today's social media. Commitment to education for all must therefore be of the highest priority for government.
First and foremost, our children must be protected from being used as political footballs, as so often happens today. Neither elected politicians nor their career civil servants have any claim to administer education better than the experts. Education will be taken out of the hands of meddling politicians and given back to the teaching profession. This includes the curriculum and management of state education. Ofqual will not be abolished. But it will be recast primarily as central government's enabler, helping with the planning and implementation of better schooling, university and adult education to the guidelines set out by the professional teaching bodies. Local Education Authorities will share these roles at local level, but no more. The role of watchdog is passed to the professional bodies. If they fall short of public expectations, remedy will be sought not in political meddling but in working with all parties to identify the problem and to bring professional practices back up to standard.
Private education for the privileged is an unavoidable fact of life. Almost every parent seeks the best for their own children and there will always be parents in positions of relative power, privilege and wealth who will exploit that position to obtain the very best. To fight privilege is to drive it underground; we see this very clearly in the accretion of affluence and increasing house prices around popular grammar schools. It is better to roll with it and to use it as we can, to channel, cooperate with and exploit it for wider public benefit. The more fluid and frequent the migration of ideas, people and resources between state and private education, the better it will be for all our children. It sounds backwards, but the principle of preventing abuse (the Second Principle of my constitution) is best served by institutionalising this particular abuse in order to minimise its damaging effects. Assisted places, scholarships, partnerships, exchanges, grants, shared resources, variable state financing, all these things and more are to be encouraged. A broad continuity of offerings between state and private removes the barriers to movement and, equally importantly, helps to reduce the deeply destructive "us and them" partisanship of the powerful versus the majority. Best practice is best practice, it doesn't matter who you are.
Compulsory national exams will be confined to the nominal ages at which children change or leave schools: around eleven, sixteen and eighteen. All interim assessments will be made optional and unregulated, leaving schools free to assess their pupils as they see best.
Two proposals will be put to the professional teaching bodies for urgent consideration. One is a severe cutting back and refocusing of the National Curriculum to basic life skills, which may be characterised as the three Rs, the Internet and domestic and personal skills. The other is an agenda for secondary and higher education based on the observation that academic degrees are not for all, vocational training is often best served through practical-oriented college courses, and there is neither stigma nor privilege attached to either path.
Student loans are an iniquitous way for any young adult to begin their working life. They will be progressively scaled back. This will be partly funded by cutbacks in Departmental and Local administration made possible by their reduced responsibilities and partly by reducing or removing charitable status from the more privileged and less community-minded private institutions.
The National Health Service must be put back in the hands of the professionals, as with education. And again, private privilege must be recognised as an unavoidable fact of life to be channelled, cooperated with and exploited for public benefit. Barriers between state and private facilities must be further eroded - the patient must come first, whoever owns or manages the facility or pays for the treatment. Government involvement will similarly reduce to that of facilitator and watchdog.
Nursing care is a critical part of health provision, alongside medical treatment, and this needs to be recognised throughout the system.
High priority will be given to providing appropriate community accommodation for "bed-blockers", to help unlock the bed crisis in our hospitals, and to working with local authorities, charities and businesses to provide the necessary care and supervision.
Food health and safety is to be improved. Government and NHS clinical advice on the role of fats in obesity is to be reviewed and updated in the light of current scientific consensus. Labelling for industrial trans fats is to be re-introduced, and a speedier programme introduced - by legislation if necessary - to phase them out from not only processed human foods but also from animal feeds. Better labelling, for even the most unusual allergens, will require all ingredients to be declared, such as proprietary flavourings: the health of the consumer must take precedence over the protectionism of the manufacturer. However, the amounts of such ingredients need not be declared, as this is seldom important in choosing food.
Many areas of public health suffer from a lack of research because drug companies see no opportunity to recover their investments through monopoly exploitation. Patents and other monopoly tools are unacceptable to any public health funding. Not-for-profit research is to be encouraged and incentivised, through an increase in direct grants to charitable and academic institutions.
Review the policy on tobacco and nicotine. They are to be treated as a drug like any other (see also below). The tax escalator to be stopped and possibly backed off a little, before the high prices drive addicts onto the black market. Recent research, claiming cigars to be as damaging as cigarettes, failed to recognise that cigar smokers seldom inhale. New research incorporating that understanding needs to be commissioned. Similarly, research on the effectiveness of filter materials vs. more tobacco to be revisited objectively and without propaganda bias. Studies to be epidemiological and/or drawn from determined smokers, as far as possible.
