By Graham Vanbergen: Everything in Britain appears to be broken – right? There’s no money – right? The economy is seriously struggling – right? The real problem is that after a disastrous and chaotic exit from the European Union, a global pandemic, Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and a procession of Prime Ministers, it feels like we are, as a country, sinking into insignificance and oblivion. Keir Starmer needs a vision for Britain, one we can all get behind.
In reality, it’s about mismanagement. After 13 years, The Conservative Party is a chaotic mess and so, therefore, is the country it manages. It is also immersed in a never-ending stream of scandals along with accusations of cronyism and worse – corruption. It has attacked the institutions that uphold civil society and democracy whilst driving a wedge through society with a deliberate culture war strategy. The recent local elections prove that voters have had enough. But even in this environment of failure – the Labour Party has not convinced enough people it has the answers.
Rebuilding our country, to something that is fully functional, actually delivers and that we might even be proud of seems impossible given the financial constraints the country is facing.
The biggest electoral concerns right now are A) the economy and B) the NHS.
As for the economy, well – it’s all doom and gloom. This week Britain’s manufacturing leaders gave a damning verdict on a decade of mismanagement by Conservative governments. They are so fed up that they believe the government is fundamentally unable to construct a workable industrial strategy. They have warned – “that without a new industrial policy, companies will remain at a competitive disadvantage and see investment sucked away to the United States and the European Union.” Notice the word ‘remain.’
The UK’s output in terms of productivity is described by just about all economic experts as ‘sluggish.’ In fact, the second worst in the G7 according to the government itself.
As for the ailing NHS – even if it were to significantly increase treatment volumes by anything less than a “truly remarkable” performance, researchers have concluded that the best we can hope for is that waiting lists will flatline over 2023.
The trouble with an ailing economy is that there’s not enough money to manage public services. The trouble with deteriorating public health is that it erodes productivity. It’s a vicious cycle. The Tory Party’s answer to that problem after the financial crisis was austerity – which made everything worse. The economy stalled – so public expenditure was reduced. The result is that everything now feels like it’s broken.
How to fix it all, with a real chance of success requires several things. First up, without doubt, is vision, followed by the conviction that success will follow. Next, is how to communicate the plan – and stick to it. Keir Starmer could do with sticking to one vision.
But what’s the plan? Keir Starmer, a former public prosecutor looks like he’s up to the job, he’s just not that charismatic. So here is the plan.
The industrial and manufacturing employers body Make UK, made a good point. It’s one, I have advocated for years. They have demanded a non-partisan industrial strategy, established by a royal commission and overseen by a council independent of ministers.
The same should happen for public health and education, both of which should be given a percentage of GDP (just as the military – or Britain’s Nato contribution is) and secured in legislation – and then fully de-politicised. I would go one step further and make that council up of bi-partisan experts and professionals – not just ministers. The council should be given a pre-determined target of tangible results measured against peer nations over, say, 10 or 15 years. Taken out of the fire of the political ideology of the left or right, success is far more likely, especially as the five-year electoral cycle is too short to drive effective and lasting change.
The other great advantage of this strategy is that the electorate would have far more confidence in it simply because they are so distrustful of politicians today. And without political influences, policy is far more likely to be driven by a desire to achieve real results than just impressing one-half of the electorate. This strategy also guarantees moderation in its outcomes – something that Corbyn and anything to do with the hard right within the Tory party detests.
There are other areas where the Labour Party could make electoral gains. Building several new big towns like Milton Keynes along with a coherent house-building strategy would help, especially low-cost housing. Foreign ownership of property could be more heavily taxed, non-dom status abolished and sorting out HMRC’s woeful prosecution rate of tax dodgers (which is currently less than a dozen from nearly 1,000 a decade ago).
What doesn’t work is threatening even higher taxes or indeed promising lower taxes. Right now, as both political parties know, neither is workable. But public services given a percentage of GDP – means the focus is put primarily on productivity and economic growth that will allow the country to afford these services in the first place.
The other big problem facing the country – which all countries in the West are neglecting to face up to is the detonation of the ageing population timebomb. It’s gone off and Keir Starmer needs to do something about it.
No matter how hard the over-75’s have worked, no matter what tax brackets they were in – they have paid only a tiny fraction of the cost of their care right now. My father is over 90 years old. He has earned more from his state pension in the last ten years than he earned in the first twenty of his working life. His care costs are now well over £1,000 a week. If he lives for another five years, he will have absorbed more money for that care than he has paid in taxes over his entire life. Elderly social care is the ultimate dilemma.
A healthy economy allows more expenditure into public health and combined with technological advancements has led to an astonishing jump in longevity over the last 100 years – which we now can’t afford. To solve this problem, we don’t need politicians like Boris Johnson making false promises over social care as he did just before being sacked for lying. We need a committee of non-political experts and professionals to work out what the best solution is. Being results-driven and not ideologically driven has a far better prospect of delivering.
Perhaps the immigration problem would be handled better by a committee than people like Suella Braverman whose only strategy seems to be appeasing a small band of heard-right political headbangers.
The other advantage to this huge change of policy direction is that politicians will not be blamed for messing up these critical policy areas, not even Keir Starmer. And once enshrined in law, perhaps the politicians could put more effort towards the issues facing their own constituencies.
As I’ve said before, Let’s Rebuild Britain is the only relevant slogan right now because this is the type of mentality and political will required to deal with the disaster of the last decade.
So there you have it. Simple really. And the reason why this will never happen? Because it would be an admission that politicians are not up to the job.
Take Brexit. If the decision was left to bipartisan experts and professionals, there would have been no chance of Britain leaving the EU right now. And from what we have learned since 2016, that would have been the right decision.
Keir Starmer needs a future vision for Britain, which he currently does not have. And as we know, all of the problems the country is facing need more than a bit of ideology that much of the electorate is not convinced by anyway.