I hope you don’t mind me addressing you in a letter form. I just want to let you know that I have a Bill passing through the Lords, which is co-sponsored by Simon Fell, the MP for Barrow and Furness, in the Commons. Now it may be a bit of a leap in the dark for some Conservatives.
My Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill is based on the premise that we have to redesign the way we legislate and operate. At the moment we concentrate policy mainly on the needs of today at the expense of tomorrow. Much of what we do works for today, but looks dire for the future.
How many parliamentary hours are spent unravelling the problems that were created by poor thinking from times past?
I went North to meet with one of your new “Red Wall” MPs, and was astonished at how she was so full of a desire for social justice through increased opportunity; through investment in areas that have lacked support for over half a century; and had a fierce desire to see people not held back by their own limited resources.
The Government’s response to the pandemic, seen as a mixed blessing by some, is nonetheless on target when it comes to “building back better” and “levelling up”. It will potentially end a divided England which has experienced enormous levels of social difficulties and a lack of social mobility. And it will address the issues that I discussed when I travelled North – to garner some support for my Bill.
The Conservative MP I met asked me a very sharp question: “You have a Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill going through the Lords. How will it help my constituents who are experiencing a sudden crisis now? To which I answer: “it doesn’t”.
“Then why should I support your Bill?”
“Because if a previous incumbent of your office had addressed the problems back then, then you probably would not be having to come up with an emergency solution now.”
The need to “build back better” is a clear indication that we are playing “catch up”. We are making up for lost time, lost hope, lost opportunity. The only way to address that issue now is to start building the future today. The past is little more than a neglected “past future”, if you see what I mean. Chances thrown away become compounded social collapse: poor housing, poor jobs, poor social opportunity, poor educational outcomes.
Unless my Bill gets the blessing of the Government (I am told by the informed it will not) then it will not reach the statute books. And will then be filed away in the historical category that so many socially aspirational Private Members’ Bills have been put into.
So this is a long shot. But its one I’m willing to dedicate the next year to. Why? Because of two factors.
One is that the Conservative Party was given the strongest of mandates imaginable in the 2019 election. It would not have been gained votes from disillusioned Labour voters had not vast areas of England, laid waste by the ending of former heavy industries, had enough. They wanted a new deal, not the raw deal which they had been handed by successive governments.
The other reason I am adopting my “David” stance, facing a Goliath of a Government (though one that’s competing with a myriad array of pressing problems), is because the pandemic proved something big – namely, that society and Government can work in harmony with community. It could unite us in a way that we have little evidence of that unity in living memory.
“Build back better” can only be done if we lay the foundation stones today of a future that is not just rhetorically talked of. But is built now.
I’m John Bird, described in Wikipedia as a working class Tory, founder of The Big Issue; Cross bencher, ex-slum boy, ex-offender etc. And I want you to join me in putting meat on the Conservative “build back better” bones, by kicking up a fuss with your MP, and getting under the skin of the Government.
Get them to look at the detail of the Bill; quibble, scratch their heads, and maybe improve; but don’t kick it into the long grass as much of our “future” has been previously. Consider it as my offering to a better built back world that isn’t just a slogan.
John, Lord Bird.