Similarly, alcohol is to be treated primarily as a health issue. Alcohol taxes are currently arbitrarily set for different beverages. Such paternal attempts at social engineering are to be abandoned and they are to be normalised across all beverages solely according to alcohol content.
Historical research on the health risks of saturated fats and unsaturated oils is to be revisited, due to unknown trans fat levels in previous studies.
It is widely acknowledged in the scientific and medical communities that addictive recreational drugs are a medical problem. They may raise social issues, but then so do many medical conditions. In line with the Three Principles, the state has no business nannying citizens with moral diktats. Drugs are drugs, whether therapeutic or recreational - and, increasingly, many are both. For example LSD, THC (marijuana) and MDMA (esctasy) all have a growing bopdy of evidence supporting their effectiveness as medical treatments for certain specific conditions. All recreational drugs should be brought under existing medical control regimes, and the medical community should be left both to decide on their availability and to determine their side effects.
An important part of the overall picture is the ability of government to license, and thereby to regulate, the availability of recreational drugs. The forces of law and order retain a strong role in curtailing the freedoms of drug pushers and takers where sale is unlicensed or side effects are sufficiently severe to affect other people. For example if a certain strong antibiotic and a certain designer drug are found to have similar effects on the taker's cognition and behaviour, then the law should apply the same restrictions to both. The role of law enforcement will change focus from the fact of possession and use to the abuse of license, as it already does with alcohol and tobacco. An important consequence will be to reduce the overcrowded prison population by moving many inmates - and the associated funding - to a domestic regime of optional medical care.
Not all recreational drugs will be moved to the new regime at once, the implementation will be staged both to allow society to adapt and to allow re-evaluation and modification of policy. The least harmful of them will be trialled first. The government will ask the medical community to first consider tobacco and nicotine as a recreational drug, and to consider health differences between distinct strains of cannabis, such as "skunk", with a view to moving determined users onto safer strains. This initial trial will be carefully watched and lessons learned before wider consideration of other drugs, be they safer substances such as caffeine or more dangerous substances such as MDMA.
Vaping, with or without nicotine, comprises recreational drug use. The long-term health effects of the solvents, smoke generators and other substances present in vaping fluids and crystals will be subject to the same medical and regulatory regime.
Currently, some benefits can taper off very sharply, effectively meaning a benefits tax of 50% or more even on the lowest-paid, and some sharp benefit cut-offs can even amount to a tax above 100% on low earnings. This whole system of arbitrary cut-offs and sliding scales across both means tested benefits and staged allowances is inherently unfair and hits the lowest-paid hardest. It will be swept away and replaced by a guaranteed, needs-related income and a simple tax roll-off on all income.
The tax and benefits systems will be more closely integrated, with the role of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) expanded to become the Department of Taxation and Entitlements, or DTE. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will still be responsible for assessing entitlements but payments will be administered by the DTE.
Universal credit will be expanded to become a unified personal entitlement, replacing all the current mix of separate benefits and tax allowances. The DWP will calculate each individual's entitlement based on their circumstances, similar to the current benefits system but pooled together at the end. The various historical welfare benefits and tax allowances relating to health, dependants and other factors which directly affect needs, will all be rolled into the DWP criteria for assessing a person's gross entitlement.
Similarly, all sources of wealth, be they earned or unearned income, gifts or capital gains, will be merged as a single wealth receipt. DTE will calculate each individual's tax liability on their net receipt (after allowable losses).
The difference between tax liability and entitlements will then be either charged or paid to the individual, as appropriate. It is as simple as that. The end result is to guarantee a universal income tailored to individual need.
Receipts will be taxed at a standard rate of tax regardless of income, except for the most wealthy who may be subject to a top-band tax rate. Receipts below the needs threshold will still be taxed at the standard rate, but will be added to your entitlement. Thus, any earnings at all will increase your total income.
Initially, needs assessments and the standard tax rate will be set to maintain the current net spend/revenue balance of DWP and HMRC. Because of the current unfair system, the standard receipts tax rate is likely to be higher than the current standard rate of income tax. The receipts tax rate for the wealthiest is essentially independent of needs assessment. Other than having Capital Gains Tax and the like rolled in, it would initially remain unchanged from the current top rate of tax, but may be adjusted from time to time as it is now.
