If I were Prime Minister: I'd order a review of all deaths in custody and dismantle the honours system

Our series in the run-up to the General Election – 100 days, 100 contributors, but no politicians – continues with the poet, writer and musician

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The Independent Online

I’m an anarchist. So maybe I shouldn’t be here. After seeing what politicians of all persuasions have done to our country (and our world), there was no other way to go for me. People need to understand just how much they can do for themselves, so if I were forced to do the job I’d abolish the post of Prime Minister.

Before I put myself out of a job I’d get rid of every bit of privatisation in the NHS and have a radical shake up of health services. I’d introduce a new 999 service – for emergency mental health issues. Between 20 to 30 per cent of all police call outs relate to people with mental health problems, problems that the police are not trained to deal with.

I’d introduce new health awareness programmes for things like prostate cancer and HIV. There’s a lot of ignorance and fear and that can mean people die needlessly. Most black men, for instance, have no idea that prostate cancer is racist! 1 in 4 of them will get prostate cancer, compared to 1 in 8 men overall. Prostate Cancer UK’s Men United campaign aims to tackle that injustice through research and making sure men know their risk, and are informed about their own health. I’ve already written a comedy about prostate cancer, so I’d back Men United in research and in getting its messages out to people through football, music, comedy – any way they can.

With HIV there’s been huge advances in research and treatment since the eighties and nineties, when it was considered a death sentence. But attitudes haven’t changed. Like prostate cancer it’s still a taboo subject for some. So I’d aim to get families and communities talking about these things, understanding risks, and learning that early diagnosis can save lives. I’m currently heading an awareness campaign in the West Midlands that I would roll out all over the country. HIV, three letters, not a sentence.

A lot of this comes down to education and I would turn all schools back into good old-fashioned schools for all pupils. Forget academies, free schools, foundation schools and all those other fancy names, I’m talking about good schools, with well paid, creative teachers. There’d be excellent universal education for every student, paid for by all of us, for all of us. Everyone would have the same opportunities, and education would be wide-ranging.

 

I would order a review of all deaths in custody. That’s in police stations, prisons, hospitals, the lot. And that would be part of a comprehensive prison reform. My new prison system would be based on preparing prisoners for life beyond their sentence. Rehabilitation would be the top priority.

I might end up pushing up the prison population though, because I’d make it a criminal offence for employers to pay women less than men. The Equal Pay Act was introduced in 1970, but forty-five years later and men still earn 17% more than women on average per hour. I’d give mandatory prison sentences to bosses who discriminated against female staff.

I’d also put a value on the work done in the home. Housework and caring for family members would be factored into the Gross National Product. There are people working very long hours at home who get no recognition for their role in underpinning the economy – I’d have to change that.

I would stop sending young men and women to fight in foreign lands, and I would get them building hospitals and trains for a nationalised rail service instead.

I would abolish the House of Lords and make all them so called Baronesses and Lords apologise for thinking they were better than us, and then I would recognise the State of Palestine.  I would also get all those police officers that beat me up in the seventies and eighties to apologise to my mother, and then stand in a truth and reconciliation commission to confess their sins.

I would get rid of that Trident nuclear war machine, tax banks appropriately, make sure that big companies don’t use loop holes and trickery to avoid paying their share of tax, stop wasting money paying for the monarchy and politicians privileges, and I would invest in the green economy. The green economy is the future no mater what anyone says, it really is just a matter of how long we delay it, and how many lives are lost before we wake up.

I would dismantle the honours system. That would include abolishing the post of Poet Laureate. Poets should be poets of the people and shouldn’t be paid to work for the monarchy, writing about living or dead tyrants, or for so called state occasions. Poets should be free spirits. They should spend their time seeking truth, beauty, and attending sex parties.

Benjamin Zephaniah is Professor of Creative writing at Brunel University. His latest novel for young adults is Terror Kid

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