Leaders: Left and right politics must return to UK

The British political scene at the top now appears to be a race for the centre. Picture: PA
The British political scene at the top now appears to be a race for the centre. Picture: PA
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Full-blooded battle between left and right brings better ideas and outcomes than bland skirmishes

FOR more than two decades, British politics has been less a battle of ideas and more a race to the centre.

Voters deserve the opportunity to make real choices between differing agendas

Where once the largest UK parties – Labour and Conservative – were separated by a vast ideological divide, now there frequently seems little to distinguish them apart. And while the SNP might characterise itself as a more radical concern, the truth is that its policy agenda is equally middle-of-the-road.

There were, we accept, sensible reasons for this cross-party drive to create centrist policies: for many years, that was the politics the public demanded. Rather than waiting for the electorate to come to them, political parties decided to go to the electorate.

But this “third way” has come at a cost. Politics has become a more cautious business, where big ideas are frowned on, never mind discussed.

There are signs, however, that this is changing and our politics is returning to a more clearly defined battle between the traditions of left and right. This, we believe, is a good thing.

Extremes are rarely a good thing in politics, but the willingness to discuss radical ideas – regardless of source – most certainly is. And it is in the conflict between left and right that new ideas might come to life, that fresh policies might catch the imagination.

For too long, politicians have seemed anxious not to scare the horses. Spin doctors and special advisers frequently strangle innovation at birth; sometimes it seems press officers spend more time talking down unscripted comments from MPs and MSPs than they do promoting policies.

This makes for an ever more anaemic public discourse. Yes, the constitutional question has injected some drama into the debate in Scotland, but when it comes to the domestic policy agenda we see mainstream parties trying to outbid each other on the same old tried and tested promises: who can guarantee smaller class sizes? Who can shorten hospital waiting times? Who can make education cheaper?

Of course, these are all important issues, but they’ve been reduced to a series of promises that are rarely kept. And once these promises are broken, there are more promises, to do better, to get things right this time. What’s lacking is real meat on the bones of political debate.

Voters deserve the opportunity to make real choices between differing agendas rather than continually being offered the pick of “the best of the middling”.

The referendum showed that, in Scotland, there is an appetite for a more radical politics (or, at least, a more radical rhetoric). Let’s see policies, then, that fulfil that demand; let’s see policies that offer equally radical alternatives.

The crisis in Scotland’s schools – make no mistake, falling literacy and numeracy levels represent a crisis with repercussions for a generation to come – will not be solved by endless pledges about class sizes. Instead, let’s hear the case for greater autonomy for head teachers, and the counter-case for real, substantial investment.

That same choice between left and right-wing solutions would be welcomed across the services we take for granted.

After five years in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, David Cameron’s Conservative Party is resettling itself in a more traditional right-wing position. Labour is clearly considering whether a shift to the left is in order. The fact that Jeremy Corbyn – initially written off as a rank outsider – is now a serious contender to be the next leader of the party tells us there is an appetite for such a move among many members.

When Tony Blair became Prime Minister in 1997, it seemed the secret of politics had been cracked. The way to win, and keep on winning, was to build a fortress on the centre ground.

But the world has changed since then; people’s frustrations and expectations are different. By returning to a real battle of ideologies, we might find answers to the problems we now face, and greater engagement with a politics that, for a long time, has seemed bland and uninspiring.

Scots technology that lets patients rest easier

WHEN we think of important developments in medicine, we tend to consider progress relating to major illnesses. We think of vastly improved cancer treatments, about the way in which HIV can now be – to a great degree – managed, or innovations in transplant surgery that mean diseases which once meant certain death are now able to be overcome. And these are, of course, areas where researchers have done magnificent work, for which countless patients and their families continue to be grateful.

But the work of researchers in combatting the formation of debilitating bed sores, while seemingly more mundane, deserves great plaudits, too. Bed sores can be agonisingly painful, and can lead to dreadful complications, including ulcers and even blood poisoning. For patients undergoing long-term treatment, or whose conditions simply mean they are unable to leave their beds, these sores pile agony upon agony.

Bed sores can lead to such serious consequences that tackling their prevalence was identified as a key priority in the Scottish Government’s Patient Safety Programme in 2008. Simply, ministers were rightly concerned about the number of patients dying as a result of them.

Now Glasgow-based researchers have developed new technology that could transform the lives of those who are prone to developing bed sores. Staff at HCi Viocare have placed tiny sensors inside mattresses and wheelchair cushions which then automatically adjust when potentially harmful pressure is detected.

The use of this technology, as well as improving the quality of life for many patients and wheelchair-users, could potentially save the NHS a considerable sum. Funds used to pay for the treatment of bed sores could be used elsewhere, on treating the conditions which led to patients being bed-ridden in the first instance.

Nursing leaders have welcomed news of this technology and we hope that NHS managers will look, as a priority, at how it might be used.Bed sores cause immeasurable misery. Thanks to Scottish researchers, this condition might just become a thing of the past. And that would be a wonderful thing, indeed.