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Ditch the City, enrich the nation Brexit will bring opportunities to build, skill up – and get high

Credit: Christopher Furlong / Getty

May 21, 2019   4 mins

As our exit from Europe continues to dominate daily politics, other, vitally important areas are being neglected. So what should our politicians’ priorities be once we are beyond Brexit? We asked various contributors to draw up a pledge card for a post-Brexit manifesto. 


1. Use 10% of the bailout to endow regional banks

The bailout of the banks in 2008-9 was the biggest transfer of assets from poor to rich since the Norman Conquest.1 The nation’s wealth, centralised in the City of London, had been sprayed around in a frenzy of cheating, stealing and exaggeration – and the taxpayer was left to foot the bill. The National Audit Office claim the final cost was £1.162 trillion.

Meanwhile, de-industrialised areas of Britain were left asset-poor and suffering from institutional malnutrition. Local banks have closed down, to be replaced by payday loaners: the poor borrow at 5,000%, while the banks borrow at 3%.

The Government should spend a mere 10% of the total cost of the bailout on endowments for local banks that cannot lend beyond their area, to restore assets and economic growth to the regions.


2. Let communities own the land they’re built on

Ever since enclosure, which caused the eviction and dispossession of thousands, British people have longed to regain a sense of home. One of the marvels of the emerging Labour Movement was the creation of building societies, in which assets were pooled and a sense of home restored.

But none of these demutualised building societies now exists as an autonomous institution. Northern Rock is a case in point. Founded in the 1840s as ‘The Northern Counties Permanent Building Society’, it served the North East for more than 150 years as a trusted financial institution. It was demutualised in 1997; eleven years later, it was bankrupt.

It is time we tried something different. Through the establishment of Community Land Trusts, the freehold of some of the land owned by overmighty landowners and the state would be transferred to communities, who could then design and build their homes by reconstituting their own building societies. The endowment of the freehold would cut the price of property in half.


3. Promote vocational colleges and apprenticeships

We should close half the universities and turn them into vocational colleges – and have apprenticeship as a condition of labour market entry.

The contempt for manual work has a long history, but it needs to end. The distinction made in the 1830s between a profession and a vocation was decisive in the degradation of vocation as a practice. Professions required an extensive apprenticeship combined with control over labour market entry. Medicine, law, dentistry and even accountancy were elevated in their status through legal recognition. This was the not the fate of skilled manual labour whose status was abolished and whose conditions were deregulated.

After Brexit, we will need to rely more on our skilled neighbours and less on importing people to do the work. The constitution of a decentralised national apprenticeship system is vital to restore a sense of earning and belonging after the ravages of unmediated globalisation.


4. Give London control over the City

The Corporation of the City of London is as invisible as its earnings. As well as being the most ancient continuously democratic city in the world, it is also the richest. We do not know how rich, because as a city from ‘time immemorial’ – and not having been in debt – it has never had to declare its assets. The Mayor of London holds no sway in the City of London itself, which remains a rare example of a medieval commune that makes its own laws. Even the Queen has to surrender her sword when she enters the City.

The City has refused to extend its borders over its thousand years of history – and was never subordinated to either Crown or Parliament. It’s time for a change. Our capital city should represent the interests of its people and not of capital alone. The Mayor of a unified London would live in Mansion House, London would elect its Parliament to the Guildhall and the assets of the Corporation would be the civic inheritance of all Londoners.


5. Legalise Marijuana

There is a lot of talk of a green economy but very little of how that translates into high value-added exports aligned to a rising internal market. In Canada, they have transformed de-commissioned mines into underground marijuana farms, with great benefits. Perhaps we should recognise that a spliff at the end of a day is beginning to rival a nice cold beer as a way to take the edge off. There are concerns, naturally, but the industry and the product would be organic, green and chemical-free.

We are accustomed to such exotic names as Acapulco Gold and Afghan Black, but how about ‘Orgreave Green’ and ‘Mansfield Mauve’. We could lead the continent in production and distribution, opening up Europe for a ‘deal’ while trumping the EU as a promoter of European peace.

Let’s not be naïve about the risks. There is already a huge problem in our country with legal drugs, particularly opiates and anti-depressants, as well as illegal hard ones. And there’s concern about rogue marijuana batches. But if we were to legalise the drug, its strength could be regulated and its effects on young brains mitigated. Let’s take the lead in Europe and get behind Black Country Chronic.

Click here to compare Maurice Glasman’s pledge card with the others in our Beyond Brexit series.

  1.   The first act of William the Conqueror, in 1067, was to declare that every acre of land in England now belonged to the monarch.

Maurice Glasman is the founder of Blue Labour and director of the Common Good Foundation. He is a Labour life peer.

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