Jun 252016
 

It’s really interesting, do a search on Google Images for ‘UK Managed Decline’ and the search page is filled with images from the 1980s of social unrest and the cabinet of the Thatcher government. Perhaps there is something wrong with the Google algorithm because none of these images suggest that the transition of the 1980s that was brought about by the Thatcher revolution was particularly well managed. If anything decline was unmanaged and extreme social responses where provoked.

The 1980s where a period when Britain was forced to deindustrialise, with whole industries being closed or privatised, and the resulting impact on communities and families hitting them in a way that it was difficult to cope with and respond to.

Many of these communities have never recovered and still show the scars and the resentment of this period of destruction to this day. This has clearly fed into the anger that has been expressed in the referendum decision to leave the European Union.

As I’ve indicated in previous blogs, I’m a supporter of Britain’s continued membership of the European Union, however, I am also a democrat so I respect the decision that has been made by a majority of the active British electorate.

There are, however, some questions that I think are fair to put to the Brexit camp that will explain how the United Kingdom, or what’s left after the second Scottish independence referendum, will move forward. I don’t believe in jingoistic phrases like ‘Making Britain Great Again,’ I need more meat on the bone and some plausible, practical answers.

So, how will Britain manage its decline following the decision to leave the European Union? How will the new government under Johnson, Gove, Smith and Farage restructure our economy and our society in order to better suit our diminished position? Here are some proposals to do this:

First, cancel Trident. Obviously we can no longer afford to replace this ‘independent’ nuclear weapons system. It’s a debt that will hang around our necks and stop us from investing in the needs of the British people at home. The United Kingdom no longer needs to be an active nation in world peace keeping, as this can be undertaken by the Americans on our behalf, and for a much smaller fee.

This means we can give up our permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council so that we can concentrate on matters closer to home. We can sign non-aggression pacts with Russia and China, so that in the event of any war in the future we can guarantee that no British soldiers, sailors or airmen will be put at risk for the protection of countries that are well out of our domain of influence.

As a member of NATO we can provide defensive services to our allies only, and we can commit ourselves to peace keeping operations only once they have been agreed by the full NATO Council and the United Nations. This should save us many billions of pounds each year, as we will no longer need a nuclear deterrent or expensive submarines and aircraft carriers.

If we are going to withdraw from the United Nations Security Council, this gives us the opportunity to hand back Falklands and Gibraltar to the Argentine and Spanish governments respectively. This will mean that we won’t have to constantly posture with these countries and we can move on to think about making things work at home.

Our managed decline must have the objective to have a smaller footprint in the world and to worry less about the United Kingdom punching above its weight.

Our special relationship with America can be downgraded in the process, as we become more objective and independent we will be able to strike trade deals with new partners that better suit our interests, rather than opting for American investment to the same extent that we do at present.

We can strike a preferential deal with the Chinese to use Weibo instead of the American Twitter. We can buy our movies from India – Bollywood rather than Hollywood, and K-Pop is much more popular than Hip-Hop as a form of creative and artistic expression.

At home, we can further our managed decline by aiming to limit the ambitions of our universities. So we can be content that Oxford and Cambridge are in the top fifty world research universities, rather than the top five that they are at present. Maintaining this position in the international university league tables is expensive, and we would be better deploying the money we save to support home communities and home education services that provide valuable vocational skills for industry.

Obviously the financial services industry that is based in London will have to be given special status and freed from the rules and regulations that the European Union are trying to impose on them. I’d suggest that we use the Isle of Mann, or Guernsey as a model for the City of London, as it becomes a quasi-independent city-state free from national regulation and responsibilities.

At a stroke we can also get rid of HS2, the controversial high-speed rail service proposed for London to Birmingham. It’s not going to be important to move business people around at high-speed, so we can spend the money on more practical local options like buses and trams in our towns and cities. The third runway at Heathrow is also a non-starter, as there will be plenty of capacity at all the other United Kingdom airports once the agreements for cheap air travel in Europe have come to an end.

We might have to spend some money sorting out the railways again, however, as when the franchises for the exiting train services run out it is likely that bidders to take these services on will be harder to find as the focus of British transport shifts back to the roads and to regional transport schemes.

There will be changes to the NHS as well. We won’t be able to afford the universal service that we take for granted now, so it’s sensible to start to plan for both rationing, charging and privatisation of the health service. This will mean shifting the provision of healthcare to cities and the urban centres because with more limited options and expertise, specialists will need to be clustered and centralised. The limits on immigration will mean that we can’t recruit internationally for doctors, so there will be a transition period while we train new medical professionals.

We will also need to rationalise our schools. The somewhat outdated and unaffordable village school will become a thing of the past. Instead children will have to be transported to larger towns and cities for their schooling, at which they will receive a rationalised and simplified curriculum.

These are just a couple of ideas. I’m sure the process of managed decline will suit this country well. We will be able to run things properly without all the ambition of being a world-player, and without having to moralise or preach to other nations about human rights, international aid, social protection and future innovation in the economy, as we will be holding our own quite nicely.

If any of the Brexit supporters can show me where their plans for government and administration of this decline have been published, I would very much like to read them. Being honest about decline and how we manage our reduced influence and status in the world carries no shame. Being dishonest by claiming that we can somehow magically recreate the glories of a bygone age is, however, entirely shameful.

Jun 242016
 

Okay, so the United Kingdom has voted for Brexit and will be leaving the European Union. I didn’t want this to happen, but I suppose getting used to the new reality as quickly as possible will be the best thing to do. I’ll mourn and grieve for a short while, and then I’ll figure out what happens next after a few days thinking.

