Broken Britain – What Really Needs To Be Done
By Graham Vanbergen: Britain is in a much bigger crisis than you might think. Indeed, it stands on a precipice and could well jump out of sheer neglect or its own stupidity. The former is evidenced by the state of just about everything, the latter by shooting itself in the foot over Brexit. We closed our eyes while driving the car and hit a brick wall. Instead of calling out a recovery truck to fix the damage, we blamed the car and then the wall. It was as if we were drunk on our own hubris and didn’t believe what our eyes were seeing. Then we’ve staggered out of the wreck, skulked off to the pub and gone quiet out of embarrassment. Welcome to Broken Britain.
Our government has failed us all. The oldest and simplest justification for government is as a protector: protecting citizens from violence (including protection from cyberwarfare, hacking, espionage, fraud and so on). Then comes the concept of government as a provider: of goods and services that individuals cannot provide individually for themselves (public health, education, roads, ports, energy infrastructure etc). From there, just about everything else is speculative – including our future prospects as a nation.
All of these things are at threat because, as a country, we have allowed ourselves to become complacent about our future. We aren’t just arrogant – we’re old and arrogant.
Take democracy. Ours takes place in a decrepit building that ironically threatens to burn itself to the ground because the hazards will cost too much to rectify. Its very design encourages finger-pointing and shouting, and we have an unelected upper house full of old people (average age 73) that is more than seven times bigger than the US Senate who oversee the outcome of political proposals of a population five times the size of our own.
In Britain, we don’t have a codified constitution – we have something called an ‘unwritten constitution.’ Ask Boris Johnson what the latter means and his answer is the reason why we need one that has proper rules. This country should have just learned a lesson, but it hasn’t. Our government potters along in life as if it was 1823 with its mysterious collection of conventions when steam trains dominated our transport system.
To make matters worse, our population get their political notions from the most right-wing media in Europe that is financed by nom-doms and foreign ownership. We even have the oligarch son of a man who is a member of the Russian KGB owning two major newspapers in Britain – ennobled to the House of Lords. How utterly stupid is that knowing that the same individual has to consider proposed sanctions against Russian oligarchs and Bills to stem the dissemination of misinformation from the Russian state in an escalating war against … Russia?
The same right-wing press, who hold huge influence over the nation continually pressure the government through their front pages to run the country in their interest, all at the expense of the ordinary citizen who doesn’t know they are being duped. But now, the people have just realised they have been duped. Just mention the ‘B’ word. Then again – better not.
The result of all this? Our economy is failing. What I mean is that it is not growing and therefore cannot pay for what is expected either now (without expanding public debt) or in the future. Many economists have now predicted that the average British family will be poorer than their Polish and Slovenian counterparts by the end of the decade. That’s just six years away. Six. Who would have thought just twenty-five years ago when ‘Cool Britannia’ was a thing and the country was riding high that the UK would be in this mess?
We should be asking ourselves, in the aftermath of the political chaos that five PMs in as many years brought us, what happened? How did this happen?
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To start with, updating our electoral system to something that represents a modern democracy would be a big help. Proportional representation would not only give us a proper tangible vote, it would engage a lot more of us in national elections. It would also stop the whole idea of voting for the least worst political party.
Proportional representation (PR) would also put in check the right-wing media. Around 50 per cent of voters are swing voters, everyone else is tribal. With PR, the messages, often toxic at that, in the national media are diluted, especially in the key marginal constituencies, which represent something like 15 per cent of all parliamentary seats where most elections are won with a 5 per cent swing.
PR would also encourage the young to vote and this is crucial. The over-75s now outvote the under-25s by 3 to 1. The result of this is hard-right populism, Brexit, regressive policy and a backsliding of democracy – as seen with this Tory government that has attacked the institutions of civil society, including the judiciary. Under PR – every vote cast is a vote that counts.
Take the biggest post-war political change in this country – Brexit. The Tory party party drove it, got it over the line and then failed to deliver any of their promises. The consequence is that the electorate would now vote 60/40 to remain. This figure is likely to increase in favour of rejoining over time. The political issue is best explained by the think tank Compass.
Labour’s current reticence to discuss re-joining the European single market, despite sustained polling evidence of widespread Brexit regret, is due to its fear of offending pro-Brexit voters in the so-called Red Wall seats that, under the current First Past the Post system, it needs to win back at the next election. The Lib-Dems have a similar problem, but for different reasons. Under PR, Labour and the Lib-Dems could afford to appeal to the much bigger Re-join constituency, by starting a more honest discussion about the economic damage caused by Brexit, and the potential gains of re-joining the customs union and the single market.
Without PR, the European Union, badly dented by the UK’s decision to leave it, would never allow Britain to rejoin as the only country in the union that uses First Passed The Post – simply because it could happen again with the rise of another populist party.
Education is another area that needs serious reform, not just because of its crumbling infrastructure but because of its outdated curriculum that is clearly not fit for our rapidly changing world.
To spur the economy on, a house-building strategy that includes building a number of new cities on top of the current annual output would be an excellent start.
An industrial strategy and corporate tax system that politicians stopped messing with would help businesses work out where to invest.
Runaway inequality, tax havens, technology – I could go on, but the theme is looking at our antiquated system and modernising our country and the first place to start is a political architecture that is failing us all.
Lastly, Britain should stare at itself in the mirror. It is no longer a superpower. It doesn’t even have a trade agreement with any of the others like the EU, America, India or China. In a few short years, we have become insignificant on the world stage. What we should aim for is to become the best nation to live in, where almost everything works, and where we all have a shot at what we perceive to be success. What we don’t want is to keep going in the direction of a failing state full of anger and finger-pointing. Broken Britain is about a trajectory of social decay.
A three-year study published by the Trussell Trust before the pandemic in 2019 found that the decade of Tory party rule had led to an increase in the usage of food banks; 1 in 50 of all households throughout the UK had resorted to using a food bank, with 94% of people using them classified as “destitute” (meaning they could not afford to eat regularly, be clothed, or clean). It also revealed that almost 75% of people using food banks lived in households struggling with ill health or disability, while 10% of them had a learning disability. This is not how to run a modern country.
Homelessness is the definition of state failure. According to Crisis – it reached a peak in 2019 when the number of homeless households jumped from 207,600 in 2018 to over 219,000 at the end of 2019. On top of this, English councils helped more than 278,000 households to prevent or relieve homelessness between April 2021 and March 2022. This is not how to run a modern country.
It is time to challenge the status quo because it is failing. Broken Britain is here, this is what it looks like. Surely we are better than this?