In this needs-based unification, several historic benefits and allowances based on indirect factors such as employment, age and marital status become anachronisms and will be abolished.
The financial distinctions between employed, self-employed and unemployed will disappear, as will similar distinctions between workplace contracts for an individual's services and contracts of employment. Only the actual cash received will matter to the DTE and only the worker's needs and rights will matter to the DWP.
The historic Old Age Pension has traditionally been a reward for hard work. With the rise of vocational and independent pension schemes, increasingly becoming compulsory, the need for a State funded reward has lessened. Health and disability allowances have also become available. There is no longer any social imperative to provide a blanket top-up for all old people, beyond their immediate needs. Needs-related aspects of the current regime, including the winter fuel allowance, will be incorporated into the DWP needs calculation along with other personal circumstances. The remainder will be abolished. Existing and imminent state pension incomes will be respected and no pensioner will lose out as a result of the change, while privatisation of longer-term future rights will be considered. Such privatisation would cost the government money in the short term, so if it were done at all it would be carried out in stages over several years.
In a multicultural society, religious and moral views on marriage differ. The Three Principles require the state to stand back and apply no moral pressure on the citizen's freedom. Accordingly, the special financial status of marriage will be abolished.
Similar principles will be applied to corporate and charitable taxation and reliefs, although the reliefs will be assessed by DTE.
The huge simplification which all this brings, in paperwork and administration, offers not only major cost savings for all concerned but also an equally large reduction in the opportunities for errors or outright abuse, whether by the incumbent government, its staff or its citizens. Everybody wins.
The use of volunteer Special Constables in local policing has proved successful and is to be expanded. Some funding will be diverted to Local Authorities, to allow expansion and better delivery.
Current laws on IT are obsolete or have been hastily put up without sufficient care. The balance between national security and individual privacy is a delicate compromise. What is appropriate to a peacetime situation may be less appropriate as dangers rise. The world is too complicated a place for kneejerk response to be a sensible legislatory tool. Legislation should therefore be drafted, and measures prepared, appropriate to distinct normal, alert and emergency levels of threat. Significant re-tuning of the law is required in several areas, whether towards greater privacy or greater investigatory powers. In this, the potential abuse of systems by members of their management teams should not be overlooked. Any insistence on covert "backdoor" access to systems is recognised as a fundamental breach of privacy rights under the First Principle and will be revoked. in practice, it also opens those same doors to exploitation by inimical agencies. Where IT companies, foreign nations and organised crime are likely to hold databases on UK citizens, the UK government will be allowed to do the same, or to access the company databases under a warrant. However government security services will not be allowed to harvest or retain unique information on ordinary citizens without a named warrant. Protection for IT workers against company sanction for covertly serving the Security services under government warrant will be strengthened.
The nature of custodial sentencing and the prison service is to be radically overhauled. Drug taking and addiction are to be decriminalised but their consequences are not: more is explained below. Custodial sentencing may be justified only for the protection of wider society, of which deterrence and the isolation and reform of the individual remain key. Petty crime born of desperate circumstance is better addressed through health and welfare support. Hatred has no place in an enlightened regime, and ideas such as punishment or atonement must be taken solely in the context of deterrence and reform. Prison regimes are to be revised accordingly. The reduction in inmate numbers expected from these reforms will be translated into better staff-inmate ratios and not into overall cost savings, although some funds will transfer to the expanded social support services.
A citizen without support is all too often a citizen at risk. A "red button" facility will be progressively introduced on all handsets and similar communications devices sold in the UK, providing a shortcut to 999 emergency calls and also an ability to report and block online threats, harassment, junk and other forms of major nuisance. The Government will also work with email and other social software providers to integrate the button into their products. Misuse of the facility will carry its own penalty.
Legal protection for whistleblowers will be strengthened, making it a criminal offence to harass or threaten a whistleblower or their family and friends, and making it easier for whistleblowers to obtain active state intervention in curtailing such potential activities by alleged wrongdoers.
The programme to collate and replace older Statutes and to otherwise simplify the body of Parliamentary laws will be revived. At the same time its internal processes will be radically revised. Costs will be reduced through the use of information technology and wider community engagement. This will focus around an online wiki on which current statutes may be posted and amdendments or replacements worked out. A qualified legal team need only sanity-check the community output and present it to Parliament as it reaches an acceptable standard.