There are a few observations that are worth making in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote that I think are worth sharing, as they will frame the wider debates that are going to happen as choices and realities start to hit home.

It’s fascinating to see that there are very clear divides in the United Kingdom based on age, where we live, and expectations about the globalised world. The Guardian’s editorial today is a good digest of the immediate issues that’s well worth looking at for a more considered and less jingoistic view point.

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EU Referendum by Area

Along with Scotland, the majority of the remain areas are clustered in English cities, including London, Manchester, Liverpool and Leicester (by a small margin), while the leave votes are in the rural areas and the shire counties, as well as some of the smaller towns.

Likewise, there is a clear divide between generations, with people over forty predominantly voting to leave, and those under forty voting to stay. Quite how these divides can be reconciled will have to be thought through carefully. As one generation pulls-up the ladder from the next, there will inevitably be consequences.

EU Referendum By Age

EU Referendum By Age

So, questions that will inform our political reality, beyond our relationship with the rest of the world, need to be asked. These are going to be internal questions, and they will form around the fault-lines brought to the fore in the shake-out from the decision to leave the European Union.

Broadly speaking it will boil down to this: should the young continue to subsidise the old? Should those people living in the cities and urban areas of the United Kingdom, who generate the wealth, continue to subsidise the lifestyles of the people living in the suburbs and the counties?

Should the young continue to shoulder the burden of the old when they get so little for their contribution to society? Remember it is highly unlikely that people under forty can afford to buy their own home without assistance.

It is highly unlikely that young people will experience the job security that many older people have taken for granted that will enable them to plan families? Young people already have to pay for their higher education, so why should they continue to pay for the services that the older generation – that has frozen them out – take for granted?

It’s likely that we will now see calls for the end of the universal services and state provision that we have been accustomed to in the past. A key sign for this will be the universal postal service. Why should people living in urban areas pay to subsidise people living in rural areas for their postal fees? Why should people living in urban areas pay to subsidise the telephone, data and utility services of people living in rural areas?

The cost of supporting small village schools is massively expensive. This cost has been shared in the past because it was part of the process of social re-distribution between the well-connected and the not so well-connected. Surely cities will now say that if there are cuts to pay for Brexit then they should land on the hidden subsidies that are enjoyed by those in the shires?

The same applies to healthcare. It is much cheaper to run a health system in urban areas, and more expensive to run a health system in rural areas. So if we have to make choices about where to invest in public services, the cuts are likely to result in a post-code lottery of health provision, with a clear divide between urban and rural.

The cities will want autonomy to invest the wealth they create into their services for local people. Local taxes for local people will be the slogan. But this means that the subsidies for rural areas will rightly be slashed. The powerhouses that George Osborne wants will push for more autonomy, setting their own taxes, and keeping the money they raise to reinvest in their own infrastructure.

Roads will be high on the agenda for cutting. I want to see a comprehensive and integrated transport system in the city that I live in. I don’t want to pay for people to commute from the market towns into the city. They can pay for their pollution themselves, and they can pay for their roads as well. So let’s get rid of fuel duty and replace it with a combination of pollution taxes and road charges. It won’t affect me as I walk and cycle.

What next? Oh, yes, how about scrapping free Television Licences for the over-seventy-fives? How about scrapping free prescriptions for the over sixty-fives? How about introducing charges to visit your GP for everyone, regardless of age? Surely those who use the service most should pay for it?

I don’t see why my taxes should go to subsidise pensioners travel passes, or discounts for rail travel, or discounts for entry to museums or leisure centres? I’m not sure that any younger person would want to spend their hard-earned money on the leisure pursuits of pensioners?

Of course, the agricultural subsidies that are enjoyed by farmers and landowners from the European Union at present are all going to have to stop. What’s going to take their place? All bets are now off when it comes to subsidies. It’s everyone for themselves or get to the back of the queue. Lobby groups are going to enjoy a boom. I might start a lobby company as a get-rich-quick scheme.

Scotland will be an independent nation in two years, as a member of the European Union, and eventually adopting the Euro. In the short term the Brexiteer’s might look at them as foolish, but in the longer-term Scottish independence makes a lot of sense.

As the pound tumbles, one of the stabilisers that the United Kingdom has benefited from with our membership of the European Union has gone. The Governor of the Bank of England has put £250 Billion away to pay for Brexit. That is money that will go to supporting the banks, not supporting the British people.

All of this could have been avoided if David Cameron and George Osborne had not gone around spooking people in 2009, telling the voters that the United Kingdom would end up like Greece if we did not reject the polices of Gordon Brown.

Cameron and Osbourne have now been hung by their own petard. Because the United Kingdom went along with German austerity in Europe, we are now in the position where Cameron and Osbourne had no credibility when it came to making an alternative case for our own economic role and purpose.

The Labour Party, likewise, has been riven by indecision over austerity. Labour lost the argument and the general election because it couldn’t muster the unity and the grit to offer an alternative to the pernicious moralism of the Euro head-bangers and their form of austerity, which got high-jacked by the Brexiteers as a warning to Labour voters.

So, we are where we are. As a nation we are about to enter a more tumultuous period of introspection and soul-searching like never before. Some good will come of it, and some bad. It is a shame that the bad will be self-inflicted.

Wishing for a recession in order to realign our economy is crazy. Thatcher did this in the 1980s and Britain is still paying the price. The next generation are about to pay a very heavy price for the selfishness and forgetfulness of the older generation.

Watch out because the waters are going to get choppy.