‘People’s Government’ and the test of time
By Julian Glassford: As the initial shock and awe of a Tory Christmas cracker of a landslide election victory begins to wear off, the nation now finds itself coming to terms with the giddying prospect of five years of a certain Mr Boris Johnson in Number 10.
Besides lingering doubts surrounding the suitability and trustworthiness of bumbling BoJo himself, questions are now being asked as to what the ebullient Etonian’s newly replenished party of government may have in store for us going forward.
Bouncing back into office, the British Prime Minister was quick to rebrand his re-bolstered administration the – curiously Corbynista sounding – “people’s government”. But what does that actually mean, in essence, and how might we gauge whether it pans out in practice?
Will the opportunist populist really prove able to swiftly transform the Brexiteer juggernaut that has just smashed through the ballot boxes into a relatively slick and sophisticated, forward-thinking, and responsive ‘One Nation’ Conservative Party?
What are the chances that a relatively unpredictable leader, renowned for delegating by default and otherwise politicking on the fly, will prove able to avoid falling into the age-old trap of seeking to please almost everyone only to end up satisfying almost no-one (as did his predecessors)?
Just how plausible is it that anyone can flip a switch and restore national self-confidence, hope, and faith in our democracy, re-unite a divided nation, and “level up” across society simultaneously?
Notwithstanding common preconceptions, the answers to these questions remain for the time being unknown. We cannot yet say which way the wind will blow, for the future is not yet written, and we are living in an age of possibility/political unpredictability after all.
However likely or unlikely it may be, all we can be reasonably sure of at this juncture is that whether the re-formed executive ultimately goes down in history as having made good on its bold commitments will depend largely on the key tests and criteria outlined below.
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Getting Brexit done
First and foremost the greatest constitutional question of the age will of course have to be settled, once and for all. The break with Brussels must be swift, clean, and complete, i.e. withdrawal from the EU treaties by February, and on terms consistent with the state regaining sovereignty over its laws, borders, trade, and expenditure. However, this does not mean rushing future relationship negotiations – which it should be possible to work through at a steady pace e.g. by virtue of the cover provided by a simple GATT Article XXIV trade continuity accord.
The challenge will then be to actualise the ‘Global Britain’ spiel that has drifted in and out of all the noise around Brexit and, not only that, but to do so in a way that is (seen to be) compatible with/sensitive to very much in vogue localism – that undervalued buzzword of the Cameron era.
This all spells a move away from neoliberal globalist dominated, arbitrarily centralising, transnational, and international (governmental) modalities towards a new meld of ‘glocalism’, if not (Trumpesque) neo-mercantile nationalism. It also means doing so without (further) limiting or endangering either relations with close continental friends and neighbours or indeed our broader international capital, connections, and horizons.
Deflating populist counterculture
On the home front, widespread feelings of instability, insecurity, and disenchantment with ‘the system’ that essentially underlay the Brexit vote still bubble away: reflecting endemic individual, familial, communal, and wider societal disconnection, dispossession, and disenfranchisement.
Related mental and physical health problems, attitudinal and psycho-behavioural issues, and knock-on interpersonal and sociological frictions are by now undeniably evident both within and between different generational, geographic, socioeconomic, and ethno-cultural/sociocultural groups in society. Suffice to say that this sorry state of affairs is hardly the fault of any such cohort, or many of its members – with the possible exception of a certain class of (not so) ‘public servant’ and associated special interests.
Thus, a veritable ‘crisis of constancy’ looms over the country, and various sociopolitical signs seem to suggest that we have reached a critical juncture in this regard – something that all MPs must rapidly recognise and work to get to grips within the next Parliament.
In this charged climate, thought leaders can ill afford to continue to rage and wrangle over past debates and contests, or indeed delude themselves about the health of the nation or the strength of the union. Distracted/complacent ‘business as usual’ mindsets clearly won’t cut the mustard.
Instead, public servants should now move on from the groundhog day paralysis, division, and indecision of the past several years, accept the direction of travel, and spring forward on the front foot: working to bring about positive, meaningful, and enduring change, for the common good.
Transformative political reform
Farage, Cummings, Johnson and co have ridden the political wave of popular discontent fairly skilfully up to now; but if they do not also see the danger in promises unfulfilled in the above context, and fail to deliver on the transformative agendas implied by their rhetoric, then the consequences are liable to be dire for all concerned.
The situation demands a fresh injection of real imagination, competition, and integrity into not just the government of the day but also our ailing, antiquated duopoly of a FPTP political system. In short, the time has come for major political reform.
Only then can we take a much needed further step away from the outmoded, rigid, and tribalistic left/right ideological binaries of yesteryear on the one hand, and the myopic short-termism of arbitrary (e.g. Third Way) centrism on the other.
The logical next stage of political philosophical evolution implied by the above is a move in the direction of pragmatic pluralism and the ‘Fourth Way’ i.e. less stubbornly ideological vs. more (future) outcome focused politics. A dynamic, multi-stakeholder, consensus driven approach to political discourse, policymaking, and governance: “of the people, by the people, for the people”.
Naturally, such bold reformist agendas necessitate a degree of disruption, what with shaking up the old guard and turning certain traditions on their heads. However, they must absolutely not entail the (further) retrograde debasement of civil liberties and due process, or counter-progressive concessions to corporatocracy, as some are now predicting.
Back to basics
The electorate now expects Boris & chums to revitalise the nation via the themes outlined above plus ‘turbocharged’ programs of trade, innovation, and investment, e.g. especially in education and training, housing, health and social care, and rock solid infrastructure projects. Wide-ranging, far-reaching, and long-lasting benefits are now optimistically anticipated, across the piece.
Government must strive to invest intelligently for the future: in our people, flora and fauna, landscape, and economy. What it must therefore also avoid doing is simply going full steam ahead with hazardous/high risk pervasive technologies, including not just fracking but also the unchecked proliferation and intensification of wireless radiation emissions (e.g. from 4G/5G networks) and ‘smart’ IoT and AI systems/applications.
Earnest efforts to foster (ethical) growth and evolution of digital ecosystems and to manage ecological impacts will need to be (seen to be) carefully considered: with reference to suitably nuanced, candid, and credible risk and cost/benefit analysis. Moreover, they should be transparently measured and weighed against viable alternatives, e.g. regional transport improvements, empirically sound and demonstrably effective green investment, and relatively safe, secure, and environmentally friendly wired digital transformation.
Back to the future
The successful recipe will surely also entail recourse to authentic British/Western cultural norms, values, and practices of the (post-)enlightenment. These include the central importance of personal responsibility and aspiration, social conscientiousness and communitarianism, and broad-ranging and searching enquiry and debate.
As the PM and his predecessor both intimated in office, in the 21st century the hope is that we shall also see greater focus on a rather more equitable, responsible, and stable participatory model of capitalism and technological advancement: centred on creating real ‘value’ by way of genuine, sustainable enhancement of the human condition and indeed, in time, that of our planet.
To this end, Mr Johnson should aim to go one better than his political idol, Sir Winston Churchill, in surrounding himself with colleagues who are not only able to help him win the (recent political) war … but to capture hearts and minds, right across these isles, and hence also win the peace.
Julian Glassford is a UK-based multidisciplinary researcher and social entrepreneur with a keen interest in economic, social and environmental sustainability.