Society is becoming ever more litigious. The legal professions and the law courts become busier and busier. Often, the offender seeks to throw justice off track by whatever means they may, binding up the courts in endless bickering. It all costs the country a fortune, wastes talents sorely needed elswhere and discourages the many aggrieved parties who lack the time, energy or resources to follow it through. In order to help stem the tide, an offence of egregious litigation will be introduced. Should a litigant, be they claimant or defendant, be deemed to have had a hopeless case from the start and to have been chasing for a grossly unrealistic outcome, powers will be granted for the Court to impose a substantial penalty on the litigant for wasting its time. For relatively minor occurrences, fines may be levied, while for major cases in which wilful animosity or cynical advantage is an apparent motive, custodial and similar sentences may be imposed in addition. The Courts will also be given powers to order appropriate compensation to the other party for their time and distress in the process. Such a decision may be appealed like any other, but the penalties for a failed appeal will escalate sharply.
The Grenfell cladding trap that so many flat-owners have fallen into is unacceptable. Those responsible must pay and the homes of those affected must be secured. This episode is symptomatic of deeper flaws in property law. These laws will be amended to place the burden of reparation fairly and squarely on the companies and organisations responsible. Moreover, where the organisation no longer exists, liability will pass to the beneficiaries of its assets and profits, be they other coporatses, private individuals or heirs. Government organisations, at both local and national levels, will be among those owners who must dig into their pockets.
At the same time all long-term tenants of any home, who are threatened with eviction, whether through financial straits or owner fiat, will be granted a right to claim temporary tenancy and legal aid to resolve the matter. Where a mortgage is sold on by the provider, any powers to foreclose without cause will be made illegal, and any such existing clauses deemed null and void.
Our countryside is both our most important heritage and our most important natural resource. Maintaining a harmonious balance of environmental protection and exploitation is critically important to the economy and wellbeing of the nation. But many old, sustainable institutions have been dismantled and over recent decades much has fallen into disrepair. Efforts by local authorities to preserve what is left are ham-fisted, focusing on tickbox policies rather than restoration and reinvigoration.
Local authorities will have their powers restored and extended, to undertake necessary works and charge landowners where they fail in their obligations to the community over environmental protection, drainage and watercourse maintenance, waste and pollution clearance, road and footpath repairs, dangerous trees and so forth.
On the other hand small, even ad hoc rural communities will be given greater powers to challenge and override that tickbox bureaucracy, where they can demonstrate a clear benefit to the people and the environment. The bureaucratic hurdles imposed on local councils, especially of the lower tiers, will be streamlined to focus more on principles than on rigid detail, with greater focus on transparency and accountability to public meetings and less to obscure process and Whitehall. Where a lower-tier council wishes to take on responsibilities for providing a given service, the higher tiers will (subject to special circumstances) be obliged concede and reduce their component of the Council Tax accordingly.
The traditional division into A, B and unclassified roads, and Motorways or M roads, has become overstretched and has outlived itself. At the same time, slow pedestrian and cycle traffic is suffering unnecessarily at the hands of the vehicle driver. A roads in particular carry vastly different levels of traffic. To help the larger and faster flows, a new class of T or Trunk road will be introduced, intermediate between the A and M classes. A T road will have minimum requirements, for example it must be a dual carriageway and have no traffic lights at junctions. Many of the busier A roads will already qualify, while the requirements will highlight shortcomings on others which ought to be made good. The requirements for a motorway will be tightened, for example requiring at least three lanes in each direction. Some existing motorways, such as the M50, might become T roads, while others may need upgrading.
Road traffic is among out biggest environmental polluters and our biggest killers. In order to reduce speed changes and thus reduce energy waste, and also in the interests of road safety, the minimum speed on motorways will be increased to 40 mph, while maximum speed on A roads and smaller will be reduced to 50 mph. Allowable speeds on T roads will be the subject of future research. The introduction of 20 mph speed limits in areas with heavy pedestrian usage will be mandated. Cycle paths will be pursued more vigorously and treated as carriageways in their own right, with cycles progressively moved off T and, eventually, A carriageways. All in all, both vehicle and cycle traffic will see a safer, faster, greener and more consistent driving environment.
