The first duty of any government is to keep its citizens safe and secure. This means protecting people from both external threats and from internal threats. It requires a basic level of governmental competence to ensure that the way of life that people take for granted is unhindered, unencumbered and uninterrupted. It is not the job of government to disrupt social, economic and family life unnecessarily, or to allow the communities and nations that fall under its primary duty of care to be disrupted by outside influences?
Government therefore takes the threat of terrorism and aggression by external countries as the core function of the state. The government is responsible for managing the boundaries of the nation, and for ensuring that underlying and hidden threats, in addition to the more obvious national rivalries, are dealt with. Modern societies do this in two ways. First, by establishing defensive capabilities through the deployment of arms and weaponry, and second, by entering into collaborative agreements with neighbours to ensure there are ways to resolve disagreements without resorting to conflict.
The challenge of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, however, has reminded me that government must also operate on a number of different levels in order to ensure that the public are kept safe and that we all have access to adequate social protection in a time of crisis. Do we need to be reminded that government has a duty to put in place the capacity in our social and health services to protect public health, and do we need to be reminded that government also has the responsibility of ensuring that people’s collective existential well-being is likewise protected.
While we have a level of assurance that we are prepared to deal with many of the external threats that we face, I have no confidence that the present government under Prime Minister Johnson has the capacity or will to offer protections for the internal threats that we face. Indeed, I believe this is a government that is stoking-up division and fear as a distraction from its plain incompetence in keeping people safe, well and of sound mind.
From the disastrous handling of the lockdown, and the UK’s record number of excess deaths associated with Covid-19, to the bungled test and trace system, to the incompetence in managing school exam and qualification results, this is starting to look like a government that is inept and incompetent. Not to mention that Brexit is looking like it will be a major calamity of epic proportions as the promises and assumptions that have been liberally thrown around start to fall apart.
So how do we face-down this government and develop an alternative political platform that is both credible and competent, and which can offer a way through the divisiveness of the last decade, by enabling a strong sense of unified social identity? In the 1990s Tony Blair said it was all about education. My view, in the 2020s, is that now it is all about security. If Sir Keir Starmer was to adopt a catchphrase it should be security, security, security.
This would work on a number of levels. First, there is the security of the person and family. This is the building block around which public services, economic stability and well-being should be built. The precarious and uncertain life that causes so much anxiety and stress to people must be ended. This can be dealt with in two ways, firstly securing and embedding strong social democratic rights of all citizen. Rights that offer protection based on contribution. There is nothing new in this. It’s the principle that William Beveridge said should underpin the welfare state. If you are an active contributor to the commons good and support the positive well-being of your community and nation, then the state and wider society, must recognise your role and contribution and act with due respect towards you. The assumption is that power is held by the citizen, not the other way around.
For individuals the state therefore acts as the guarantor of last resort. The state has to then be organised in such a way that it protects you from harm and exploitation. It is the role of the state to protects your individual identity, freedom of expression, and economic independence, ensuring that you have unfettered access, both individually and collectively to the means of managing your identity, to managing your voice and sense of civic participation, and ensuring that a working life is sustainable and fulfilling. The state has a duty to protect you from pollution, and to protect you from bad-faith commercial relationships.
This then interconnects with the security of the community, as none of the rights of the individual can be maintained without also ensuring that there are strong, positive, nurturing and open social relationships that foster positive and supportive reciprocation between people who are acting in the interest of all, not just themselves. Community, however, has to be recognised as a dynamic and active set of relationships, in which responsibility, duty and obligation towards the weakest and most vulnerable members of our communities, is the primary indicators of how and in what way people interact. Those who pollute, or who are anti-social, have to be identified and restrained from acting negatively. Those who act in a pro-social manner should gain more freedom and a greater say in the decision-making that determines the well-being of their communities.
Those who hoard or gain by speculation and gambling must be de-prioritised, whereas those who invest and plan sustainably for the future collective well-being of communities must be prioritised. This means embedding a multi-levelled and interlinked model of community, in which social actors and individuals are held accountable for their actions on a local and interpersonal level, on a neighbourhood or regional level, on a national and international level, and on a global level. Our actions as individuals have consequences now, but they also have consequences for generations to come, and so we need a political discussion that can anticipate these multiple levels. Look at the concept of bildung, and it’s interrelated layers of community.
This then defines the need for security of the nation. In a globalising world national security still plays a role in managing how we get on together as a species. The complexity of these transnational relationships are not getting easier. They will become more complex and more difficult to map, especially as corporations now operate on the global stage and become even more powerful than nation states. Transnational cooperation, therefore, is going to be more essential than ever. The question is, which model of international engagement offers more security? A buccaneering sense of exceptional independence, or a rules-based collaboration grounded in practical reality? Regardless of the fact that the UK has left the EU, the questions of international cooperation and security have not gone away, but we have made them harder to sort out. Our food supply is now much more difficult to protect. Our access to medicines and technology has becomes much harder to secure. We can pay an inflated price on the free market for these things, but this will bring only pauperisation and poverty at home, as we have to make choices about what we can afford.
Our international security objectives will have to be trimmed, and our role in the world will be modified accordingly. Perhaps this is not before time.
In asking what brings security and certainty, we have the opportunity to address deep-rooted challenges from a progressive and inclusive set of values, rather than from the divisive and judgemental values that sit at the heart of this government’s ideology. It is a choice, either we advocate for security through solidarity, or we get ready to deal with the insecurity that comes from division and incompetence.