A pejorative way of putting it is to say that he wants gimmicks. But gimmicks, or pleasing wheezes, should not be underrated. Outside Northern Ireland, John Major has probably had more positive influence on people's lives by setting up the National Lottery and deregulating pub hours than with the rest of his legislation put together. The idea that politicians might do things to make people happier may be novel, but it shouldn't be rejected out of hand.
So what might such a list include? Policy wonks are wonking and think- tanks are bubbling. MPs, such as Chris Mullin, have published their thoughts. But this is a game anyone can play. Here, hoping to kick off a conversation, are 10 reforms I'd like to see.
Dynamite Night. The National Lottery rules would be changed to ensure that, every month or so, some money raised would be used to blow up a hated building. Most British cities are disfigured by some architecture that actually makes people feel worse when they pass it. Examples can even be found in cities such as Edinburgh, which are otherwise near-perfect, and in smaller gems such as Ludlow, Norwich and Shrewsbury. Destroying them would raise our spirits and give a greater sense of popular control over urban environments. The buildings would be chosen by local ballot. Any that attracted, say, 20 per cent local support would, however, be saved as a safeguard against anti-modern philistinism.
Speaking French. Making a closer union of the peoples of Europe is not something that will be accomplished by politicians. We will be bound together by shared work, inter-marriage and travel, or not at all. There are no EU proposals from any British party that would do half as much good as trying to ensure that all children left school truly fluent in another European language.
Trafalgar Square should be pedestrianised, as the first stage of a plan to close other chunks of central London to cars. Global warming will ensure a ready market for open-air eating in the capital's prime central spaces. (But avoid the pigeon en croute.)
The February problem. We don't have enough public holidays and those we do have are clustered together. The real need is for something to cheer up February, that grim runt among the months. St Valentine's Day helps some people, but depresses many others. It should be our celebratory Mardi Gras, a day when we try to slough off our national puritanism, revelling in public bawdry and wild parties. (This is a very non-new Labour thought, but that, perhaps, is part of new Labour's problem.)
National Art Scandals. Britain's great art collections include hundreds of paintings and sculptures that are hidden from view, either in government offices or in gallery basements, because there isn't enough space to show them. They should be sent around the country, to smaller galleries and the foyers of company offices, to be properly enjoyed. Some would be stolen. But since no one sees them at the moment anyway, that wouldn't matter too much.
The Wildwood. This is the name of a dream, the remaking of truly wild forest in northern Scotland. Wildwood was described by Neal Ascherson as "something shaggy and trackless ... a green universe into which men and women can go to become lost children in a fairy story". Only slightly more prosaically, various ecological trusts and conservationists are hoping for Millennium Commission money to replant parts of the ancient Caledonian Forest. But there is much more that government could do. It could finally make the Cairngorms a World Heritage Site. It could end the oddity of Scotland having no national parks. Above all, it could set limits on foreign ownership of land, as other countries do, to keep the prices of estates in reach of environmental bodies, and our dreams.
Domesday Britain. We could collect, community by community, a vast account of Britain in the year 2000, organised by volunteers. Unlike the original Domesday Book, it wouldn't list our cattle, churches and pastures, but our hopes, fears and private achievements. Personal testaments would be stitched together to make a patchwork "living novel" of the British now. This would rest in local libraries to be read - or forgotten - by future generations.
Going Asian. The twinning of towns and villages is fine so far as it goes. But that is a merely European affair. If this is to be an Asian century, should we not twin Britain with an Asian nation? South Korea, with its 45 million people, would be an obvious candidate. We have a lot to learn from them, and they from us. It's poorer than Britain but, with growth of around 8.5 per cent a year, is catching up fast. Some may object about the Korean habit of eating dogs but given the gross over-supply of domestic dogs here, there are surely deals to be done.
Honours and Dishonours. The most popular part of the British honours system has nothing to do with Knight Grand Crosses, Baths or Empires; it is the Today programme's man or woman of the year award. But, like the other honours system, this is in grave danger of being discredited by the Conservative Party, widely suspected of organising phone-in campaigns. Instead, Blair could come to a deal with the BBC: it would organise a proper ballot and, in return, he would give the winners and runners-up seats in the House of Lords. This would be democratic, cheerful and costless.
Mark. That last reform could also, of course, produce new Tory peers. But such Labour generosity cannot be taken too far; a list such as this ought to include the odd act of random political spite - something, as it were, to even up the score for the abolition of the GLC. One very popular such measure would be to strip Mark Thatcher of the baronetcy he is due to inherit from his father. Debretts tell me this would only be possible if Parliament declared him guilty of high treason first, which might seem a trifle harsh. Can intensely irritating the nation be properly regarded as treason? I think, on the whole, it should be, and the expense of parliamentary time is something we could put up with.
This has been a short personal list. Yes, it excludes many weightier measures Labour has promised. Yes, it deliberately skipped round the most contentious issues and yes - all right - it's frivolous at the edges. I also tried to avoid banning things because politicians are already over- addicted to that.
So it is only a start. But there is still a little more to radical politics than the PSBR, and Labour is in danger of taking itself too seriously, of becoming the buttoned-up, "can't do that" party. It is a depressing prospect: rather than submit, we should bombard it with wheezes.Reuse content