Unlike many activities, driving a vehicle on public roads is a privilege and not a right. Greater emphasis needs to be placed on the responsibilities of the driver to act safely and conscientiously, if they are to retain that privilege. Penalties for unsafe driving practices, even repeated parking offences, will see a shift in emphasis from fines and imprisonment to driving bans.
At present, speed limits are imposed by local highway authorities and are often used to excess in order to placate vociferous residents. For the driver, this often means frustratingly slow and repetitive speed limits, leading to road rage and unsafe driving. These limits can in theory be raised again where such a mistake has been made, but in practice this is politically impossible at a local level. To address this, these decisions need to be removed from the political arena. Local highways departments will be legally required to periodically review all speed restrictions in their area and, unless its imposition meets the guidelines then current, to either adjust or abandon it as appropriate; Councillors will have no say in the matter, save to make legal challenge to a decision they disagree with. New guidelines will pay particular attention to consistency across the area and to the avoidance of excessive restrictions. In return, a greater burden will be placed on the driver to act responsibly in road conditions where the safe limit is below the restriction set, while the law on driving unsafely will be made easier to enforce. Thus, the emphasis on driving speeds will be shifted away from arbitrary state diktat and towards driver responsibility.
A two-tier driving license will be introduced. The basic license will; allow only private use, limit vehicle weight and road speed, and will not allow the driver to use motorways or instruct others, and so on. The advanced license lifts these restrictions. Provided an approved monitoring system including a dashboard camera is fitted to the vehicle, it also grants additional privileges. For example it allows a driver to treat certain local speed restriction signs as advisory. On the other hand, the advanced driver undertakes to adhere to a more rigorous code of civil and community-conscious conduct, such as driving courteously and offering appropriate support in an emergency.
All motor vehicles will be required to carry an identification and geolocation device, which can be interrogated by the emergency and (given suitable grounds) police and security services, and also by number plate recognition and traffic control systems. The system will be introduced first on large commercial vehicles, with successive generations rolled out to private motor cars and eventually motor cycles. These measures will help to improve traffic management and to identify and sanction drivers who are acting irresponsibly. Remember, driving is not a right but a privielege. When you get behind the wheel, the price for that privilege is making yourself visible.
The further rollout of rapid-transit systems in Britain's "second cities" such as Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Belfast will be encouraged. Failures such as the Merry Hill monorail will be re-evaluated, while issues such as intergated cycle and RTS route provision will be on the agenda.
Biodiesel is not ideal, as it does re-emit the carbon it has captured and can also emit other pollutants. But for heavy, long-haul transport there is as yet no practicable alternative in sight. Biodiesel can provide a greener stopgap than at present, until battery technology advances sufficiently. Battery manufacture is not the greenest of activities and a truly green biodiesel technology would have a long-term future. A second issue arises in the comparison with petrol engines. Where a Diesel has higher nitrogen oxide and particulate emissions, petrol engines are less efficient and emit more carbon. The Diesel primarily afferts the current population as its pollutants soon diappear, however the carbon from petrol perists for hundreds, even thousands, of years. The choice is between harming ourselves today or harming our children's children's children for a hundred generations. If we accept the principle that the polluter pays, then we ourselves should be paying, so we should be phasing out petrol engines and not Diesel. The current Diesel tax will therefore be scrapped, and plans to phase out Diesel altogether will be modified to allow the continued use of biodiesel, in both modified and new engines. Technologies to recapture the carbon emissions from both kinds of engine before leaving the vehicle will be researched, with a view to introducing them in the future. Research into the recycling of used oils, the presence of other pollutants and ways to reduce them will be stepped up. At the same time, to discourage a lax attitude to timescales, legislation to enforce the greening of biodiesel will be introduced.
Aviation is another great consumer of fossil fuels, often purely for recreation such as holiday travel. Yet it is only very recently that any tax on these fuels has been made possible by international agreement. The levying of this tax must be pressed and accelerated as a matter of urgency, in order to discourage casual or unnecessary flying and thus reduce carbon emissions.
The energy revolution is in full swing. But it is not swinging fast enough. Measures must be taken to encourage the research, development and rollout and adoption of renewables and other green energy sources. Fossil "fuels" must be recast as raw materials for industry, for processing into durable and recyclable plastics and the like, and not for release into the wider enviroment. Mining of the rare earths essential to many green technologies will be both encouraged and greened in its own right. Investment in wave power will be expanded. Biodiesel, offshore wind, solar, geothermal and nuclear will all be progressed; ultimately, some of these are less than ideal in the long term, but anything that weans us off fossil fuels and net CO2 emissions, must be an acceptable stopgap.
