(Written in ~2010 but perhaps more relevant now after the EU Referendum)
If we accept that this country is no longer a world leader and don’t want to become an inconsequential backwater, then we have to do something relatively unique – something better than everyone else. What a country needs is a purpose, preferably not one which involves wearing uniforms and killing lots of people we don’t like the look of. That said, we need to look a little at how countries like Germany, Japan and South Korea do it without falling for the pitfalls they have over the last 50 years.
We have a potentially world leading university system but we’re not using it effectively. We’re getting some of the brightest from across the world here combined with a very high level of graduates internally. We need to harness and employ these people and make this country into a world leader of R&D in a number of different sectors. What we need is a second industrial revolution.
The government needs paring down to looking after the basics, creating a high speed rail links/ports/airports, a top class infrastructure, creating fair tax laws and managing them and so on. We need to remove constituencies and recreate the system of counties. Each area of the UK has history in different industries, they have a history of innovation. For example, Manchester and the North West has a history of textiles and materials research, Lincolnshire has a history of farming and farming innovation etc (Institutions covering each industry in each are would need creating offering chances for sharing advances, ideas and good practice, a.k.a. a quango with a purpose of selling these industries to the world and assisting them internally).
We need to create a series of regional county assemblies which tender the government for funding in a different area based on what each area did historically. To get into power within a regional assembly you’d need to have a clear knowledge of the industry that area is involved in, therefore having people who understand the requirements and needs to help the growth of that industry in government, as well as normal representation (i.e. a new party representing industry made up of business leaders, researchers, shop floor workers etc would need creating to go alongside the existing parties). These assemblies would be made up of localised internal constituencies with people voting in representation but on a smaller level. Governments would still face a general election but would essentially become uninteresting, due to the fact they’re nothing more than civil servants, rather than the worrying trend of cults of personality/populist media driven nonsense that are becoming prevalent. Basically, the government become the executive and offer oversight, not the centralised system we have at the moment.
We have existing facilities, for example Nottingham has the largest teaching hospital in Europe, therefore the East Midlands could become a centre for medical research and innovation. If you were a talented doctor or biologist, you’d move to Nottingham and take part in that industry. Using these facilities, we create a real system of PFIs – public sector research facilities which can be hired out to business to collaborate in new innovations, create their own innovations etc. With the profit made by these institutions, a system of municipal mass manufacturing facilities need making; buying older machinery and premises and opening them up to the general public as a non-profit making venture.
In other words, anyone who can come up with an idea can approach the banks for funding and the shops for shelf space and mass manufacture new products. In essence you create real competition, 10 companies making 1 product means that these companies must innovate to stay ahead; whereas what we have now is one company making ten products and you can see the pretty rubbish standardised crap we buy (the NPD cycle of a company like Unilever is 2 years, it’s way too slow with good reason, most new products fail – however, the easiest way of beating a monolith is by outpacing it). It would eventually begin to drown out the effectiveness of the corporations and encourage smaller scale activity. A fix on the size of corporations that means they cannot from this point on diversify into any new sector would come into effect immediately (sorry it’s someone else’s turn now). Monopoly laws need tightening up and an extremely generous cap on overall turnovers needs putting in place and inflation linked. Break that cap and parts of the business have to be sold, at least within the UK. They can do what they want worldwide since we can’t do anything about that. However, if they want a piece of our R&D facilities and skilled workforce they’ll have to play along. If they don’t, they’ll get surpassed nationally and eventually internationally by the competitiveness of our industries.
These municipal facilities would charge a straight fee to cover manufacturing, wages and maintenance costs, they would also take a tiny percentage (~0.25%) of the profits made on the created products and use that money towards creating further municipal manufacturing facilities. Universities should keep the funding which is being cut but also be allowed to charge up to £6000 per year, on the proviso that no further unis are built and standards are ramped up universally. To raise standards universities become specialised, massively reducing the scope of the courses they offer, e.g., Manchester/UMIST becomes a strictly science university, Loughborough an engineering uni etc. They focus on getting their facilities in this area to a high standard and encourage researchers to use them. Get the name out worldwide, get the best graduates wanting to come here and give them a reason for staying. The worst thing that can happen is the corporations artificially inflate graduate wages to tempt the best away, but considering how many graduates we have this can only be a good thing. The added income might actually start going some way to paying for the welfare state we wouldn’t mind keeping.
To fund all this we stop offering incentives to industries we know cannot compete over the long term, we skim off as much as we can and then let them fail – it’s Thatcheresque but this time the plan isn’t to simply hole up one industry in London to replace what we lose but to spread new industries across the country at the same time. We also reduce the army down to a self defence force and a system of reservists. London gets to keep its financial sector but we’re no longer solely reliant on it.
Government policy and the way we make it needs to change, we need rolling policies with clear aims set over a longer period of time, e.g. 25 year policy. These policies are checked every 1-5 years to ensure that they’re still going to achieve the aim, if they are not working then they are tinkered as long as the tinkering fits the aim. For example, what I’ve set out above couldn’t happen over night, it would need a minimum of 25 years to set this into motion and create a robust system so to start with, we begin by encouraging and helping businesses relocate to the specific area of the country initially. In essence, we start to spread industry out across the country. As innovations are made, manufacturing jobs will be created to produce the new products in each sector, bringing jobs from the top to the bottom.
If nothing else these jobs will be in creating prototypes and early introductions but given favourable circumstances they could extend into full time production, especially when you have the experts on hand with the machinery being developed locally that they need.
We need a mechanism to hold referendums within each county if 51% of the people in that area want it. If 50% of the counties all vote the same way on a referendum then it needs to be changed nationally. This would encourage people to lobby each other and allow anyone to directly take action if you feel you have a strong enough case. It would be much the end of party politics as we know it. Candidates for election would need to have a clear commitment (enshrined in a new constitution) towards what they want to do, explaining exactly how their policies would achieve more success than anyone else’s, with clear objectives and extensive financial detail – if you can’t provide this, sod off until you can. If voted out of office, they can no longer present themselves for re-election at a future date, they’ve had their turn so to speak. That way we could remove people who are corrupt/useless permanently from the political system. The aims and purpose of the overall national planning would be defined by the counties consensus, like a Federal government system.
Each area would share (at a negotiable cost) the technological advances they create with other areas in the long term, again this would be contracted in to avoid areas not co-operating.
I’m a Lib Dem voter [ahem, was now in 2016 I’m undecided], which means I expect plans involving making a series of coastal forts out of water melons and giraffes to be at the forefront of their policy, not this dull short-sighted nonsense they’re a part of now. It’s about time we looked at options which are a little bigger than the Big Society. Obviously none of the above would happen and loads of it isn’t attainable instantly; but in relatively advanced societies (debateable) we’re going to need advanced answers, or learn a few useful lessons from history. This kind of thing would provide stability and growth with something sustainable and useful. A purpose, a plan and a way for anyone to make it big if they’ve got the ideas.
By no means complete, but has parts that would interest free marketers, communists, libertarians, nationalists and statists. In fact the only group who don’t seem to be covered are the radical feminists, so I’ll conclude by saying all men are bastards.