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Rebooting the UK!
The UK seems to be broken - is it time for a new kind of country to emerge?
For many people in the UK, this is turning out to be the most difficult decade they have lived through. It started from the tailwind of the great recession that culminated with austerity and insecure working contracts. Most recently we have been hit by the pandemic and an inflation shock doused with a cost of living crisis and the return to war in Europe. Quite a cocktail really.
Surely it is time to reboot the UK and attempt to build a brighter, perhaps bolder platform for 21st century hope.
Outside of the top 10%, almost everyone has been set back to some degree by the pandemic and we emerge from it facing multiple crises likely to affect us for many years to come. Beneath the cost of living crisis, there is a silent mental health crisis and, underlying that, a housing plight.
According to the Resolution Foundation, while the top 10% of households in Britain were richer than those in many other European countries, middle-income British households were 9% poorer than their counterparts in France, while the poorest fifth of households in Britain were more than 20% poorer than their French and German equivalents.
Apparently a “toxic combination” of poor productivity and a failure to narrow the divide between rich and poor had resulted in a widening prosperity gap with France, Germany, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands. Perhaps sending refugees to these places would be more popular.
Around 14.5 million people live in poverty in the UK: 8.5 million adults, 4.5 million children and 1.5 million pensioners. People with disabilities are much more likely to be living in poverty: 48.3% of households in poverty live in families with a disabled person. Surely something is broken?
Which brings us to the latest crisis – of politics.
A number of western economies have flirted with nationalist populism and extreme forms of politics on both the left and the right - some have even flirted with autocracy. Many have flirted with Stormy Daniels. The UK and the US seem to be in a political and to an extent even a constitutional crisis. Values have splintered. Trust in government is at an all time low. The economy is on the verge of recession. Spending, trade and the stock markets are down. No wonder we’ve got mental health issues!
Instead of overwhelming the shrinks we could start a programme for political reform. You know, one that takes us toward a more democratic, open and representative form of government - one that inspires mobility and opportunity. One that is a little more bottom up. One that targets economic progress, diversity, inclusivity and improved health. Designed to tackle economic progress with technology and climate improvement. One that supports those that need it most.
The poorest parts of most western countries were not ready for the pandemic. Decades of deregulation stripped them of resilience and left people without the basics: in jobs where they can’t go home if they are unwell; in homes that are unsafe and in communities with no affordable public transport.
This inequality is no accident. It is the product of a political system that some argue places too much power in the hands of too few. Most notably in the US and the UK - but frankly still the case across many western democracies.
In the UK the first-past-the-post system, like the electoral system in America takes the votes of millions and turns them into considerable power for a small centralised few. In the UK government MP’s troop through the lobbies rubber-stamping their decisions. Any ability to mitigate the worst of them has long since been removed from local government.
This over-concentration of power in one London postcode makes it too easy for vested interests to manipulate political decision-making.
The Labour party is moving towards support for PR. If the Conservative’s lose the next election, which is possible, this could pave the way for an agreement with other parties on wider reforms: an elected senate of the nations and regions to replace the Lords and expand the devolution of power out of Westminster. A natural consequence could see us move from a hereditary head of state to an elected ‘President’ and an independent Church of England - alongside a more open raft of religious alternatives. The Reformation is over. Right?
Apparently if Britain were to make power flow differently throughout the land it would boost productivity and narrow the income divide by giving individual people and places more power. Driving the next phase of devolution might prove to be the only way to save the United Kingdom from a nasty breakup and keep the four nations together. Like Abba.
We should no longer be afraid to consider bold new alternatives including re-engaging with the common market, joining NAFTA, buying Mexico because the beaches are quite nice, introducing a living wage and becoming a permanent low tax, low regulation economy.
Equally businesses and entrepreneurs should be provided a platform to compete globally better than ever before - embracing technology, climate, creativity and finance. I.e. buying twitter on the cheap because apparently no one else wants them.
We should not just be a subsidiary country for second rate regional subsidiaries in servitude to Google, Meta or Microsoft.