Research in America has shown that, if you paint the blades of a wind turbines in different colours, then bird strikes are dramatically reduced. It seems that birds can more easily track the various blades and avoid being hit by them. Such bird strikes are taking a dangerously high toll of some of our threatened bird species, both onshore and offshore. The appropriate repainting of turbine blades will be rolled out as a matter of urgency, and the relevant authorities will be required to expedite any necessary discussions and permissions with the operators. It is to be hoped that this can be achieved through persuasion and information, and that no explicit legistaltion will be necessary. This simple but effective measure would greatly relieve the pressures on vulnerable bird populations and increase the number of sites suitable for installing these turbines.
All packaging used for post and parcels must be fully recyclable or renewable, with the use of non-compliant materials to be subject to financial penalties.
The sending or knowing delivery of unsolicited mail will be banned. This will reduce both personal nuisance and environmental impact. Before a delivery service such as the Post Office or leafleteer may accept bulk materials, the burden will be both on the sender to demonstrate the recipients' implicit consent or a wider public benefit and on the deliverer to appraise the demonstration of consent. Some more general provisions are described in the section in Informations and communications technology.
Post Office counter services will be progressively expanded to become a National Office franchise. They will be given greater powers and support in providing additional local and national government services, as well as wider facilities such as pickup lockers, over-the-counter financial services, free WiFi and controlled Internet access. This will help to reverse the continuing closure of post offices and bank branches in rural areas and provide a one-stop shop for the citizen who needs local access to essential services. In the longer term, local authorities will be obliged to ensure a minimum level of National Office provision, with subsidies made available to reduce any local financial burden.
The "open source" licensing of technologies is a way of circumventing the negative effects of over-zealous intellectual property laws and commerciaism. More significantly, it has become a major enabler for the community development and use of technologies. Anybody can contribute to it, anybody can use it. It has come to dominate the Internet and is now expanding into many other areas, such as the latest 5G mobile communications and microchip design. State agencies occasionally make contributions. but the UK legal framework is hopelssly obsolete. The Cabinet Office has in the past sought to break the logjam, but with little success. A major revision of the legislation and guidelines will be undertaken to oblige all UK state ornagisations to adopt open licensing as their default business model, with more traditional arrangements allowed only as special cases according to agreed criteria. For example suppliers of IT systems and services will be required to release the source software and system architecture under an open license, and will be forbidden to supply proprietary solutions where an open-source equivalent exists.
In order to further the vaule of open source systems to UK Government and other organisations, and to make adequate solutions available, an office will be created to coordinate, support and contribute resources to open source initiatives across the technology spectrum. These contributions will not aim primarily at "pay-and-pay" influencing but at substantial "directed finding" to enable progress on specific projects and features. This will lie alongside Communitcations, initially at least within the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
Trading in online currencies which induce the construction of vast computer farms to generate wealth will be banned. Any online currency which uses such methods must either revise its system of wealth creation or face being banned.
Fast Internet and mobile telephony connections are as essential to modern life as transport, water and electricity. They will be adopted as basic supply rights alongside these facilities and their national rollout accelerated. The State will take control of strategic planning and delivery, with the telecommunications companies adopting the role of franchised providers. The infrastructure will be subject to legal requirements for availability and resilience, while strategic elements will be taken into direct State ownership.
Freedom of access will be enshrined in law alongside freedom of speech and freedom to walk the physical public highway. Access will be free at the point of connection. All access points such as cellphone towers will be obliged to connect through all compatible devices, regardless of service provider. A National service provider, analogous to the BBC, will be set up to provide free management of device identity and connectivity. This will allow fast, free access to Government services such as welfare support, as an alternative to visiting an office, which can be a difficult or major problem for some people. However all other service provision, such as generic telephony and email, will still be left in private hands, ensuring that commercial services can still operate and prosper under a modified revenue model.
