If I were Prime Minister: Corporations would no longer be able to conspire against the public and get away with it

Our series in the run-up to the General Election – 100 days, 100 contributors, but no politicians – continues with the professor of intellectual history

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I would have the courage to say that I am very strongly ‘anti-business’, at least where ‘business’ means multinational corporations and financial organisations.

The vast concentration of wealth controlled by commercial and financial interests currently operates as a conspiracy against the public. I would, therefore: make effective representation of both the workforce and the public interest compulsory on all company’s boards; impose a maximum ratio on the difference between the highest- and lowest-paid in any organisation; make the long-term benefits to all stakeholders the only allowable measure of corporate ‘success’; impose a transaction tax on all stock markets and currency trading; make it illegal for companies to operate from a tax-haven or outside agreed international fiscal jurisdictions; increase corporation tax.

Extremes of inequality are making our society dysfunctional as well as unjust. Therefore, I would: impose increasingly progressive rates of taxation on all incomes that exceed five times the living wage; devise a tax that recoups for society a large proportion of the increase in value consequent upon rising property prices; tax capital gains and other income from investments at the highest marginal rate; remove tax-free status from higher earners’ savings and pensions contributions.

Privatisation places profit above service and pretends pseudo-competition is efficient.  I would therefore: re-nationalise the rail and bus services and Royal Mail; ban Private Finance Initiative deals which funnel public funds to private pockets; give the NHS the power to impose public interest contracts on all private providers; only allow ‘outsourcing’ where the interests of all stakeholders, including future employees, are protected.

A ‘flexible labour market’ is a euphemism for exploitation. I would, therefore: make payment of an adequate minimum ‘living wage’ compulsory; ensure all employees are provided with the full range of benefits, including sickness pay, maternity leave, and pensions; give employment tribunals powers to prevent dismissals without external assessment of alternatives; ban ‘performance-related pay’ and zero-hours contracts.

A civilized society provides public support for educational and cultural goods.  I would therefore: establish a new Ministry of Culture, Science, and Higher Education with a ring-fenced budget to provide long-term support for these public goods; abolish tuition fees and return to direct public funding of universities; return so-called ‘faith schools’, ‘free schools’, and ‘academies’ to local authority control, allocating places by lottery and banning selection; abolish charitable status for private schools.

Clearly, we cannot go on destroying our natural environment at the present rate.  I would therefore: make sustainable energy targets legally enforceable; suspend trade with, and deny legal protection to, international polluters; strengthen restrictions on building on green-field sites; restrict de-forestation.

Finally, I would personally supervise the enforcement of a law compelling anyone caught describing the rich as ‘wealth producers’ or referring to citizens as ‘customers’ to be put in the stocks and pelted with re-cycled copies of the abuse the Right-wing press would undoubtedly heap on this modest and sensible programme.

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