Election Needs New Thinking

So, for the third consecutive year, we are to hold a national plebiscite.

The general election of 2015, plus last year’s ‘in-out’ referendum on the European Union, is to be followed by a snap election on 8th June.

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, has received criticism for calling it, though I felt uneasy when, Gordon Brown took over from Tony Blair and Theresa May took the reigns off David Cameron, both without a vote.

I appreciate we do not have a presidential system but it seems only right that a new prime minister wins their own mandate.

This election is going to be very different, as its outcome will shape our future for decades.

Some argue this is the most important since 1945; others go back to the Great Reform Act of 1832 (consciously echoed in the proposed Great Reform Bill of 2017) or even the Act of Union of 1707.

Whether or not you are excited by these historical precedents, the importance of June 8th is guaranteed - if only due to the fact that the UK will most likely leave the EU during the next parliament.

The Article 50 Brexit process has begun and we could be leaving as soon as March 2019.

For the first time since 1973, the United Kingdom will stand outside of the world’s biggest economy and our largest export market.

The nature of the new EU/UK relationship is being negotiated but Brexit will bring both massive opportunities and challenges.

The world has changed since 1973 and the UK will need to change too. It will not be business as usual.

A key question is how - as a nation of 64 million people and currently the fifth largest economy in the world - we can grow our economy and prosper?

How will we differentiate ourselves and what is our plan?

Frankly, I don’t expect many answers to appear in the parties’ election manifestos being launched next week.

Politics is a short-term business buffeted by daily events. Elections magnify this, as we will no doubt soon see.

However, if I could influence their content - with my Marketing Derby, local business and city regeneration hat on - I would argue for commitment to long-term investment, aimed at creating a new economic vibrancy across the country to enable us to compete internationally.

This would have four key strands: education, infrastructure, trade and decentralisation.

I’ve written about education before but, in order to compete, we have to significantly up our game. The UK’s performance in international tables has seen us slip so far down that we are now struggling to stay within the top 30.

Only 50% of school pupils achieve 5 GCSEs, including maths and English. If we seriously think we can compete in a post-Brexit world whilst this is the case, then we are kidding ourselves.

We have to depoliticise education and see it as an investment. London raised its game over a ten-year period, rising from the worst to being the best system in the country.

It can be done, but it can’t be done on the cheap.

We cannot keep robbing Peter to pay Paul. Our children are not dumb and, with investment, we could become the best-educated country in the world - whatever it takes, it will pay back.

Second, we need to invest in our infrastructure.

As a nation, our inability to build new housing,  fix potholes, construct new airports and rail lines - even something as simple as electrifying the Midland Mainline - is nothing short of embarrassing.

Short-termism has constrained investment and led to expensive funding trickery, such as PFI, to hide real costs. The ability of government to issue 100-year bonds at attractive market rates has never been better timed.

Thirdly, we can expect to lose some of the exports currently being made to the EU, whatever the eventual deal. This means we will have to step up our game outside of Europe.

Yet, Germany’s exports to China are eight times greater than ours, which of course means that EU membership is not a block.

So, we urgently need to figure what is the problem. Do we simply not have the products or do we not sell effectively? It can only be one or the other and we haven’t got long to sort this.

Finally, we need to tackle our national obsession with centralisation.

Whatever happens with Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales – in various stages of drifting away - we should seek to find a local solution for England.

The creation of Combined Authorities, Devo/City Deals and new mayors is a start of sorts, but genuine decentralisation will need to include tax and spend powers at local levels, across the whole country, not just in chosen parts.

The UK has a structural two-tier economy. London performs at 173% of GVA average and no region outside of the southeast performs above 85%.

The only way we can redefine and rebalance this spatial dysfunctionality is to do what every other developed democracy does…find a federal settlement, based on subsidiarity and trust.

The need to shift from Punch and Judy politics by putting innovation at the heart of our thinking has never been greater.