Bulk unsolicited "junk" communications and selling methods are unpopular, whether delivered by telephone, spam email or post. They waste the time of otherwise productive people, they clog up infrastructure, they induce the least fortunate to spend what they can least afford. The practice needs to be further clamped down on. The organisations responsible will not suffer unduly, as they may more productively spend their efforts in alternative ways to reach genuine prospective buyers, who will not have gone away. Online user accounts offering regular updates must default to off, with a positive action and annual confirmation required by the user in order to subscribe. Penalties such as fines and blocking should be expanded to better compensate society for the economic and environmental cost, and to deter offenders, with persistent violation of privacy made a criminal offence. Sanctions may be introduced against delivery services for inadequate filtering. Exemptions will include government authorities and organizations who renew individual recipient subscriptions annually.
Many broadcasting and online media channels currently delivered by the BBC represent little in the way of value as public services and face robust competition from the private sector. These will go. The role of the BBC will be refocused as a public service corporation providing news, current affairs, education, culture and the encouragement of new talent in all areas of broadcasting. The number of output channels will be reduced and the spending of large sums of public money on competitive bids for sporting and similar events will be curtailed. The back catalogue will be licensed to commercial broadcasters. The cash generated will be ploughed back into original program making.
Abusive assertion of patents and copyrights is increasing, the law courts get busier every day and all too often the deepest pockets outlast the others and win. Patents were originally introduced to protect the small inventor and encourage technological advance, but they have been hijacked by big business and now stifle more than they encourage. This is especially egregious in the world of communications and software. In publishing, copyrights have undergone a similar change of emphasis from protecting the creator to feeding the big publishers and archives; it enables academic publishing in particular to be one of the most profitable businesses in the world. The publisher pays neither contributor nor peer reviewer, nor even the printer if they publish online. Yet independent researchers and other members of the public, whose taxes paid for the academic reasearch, are barred by the publisher's paywall from accessing what they have already paid for. The exercise of intellectual property rights is stifling progress across the board. Yet the creative individual and corporate still needs to eat, to see a return on their effort. To strike a fairer balance, the law will be revised to rebalance rights towards the individual and smaller organisation, whether as creator or consumer. The trend towards increased periods of assertion, long after the original genius has moved on, will be reversed.
Cyber security is an integral part of any responsible rollout. Its scope covers everything from secure hardware to secure data to propaganda and so-called "fake news". It is an opposing force to freedom of information.
The demands of free access and security are often mutually exclusive. The law must maintain a delicate balance between the two. Nowhere is this more evident than in cyber space. The government will create a new Department for Cyber Affairs to review and improve legislation, research and investment, as an ongoing process of change. It will work alongside global standards bodies such as the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to improve international technical standards and to implement them effectively within the UK. Longer-term initiatives currently within the Office of Cyber Security and Information Assurance are likely to be moved across.
Ubiquitous encryption is essential to the British online citizen's constitutional right to privacy. It is to be challenged only through a warrant raised against a named suspect in the usual way.
Backdoors into systems will not be mandated, however if a telco does knowingly install or allow a backdoor then the government authorities must be informed and monitoring put in place to prevent abuse.
Government security agencies will be allowed bulk network access for limited-term caching and search purposes. Ubiquitous encryption will have a varying impact on the usefulness of this concession, as technologies continually develop. Such databases must be secure, e.g. encrypted, with warrantry in place for any search or extraction involving personalised data.
A National database of basic personal information would prevent so much administrative time being spent duplicating personal data, burying mistakes where nobody can find and correct them, and trying to obtain relevant information from other government agencies. Lives are continually being damaged or even lost through such bad data handling, and there is a desperate need to improve matters. A data handling system will be designed, covering all citizen's personal data held by government agencies and affiliates in the UK. It will allow both ease of data interchange at the technical level and, at the same time, fine-grained security for safe and reliable data access at the user level. Just as now, no one database will hold everything. A secure link protocol will provide a common standard for accessing and reconciling all such databases. This will make it easier for individual agencies to develop specialist local systems, and allow authorised staff to query several databases at the same time, with the minimum of effort or security risk. This will greatly reduce the amount of data duplication and accompanying problems across agencies. Citizen will have the right to view their own personal data, request corrections and sue for misinformation, while certain information relating to security matters or to other non-consenting private individuals may be withheld. In order to ensure long-term government control by preventing proprietary lock-in, the specifications will be based on open standards and open-source software.
The integration of cyber defence into our overall defensive and retaliatory capabilities must continue. The capacity of cyber attack to sabotage takes it beyond mere espionage and its nature as a genuine if bloodless method of warfare needs to be recognised.
