4 January 2020

What should Britain look like a decade from now?


At the start of a new decade, the temptation to prognosticate about the years to come is strong.

But we need only cast the briefest glance over the ten years just past to see the folly of trying to predict how things will go in the next ten. So, instead of indulging in forecasts whose only certainty is that they’ll be wrong, I’d prefer to sketch out the kind of economy and society CapX would like Britain to be by 2030.

First and foremost, in ten years’ time we should be decisively out of the EU, with a relationship that prioritises smooth trade, without being beholden to rules over which we have no say. If Brussels is concerned that setting too many of our own rules could make the UK dangerously competitive, that’s a challenge we ought to embrace wholeheartedly.

Trade is not the only challenge about leaving the EU, of course. In foreign policy terms the ’20s will be a success if Britain can remain at the forefront of the international community, and enhance relationships with allies old and new. As Radomir Tylecote has argued eloquently, a key part of that reorientation will be forging a new relationship with China.

We ought not to ditch red tape and vested interests in Europe only to let them flourish on our own shores. As former Number 10 adviser Camilla Cavendish recently noted, from bat surveys to bank capitals requirements, “Britain is brilliant at creating bureaucracy all on its own”.

By 2030 we should aspire to have fewer, better regulations that ensure the right balance between protecting people from harm and allowing businesses to get on with creating jobs, wealth and innovative new products.

That would help make our economy not only more efficient and productive, but fairer. The lower the regulatory burden, the easier it is for smaller companies that do not have vast legal departments to get off the ground – and the harder it is for big incumbents to entrench their market power in a way that benefits no one but themselves.

That ties into another area about which we make no apology for harping on – housing. Britain’s market is dominated by a handful of big firms with the resources to deal with our morass of planning rules. A more liberal approach here will help build not just more houses, but a more diverse housing industry.

This should also be a country where getting to and from your well-built, affordable home is as easy as possible. That means not only investing in big eye-catching pieces of infrastructure, but bread-and-butter local transport which remains pretty dreadful in some of our biggest cities.

A more competitive economy should be backed up by a more efficient, responsive state. Judging by his recent job advert, this is something Number 10 adviser Dominic Cummings is deadly serious about. But as Simon Kaye argued on CapX yesterday, a truly radical reform agenda cannot only be about revamping Whitehall, it must also include a major dispersal of power around the country.

The 2020s will only have been successful if the government finally gets to grips with social care. After years of consultations, commissions and reports, yet more delay is simply not tenable.

Clearly, much of this reform agenda is predicated on the Conservatives winning another term in office. But, as I wrote in the hours after Mr Johnson’s crushing victory, it would be the height of foolishness to assume another win is already in the bag because of December’s result.

Whoever Labour elect as leader is unlikely to be as wholly terrible as Jeremy Corbyn, and the scale of reform confronting the Government is daunting. No amount of finesse or cleverly crafted slogans will matter if people’s lives are not appreciably better in four or five years’ time.

The good news is that Team Johnson are abundantly aware of the challenges ahead, and now have the stonking parliamentary majority to do something about them.

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John Ashmore is Editor of CapX