The International Writers Magazine: UK & Politics
In 2015 we British will be asked to elect a new government that will be responsible for leading the country until 2020. The pre-election bun-fight has begun already, with Labour and Tory figures inadvertently revealing their low opinion of the electorate’s intelligence. The media too is up for it, particularly the anti-UKIP wing that delights in exposing that party’s oddballs while ignoring entirely issues of policy, other than immigration, of course.
Hopefully, the electorate will see beyond these veils and recognise the nakedness of our ‘leadership’ who, irrespective of party affiliation, appears obsessed with tactical in-fights. We have given power to people who mistake sound-bites, remarks on fashionable issues, for leadership, while the nation continues to drift into economic irrelevance. The 2015 election gives us an opportunity to demand more of those presuming to leadership qualities. We are granted nearly five months in which to demand of these people an explanation of their strategic thinking.
In my late seventies, I am old enough to look back over the years and recognise occasions when policy mistakes were made, by both main parties, because of short-term, tactical thinking. Is the electorate prepared to tolerate more of the same, more drift, more unintended consequences, more Micawberism? I hope not, for the sake of my grandchildren.
Britain is now described both as a ‘consumer society’ and a ‘post-industrial society’ with no apparent recognition that these two definitions are in conflict. If we are to consume, we must produce, and all the evidence suggests that placing all our eggs in the service economy basket will never allow us to justify both labels. In short, if we are to embrace the ‘post-industrial’ description, we need to forego consumption.
We need a clear, long-term strategy for the regeneration of Britain’s technological and productive capacity, along with the political will and courage to drive it through. The leaders of all parties need to understand that we are not prepared to continue down the road to irrelevancy. The present government constantly asks who we trust with the economy. My answer is ‘none of the above’. Indeed I would not trust any of them to take my beloved dog for a walk: a Socialist would lose him, a Tory would sell him, and a Liberal would return him to me neutered.
Britain cannot continue to bear a record deficit in the current account, recently announced as 6% of GDP. Even that figure understates the problem. Were it not for an inflow of funds from overseas to purchase land and property in the London area the current account deficit would be higher. The world is awash with funds seeking a safe home, and the London property market is presently a magnet. Rich Arabs, Chinese and others are investing in luxury homes, and land on which to build them, with the loosely attached condition that some of the homes built will be ‘affordable’. However, once signed up to assuring 20% will be ‘affordable’ that figure remains negotiable when investors complain that it is onerous. The existence of this property bubble is evidence of our leaders’ lack of vision. They will claim to be genuinely surprised when the catastrophe occurs as foreign confidence goes ‘pop’.
If led by people with foresight and a strategic vision those funds seeking safety could be attracted into more productive investment. Given the neglect of recent decades it would be an uphill struggle, and that is why the process of regeneration has to begin soon. We need to reverse some past decisions that shifted our educational focus from technology and productivity to academic pursuits. Perfectly competent polytechnics were allowed to become universities partly to salve the inferiority complex suffered by some polytechnic staff. Consequently, the emphasis on doing, making and designing was largely replaced by an emphasis on ‘thinking’.
A second error was the decision to raise the school leaving age for all children irrespective of aptitude. That some demand the age be raised further is evidence that the problematical mind-set still exists. Consequently, children who have displayed a clear lack of interest in the bard’s works or who cannot relate to more academic subjects are denied the opportunity to train in something that could hold their interest. Their retention in the classroom is not cost-free. Many teachers have to give these kids a disproportionate amount of their time, sometimes to the irritation of ‘brighter’ classmates.
Now, we see politicians demanding that universities increase the proportion of their intake coming from state run comprehensive schools. Why? It seems not to occur to the powers that be that the university route is not suitable for everyone. I recall the occasion many years ago when I was asked to screen the graduate intake of a major conglomerate. I asked a group of graduates what they had to offer that was superior to the several years’ experience of others of their age who had come into the business as school-leavers. They took a little while to realise that the question was asked seriously.
If we are to survive as a significant economy in the future we need leaders who are prepared to challenge some of today’s shibboleths, including the notion that the sole purpose of our education system is to produce ‘rounded’ people. They have to challenge the long standing prejudice against ‘practical’ training if we are to develop the skills necessary to compete with nations presently producing huge numbers of engineers and technical trainees. We need to invest in research and development, technical and scientific education, and to get away from the necessity to recruit technically competent employees from abroad. Who would have believed a few years ago that we would have to look overseas for bricklayers?
Above all, we need leadership and vision of the kind that enabled post-war Japan to become a major economic force, and which raised South Korea from being a backward agricultural economy to what it is today. Such will not be provided by politicians who remain committed to being a post-industrial society.
Your vote has never been more important.
© Tom Kilcourse Jan 1st 2015
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