Richard Angell and Henna Shah identify six changes progressives can bring about in 2018
2018 will be the year when all the key Brexit decisions will take place. It will dominate the discussion. Even the best Brexit is worse than full membership of the European Union, so what other wins could progressives carve out in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, Theresa May’s Britain and Donald Trump’s world? Here are six reasons to be cheerful:
Improved cancer treatment
Tessa Jowell spoke in the House of Lords about her brain cancer diagnosis, which came without warning or symptoms. To a packed chamber she gave voice to thousands of cancer sufferers across Britain. Less than two per cent of cancer research funding is spent on brain tumours, and no vital new drugs have been developed in the last 50 years. a major factor in survival is successful surgery, and the gold standard to enable this is a specialist dye to identify the tumour, which is only available in about half the brain surgery centres in England. Jowell called for this to be extended to all. There and then the government agreed – with just one speech she has meant more people will stay alive for longer.
Her more considerable challenge for the government was her desire for the United Kingdom to implement a new approach to cancer diagnosis, research and treatment, the Eliminate Cancer Initiative. It is a mix of programme and campaign, already underway in Australia. The minister, secretary of state for health – who sat in the upper house throughout – and the prime minister pledged to give full and careful consideration to the issue. Jowell never gives up; we can be assured she will get exactly what she wants and leave yet another lasting legacy in the country she has served for over 40 years.
Seni’s Law is a private member’s bill brought by Croydon North’s Steve Reed. Seni Lewis was restrained by 11 police officers in a mental health unit and later died due to associated complications. His bill would require mental health providers to keep records about the use of force and require any police officer who restrain patients to a wear video camera. It would also introduce a clearly defined chain of accountability for the use of force in units, including ensuring that there was a named senior figure responsible for the use-of-force policy, as well as staff training. It could, put simply, save lives: it especially protects black, Asian and minority ethnic people – a disproportionate number of whom die in custody. With government time this bill could become law.
Votes at 16
The 2017 general election was in many ways a watershed moment for political participation. Labour turned out an unprecedented number of young people, hungry for change after years of Tory misrule. Votes at 16 has been on the agenda since the Liberal Democrat Simon Hughes proposed an amendment to the representation of the people bill in 1999. Since then, the campaign has only grown. It became Labour policy under Gordon Brown and was in the 2010 manifesto and the two that followed. Votes at 16 has already proved successful in other parts of the UK. Even the historically conservative House of Lords is in favour, 293 to 211. At the end of January, the Welsh Labour government announced its use in local government elections. Jim McMahon’s bill passed second reading but without the Tory support needed for success. Peter Kyle has his bill on the same issue this spring so we have another bite of the cherry. With the likes of Nicky Morgan cosponsoring it, perhaps the time is finally right.
PFI windfall tax
This is Stella Creasy’s latest campaign. As always, they seem far-fetched, almost impossible, but then, as with payday loan caps on credit and free abortions for the women of Northern Ireland in England, they become law. Her argument is that these contracts were signed when corporation tax (their return to the Treasury on success) was 20, nearly 30 per cent of profits and is now as low at 17 per cent. Shareholders have therefore received unintended financial dividends that should be funding public services. The Tories are currently resisting the move, but Philip Hammond needs some revenue raisers to ease austerity, so perhaps it will appear on the agenda.
No fault divorce
This change is really overdue. A recent case in the Court of Appeal brought this reform back into the frame when a woman was refused a decree nisi after her husband fought the divorce – despite the fact the judge agreed the marriage had broken down. No fault divorce would help to reduce the toll that marital breakdown takes, especially on children who need not see their parents at loggerheads, and unnecessarily apportioning blame. It has cross-party support – not only was it endorsed in Labour’s 2017 election manifesto, but Richard Bacon, a Conservative, brought forward a private members’ bill on the issue in 2015.
Repeal the eighth
Ireland has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world, and the rights of the unborn are constitutionally enshrined – in practice meaning that the entrenched prohibition of abortion could only be reversed in a referendum. Irish women must currently travel to Britain for an abortion which after medical, travel and accommodation, can cost thousands of pounds. Poorer women lose out most. With Brexit on the horizon, there is an even greater imperative to support agitation for change, as we do not yet know how travel arrangements between Ireland and UK will be managed. The taoiseach Leo Varadkar has agreed to a referendum on the issue in May or June this year – it is vital that we do what we can to hold the government to their promise and support the right to choose for women in Ireland.
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