Why the UK Needs a Big Political Shake-Up

Your correspondent has been following the UK election news… 

… and the Labour Party under Corbyn has been branded as a “socialist” with the publication of the party’s manifesto. 

… and it looks like that something better is needed when you look at the UK numbers and compare them to the Nordic countries:

  1. GDP as a measure – GDP per head: UK $43 000 whereas in Finland $49 000, Sweden $53 000, Norway $76 000, Denmark $56 000.
  1. Income differentials as a measure – The 2019 Gini Coefficient for UK is 32 and Finland 27, Sweden 25, Norway 27, Denmark 28. The Gini coefficient refers to the way money is distributed across a nation and a low Gini coefficient of zero means a lower wealth distribution so here are a few more extreme examples  – the 2019 Gini Coefficient for Russia is 41 and the USA 45, China 47, Brazil 49, South Africa 62.

But the Brits are stuck with a really dull bunch of Conservative party politicians who continue to make false promises about the glorious past of Great Britain… and if you missed the irony of this last sentence then let’s be clear – Brexit is certainly the best way to continue to ensure the fall in economic activity and social well-being of any country – something the Brits have excelled in the last few years! 

Change is necessary, but they will probably vote for the same bunch of snake-oil salesmen, because the population appears to be caught in a black hole caused by the collision of two big political parties. The political divide is so intrenched that their screams of anger across the ravine stop any type of compromise or way forward.

The opposition Labour Party has written a 105-page manifesto about what they intend to do. Many of the proposals are close to what we have in the Nordic countries. They talk about new state-owned infrastructure banks, more investment in public schools and in public transport, more gender equality for pay and worker rights. 

But even though there are many sensible proposals the Conservative media states: “Another executive at a large UK-based group said the “extreme Labour leadership” has sent “a cloud of fear over investment in the UK” (FT 21.11.19), and “Jeremy Corbyn’s hard-Left spending splurge is ‘simply not credible’” (Daily Mail 23.11.19). 

That manifesto will increase taxes for many but their tax bill will probably be well below what we pay in the Nordic countries. But once you add on the extra compulsory costs that many in the UK pay for healthcare, education and housing, you will come to the conclusion that the Nordics have got a better deal even though we do not live in paradise!

The thing is that Corbyn’s manifesto about what he is planning to do once elected PM is not unlike today’s reality in the Nordic countries… but proposing something and implementing it are two very different propositions. 

… and if somebody repeats once more that the Nordics are “Socialists”, then we might as well ignore them with a kind smile. We have a great group of small successful countries where common sense and good public policies are fair and balanced with private interests. The numbers work for us and life is fine for most of us.

Life is a much harder for ordinary people in the UK – their housing stock is in poor condition, healthcare is free but quality and availability vary much across the country, and across class as does education and care of the aged. There are many wealthy and well-off folk in the UK and it has, until recently, ben seen as reasonably good example of democracy, but the recent governments have allowed things to drift in the wrong direction.

Corbyn is proposing to nationalise the postal services, water and power to reduce living costs for ordinary people – water, power and heating bills are high relative to income for lower and middle income residents. The increases have been especially strong after the privatisation wave. Nobody in the Nordics suffers from a lack of water, and electricity is cheap with excellent district heating and plenty of renewables, even though most of these services are firmly inside the public sector.

NHS privatisation would be halted and reversed and moratorium imposed on bed cuts – this reflects the present status quo in the Nordics with an excellent and cost effective public health system.

Expanding GP training places – this is an important policy for the current governments in the Nordics.

He is also planning to broaden the sugar tax to milk drinks, fast food restaurants, as well as imposing bans on junk food adverts and salt in food. We do not have a sugar tax in the Nordics but the U.K.’s experience in this field would be a useful lesson for us here where obesity and related diseases are becoming more common.

A UK state-controlled generic drug company would have legal rights to produce its own drugs if private versions were too expensive for the NHS. Drug prices and drug availability are also a problem in the Nordic countries and action needs to be taken at the national level if the EU fails to regulate the drug market in a better way.

The manifesto pledges “free personal care” for the elderly, saying “eligibility criteria” will be developed with a £100,000 cap on personal contributions to care costs. Again lessons learned need to be shared by all rich European countries because the current state of care of the elderly is not at the required level. There are many problems now being reported where private and public care-givers failed to provide quality service that is required.

In education policy, university tuition fees would be scrapped and maintenance grants restored. Control of education would be handed back to local councils and Ofsted replaced by a new inspection body. The Nordics already offer free schools and tertiary education for all young people. They can be no question that this is one of the most important policies that make a huge difference to the economic and social welfare of a nation.

Labour would also recruit at least 22,000 more police officers, or 2,000 more than whatever is planned by the Tories. This is another area of lessons learned. All of the Nordic countries see the need for reinforcing policing to reduce crime.

Labour will bring in rent controls for more than 11 million people renting in the private sector, as well as introducing “open-ended” tenancies, designed to give renters greater security in their homes. The Nordic countries have different types of regulation relating to home rentals. Finland has both social housing which is rented to those based on need as well as a deregulated rental market in the private sector. However, the result has been that rents have increased rather fast in large cities while they have fallen in smaller urban environments where there have been falls in local populations as a result of internal migration. Home owners in the letter areas have been unable to move without financial losses when they tried to sell their home, and buying a house or renting a home in the cities has been beyond their means. 

Sweden, on the other hand, has a highly regulated home rental market and the queues for rental accommodation appear to stretch out to longer than 10 years in their major cities. The balancing of the supply and demand for labour requires a functioning rental market. It appears that both Finland and Sweden need to rethink rental regulation.

Your correspondent was impressed with this long and detailed manifesto but it is already fairly clear that Corbyn will not win a majority because Boris is “such a nice boisterous boy”. As one female voter was quoted as saying! It is unlikely that he will ever get to implement anything from that manifesto and even if he does win it will take decades to implement most of the policies. It has taken decades of work in the Nordics to create and maintain our successful economies.   

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