Why not build our own global technology leaders from our firm foundations in science, healthcare, finance and entertainment? We could invest more in British R&D and target that towards the new trends - Web3, greentech, distributed finance, the creator economy and an open metaverse.
Our industrial policy could be as simple as attempting, once and for all, to create another silicon valley - you know, one for this part of the world - as we created a pre-eminent financial centre in the City of London.
A new silicon valley should sell openly and friction free to both America, via a post-brexit trade agreement, and the EU. Via another post-brexit agreement! Making it like turning left and right in an autonomous vehicle - without the crashing part.
This British silicon valley should play to our strengths: finance, media, research, health, climate, creators and going to the pub - though probably not in that order. The London Stock exchange could look more like Nasdaq than the NYSE and we should create the right conditions to attract businesses and entrepreneurs from around the world with the regulations (or lack of), incentives, tax and infrastructure to create a technology powerhouse for our nations and the European continent.
Education should be designed to achieve this from the ground up, with children and students at the core of any transition.
Our schools, colleges and universities should be designed to make us the best knowledge economy and society around. Not the best at paying a large teenage arm and a leg for it.
There is no getting away from the fact that Britain needs social reforms on a scale similar to those needed after the second world war. A starter pack could include good housing and a major council house building programme, a higher basic minimum income for all and the end to insecure employment and social care plus a substantial increase in mental health spending. Maybe even the re-nationalisation of rail (seeing as it doesn’t work right now) and the re-regulation of bus services. You know, so public transport actually works without taking out a Klarna just to pick up the laundry.
We have learned the hard way, with the war in Ukraine, that once and for all we have to be 100% energy independent.
The only way to achieve this is to lean right in and become a leader in renewable energy embracing wind power, solar, nuclear and hydrogen. We could become a Saudi Arabia for the 21st century - preferably without the autocrats, plutocrats, endless heatwaves and human rights abuse. But with the money, fast (e)cars and green lovelies. We should not be afraid to invest aggressively in offshore wind, electric vehicles, heat pumps and wild spaces.
The UK government has just conducted its bi-annual auction for new clean energy providers—and the numbers that they revealed were truly remarkable. To put it in headline terms: suppliers are lining up to provide power from the wind and sun for about one quarter the current price of generating electricity with gas.
According to CarbonBrief most of the new capacity will be offshore wind. Notably, for the first time, these projects were cheaper than the 1.5GW of onshore wind or 2.2GW of solar. Once the pre-approved projects are built, they would generate enough electricity a year to meet around 13% of current UK demand. Proving that the UK is, after all, a veritable windbag - and it's not just Boris.
Analysts explained that this would also save consumers an estimated £1.5 billion per year in the late 2020’s and cut annual average bills by £58, with most of the projects effectively subsidy-free.
At the same time, the war in Ukraine should remind us that as a small nation, the only way to punch above our weight in the military sphere is to embrace technology and alliances. Advanced military technology re-enforced by a new set of trading relations with NATO countries and the Commonwealth of Nations might be a sensible starting point. Free nations, supported by free nations. A bit like a drug rehab for once populist states. With the UK remaining independent of the EU.
We should not be afraid to open our borders again once we have created a higher wage, higher tech economy.
After all, we might want to attract more of the world's best researchers, entrepreneurs and scientists one day. To make this happen a genuine culture of openness will have to be promoted globally - which means that dumping refugees in Rwanda could prove a little counter productive.
Our food production should become greener, cleaner and better quality than other places. Cheaper food could arrive via new post Brexit trade deals with volume food producing nations - beef from Brazil, grain from Ukraine, rice from Vietnam and pretty much everything else from Italy. We could produce the kind of premium food that the rest of the world dreams about. Like Fortnum and Mason for everyone.
The next Richard Branson should not have to move to an island in the Caribbean to feel free to innovate. The next Dyson should not have to shift their head office to Singapore to dodge - er save taxes. The next David Attenborough should not have to travel the world to find wild shiz. They should stay on this green and pleasant land - surrounded by everything they require. McDonald’s included.
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