Across the whole defence arena, the value of multiple small, low-cost units against a handful of high-cost, high-capability units is to be reassessed, with particular attention to survivability, supportability, lifecycle cost and operational flexibility in the roles which need to be fulfilled.
Land forces are increasingly required to perform civilian support roles, both at home and overseas, and a clearer division between such paramilitary capabilities and true military power needs to be drawn out. It may even supplant the old hardware-based division onto Land, Sea and Air forces and replace it with a role-based division into battle and peacekeeping forces.
Nuclear capability remains an unfortunate essential to any nation with a significant global presence, as do defence against biological and chemical attacks.
It is essential to pull out all the stops at an international level, if the fight for our planet is to be won. We must support, promote and push forward all international efforts to coordinate and drive the battle.
Even now there are still national governments who are too short-sighted, or simply not brave enough, to face up to the short-term consequences of that fight. It should be admitted plainly that the absolute imperative to rescue what we can of the environment will detract from the resources and options available to deal with anything and everything else in this manifesto. And all encouragement must be given to other nations to gather their wits and join in the fray.
COP26 has helped. But it has not helped enough. We need to keep up the pressure, to push for more frequent climate conferences until a viable plan can both be agreed ("blah, blah, blah") and honoured globally (a tougher diplomatic challenge, altogether!). We need to seek better international coordination and cooperation. Among other things, that means tackling the consequences of rising sea levels head-on; if we appear to be ditiching a mutitude of low-lying communities, the affected nations will be unlikely to play their part to the full and, worse, they will spread an atmosphere of mistrust and getting away with blah, blah, blah.
Now that the UK has left the EU (see Brexit and Beyond - a personal view) we should begin negotiations with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), of which we were a founding member before we joined the (then) EEC. EFTA are members of the European trading zone, the EEA, so we would regain much of the free trade that Brexit lost. It would also potentially ease the complicated and tendentious difficulties over fishing rights and Northern Irish cross-border trade. But unlike the EU, EFTA is not a closed shop, so we can continue to honour our trade agreements elsewhere and to make new ones. Of these, the most important is the revival of old trading agreements with the Commonwealth countries, especially the Anzac nations, the Indian subcontinent and South Africa. We also need to pursue a trade agreement with the US.
At the time of writing, the Northern Ireland situation is at deadlock, with the agreed trade protocols proving unworkable. In finding a way forward, the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 is paramount. Inconsistences embodied in the UK-EU Brexit agreements need to be acknowledged and unpicked. The UK has led the way in this, and the EU needs to regain its sense of realism. As an example of this, the current deadlock lies between two unions of nations, the EU and the UK. It is the EU's position that the UK must yield. The UK did so, even accepting a modest internal trade barrier within the UK. It ws then accused of betrayal by its Loyalists and, in consequence, has had to backtrak to a more even-handed position. The EU chooses to be unhappy about this. They are happy to impose a trade barrier down the middle of the UK, yet when the equivalent barrier is proposed within the EU, all is outrage. No, now it is the EU's turn to yield to reality, swallow its arrogance and honour the Good Friday principles with an even hand. As noted above, were the UK for its part to return to EFTA, this might well ease the process. Failure to agree must eventually end in suspension of the Brexit protocols and an open trade war.
The City of London is uniquely placed to become the global leader in international finance, being by an accident of geography the only major financial centre which can deal with all the other centres, from Tokyo to California, in a single working day. Even in the digital age, such personal contact remains crucial. The potential for international earnings and influence is vast and the government should work with the City institutions and their foreign counterparts to support this aim.
International communications and the associated standards are moving increasingly to the Internet. However the Internet itself has no internationally-maintained oversight. The key standards bodies are all US-based, while nations such as Russia and China follow their own stars on many functions such as access and routing. This lack of oversight is leading to an increasing prevalence of abuse for personal or political ends. The UK will seek to work with the international community, especially the United Nations, to internationalise Internet oversight, either by internationalising and reforming the existing bodies, or replacing them.
We should also maintain or increase our foreign aid and our participation in international projects. However we must be more critical of our reasons for doing so. As at home, we will offer where possible a hand up not a hand out, and will not be a nanny state protecting others from their own mistakes. Besides humanitarian aid such as disaster relief, such investment must also be of long-term value to global security, economic stability and growth, to science and, above all, to the environment.
Updated 14 Jun 2022