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We need radical policy, now more than ever

Caitlin Prowle

Editors: Molly Blackall and Phoebe Beckett Chingono

On the 5th of July 1948, our grandparents woke up to a Britain changed. For years, the working classes had suffered at the hands of easily curable diseases and relied largely on charitable care. While National Insurance Acts and work contributory schemes improved access to healthcare somewhat, insecure employment plagued industrial areas and women were consistently left last in the queue. This was 1940s Britain, the accepted status quo, until a looming giant with a common accent from a proud and passionate community stood up and fought for something better. Something radical. 

Instead of looking backwards, to past governments who may have strove for equality and fairness but failed, or to plaster policies to heal a gaping wound, Nye Bevan and the Attlee government created something new. The National Health Service Act was surely the most radical, socialist-spirited, life-altering piece of policy Britain has ever produced. For the first time, equality of access became a reality, based of a system of taxation where your socioeconomic status could no longer determine your standard of care. 70 years later, I fear policy-making has lost this sense of radicalism, at a time when it is so desperately needed.

Fast-forward to 2018 and to the austerity-ridden, housing-crisis-persisting, inequality-driven Britain we all know and love (hate). New measures find that 4.5 million of our children live in poverty, 44% of our wealth belongs to the top 10%, our neglected health service faces yearly crises and most of us can only dream of owning our own home. While I would be accurate and perfectly justified in laying the bulk of the blame at Conservative Party HQ’s door, there is also a crucial part of the Left’s policy-making still missing; radicalism.

‘Radical’ can be a scary word. For many, it only musters up images of angry students (guilty), loud protests, upstretched fists and revolution. But Parliament can be radical too. Parliament should be radical too. The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘radical’ as “relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough”. Isn’t this what we want our politics to look like? Don’t we want our policy-making to change something, to be far-reaching and thorough? Don’t we want something better?

Of course, past governments have successfully implemented original and creative policies. In spite of its flaws, Blair’s flagship Sure Start programmes changed lives in communities like mine and should always be celebrated. But radical policy-making goes beyond individual schemes and single victories. Real radical policy shouldn’t aim to fill the gaps of a broken system with the occasional diamond, it should aim to dismantle and recreate the whole process. Bevan didn’t fiddle with National Insurance legislation or expand a limited charitable sector and call it a job well done. He embraced radical nationalisation and introduced something completely new.

Perhaps the closest example we have to this level of comprehensive recreation is Labour’s National Education Service. For too long, the Labour Party has tweaked at a broken education system, too scared to be the zealous and pioneering party it was founded to be. We’ve known for decades that our early years provision is wildly inadequate, our comprehensive sector is failing and that the privately-educated continue to dominate our industries, so why has nothing changed?

A National Education Service would aim to replicate the NHS in its commitment to cradle to grave care, offering funded education from early years to adulthood, providing for everyone regardless of background. There is so much more to be done, but the NES flirts with radicalism, provides us with a basis for real change. We need fresh ideas for every strand of government policy, from housing to transport, justice to the treasury. We need solutions and we need them fast.

We can’t just sit around and wait for the modern-day Bevan to come along and save us. It’ll be too late for the single mothers, for the skint students, for the abandoned communities, for the neglected public services, for the marginalised, for the ignored, for the helpless, for the powerless. We need radical policy and we need it now. It’s time to reject the status quo and fight for something better.