Political parties the world over are often accused of ‘re-fighting the last election’ when they develop their manifestos. This is by way of a plea to all UK LibDems to be mindful of the need to avoid this tendency.
In practical terms this means thinking about the ‘record in government’ we wish hypothetically to be able to put together at the end of 2019, ready for presentation to the electorate in the run up to a 2020 election.
But hold on a minute – that means predicting issues in 2019 and the preceding 4/5 years. Exactly. I will suggest a few.
By 2019 the Queen may wish to retire from public life and direct her famous ‘knowing smile’ towards a new constitution. The impact on the UK psyche of the Queen’s stabilising presence over the last 60 years should no be underestimated. For stability clear leadership and a firm grip of where we want to go is absolutely necessary. We must decide on the functions of Head of State, on a constitutional court, and the paradox of parliament’s supremacy. We have had a bit of a leg up on this from the Tories and Labour who opposed even Lords reform against the public mood.
Privately, senior economists tend to agree that the US Dollar is unlikely to have a ‘soft landing’ as its role as global currency declines (ref: gold price manipulation). We have to decide what to do with Sterling. If we don’t join the Euro we will need some other strategy to deal with the likelihood of wild swings in the value of Sterling.
The days when the UK could survive as a consumption-based importing economy with no net public savings are definitely over. With City income in decline, the UK needs to export its way to a more sustainable balance of payments. The transformation to an exporting nation with net private and corporate savings is unavoidable. We need to be clear on what we have to do to get there.
We all love the NHS. Sometimes more in theory than in practice. The really dedicated among NHS practitioners know they are working in a dreadful creaking system, which sometimes shores itself up through cover-ups and defensiveness. Recent hospital and employee-gagging scandals, and billion-pound-plus corruption (eg in IT systems) should be telling us something. It will be necessary to abandon comparisons with the awful US system, and concede that there are many other ways to deliver services free at the point of treatment, and many other countries to learn from in this regard (that do not involve an interests-driven campaign of privatisation, overt or covert).
Recasting state spending, and reducing some of it, has proven cumbersome and unnecessarily painful with an unreformed and secretive state. (The Tory leadership foolishly went soft on ‘sunlight as the best disinfectant’ and local government reform, so they could depend on civil servants to run the show. There’s lots of hidden and just-legal corruption which wastes hundreds of billions. We need to revive our policies on this and give them coherence & prominence.
We will not be able to afford the remnants of class divide any more. The aim should be ‘a nation of experts’….we have no choice. In addition to reforms of the existing institutions/systems, we should try and ensure that no-one is more than 45 mins travel away from relevant low-cost tertiary education, especially vocational.
These may not be ‘Sun page one’ issues. Yet. That is called leadership and ‘agenda-setting’.
* Paul Reynolds is an independent foreign policy & international economics adviser, who has had senior political roles in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, among other countries across the globe.