I have been doing a lot of thinking about the future of our country of late. Perhaps it's having small children. Or maybe its getting older and feeling less optimistic. But worried I am.
Why? Because I don't see clearly where the country's really going long-term. Where it's future prosperity is coming from. How we're going to generate enough jobs. How we can look after a nation of ageing Boomers. How we can avoid losing out big-time to the Chinese and other more ambitious nations that appear to have a long-term vision. How we can find a new cog of the value chain to climb onto next, when emerging nations have already caught us up educationally. How we can breathe entrepreneurialism into a culture in which people want easier, more chilled out lives but without a significant drop in living standards. And all this on top of a possible eco-crisis within 50 years.
The political parties, including my own, seem at a loss on all of this. The media don't engage in these questions and you're fairly deep into the think-tanks and academia before you really scratch at this stuff. Elites tend to spend most of their time on essentially here-and-now issues. News, essentially.
So what do I think? It is clear to me, as someone brought up in the 70s and 80s that the current level of prosperity we enjoy is probably some kind of high-point, even now. I always struggled to understand how we managed to have so much, given how little we actually now produce - and how most people's jobs consist, more or less, of talking to each other. We've got away with this because real productive work has migrated and, for a long time, we had the baseless wealth of the financial sector carrying us. This didn't just go in the pockets of the rich. Nearly a quarter of income tax was paid by people from this sector., meaning our public services were also funded in a way that couldn't last.
What do we need to do? The country, I think, needs to realise that we can't live on our past success. We have the English language, a fortunate time-zone and a legacy of leadership of which we are proud. We've also, despite a chronic lack of investment and poor industrial relations (compared to our European neighbours) built an economy which hasn't fallen grossly behind. We have been saved by our inventiveness, our skills as a trading nation and, yes, our financial services. All strengths going back to the Enlightenment.
Although it would be foolish to say that these strengths won't help us in the future, we can't rely on them alone or simply muddle through and adapt, as we always have I am firmly of the view that we have, across all parties, to agree some long-term goals for the country. We need a new consensus about the future that all the parties can sign up to. Of course, we can fight about how to get there, but the basics must be agreed. They did this after the war in many countries. In Germany in particular there was clarity about the country that had to be built. Japan too. But also France and other victorious nations. Except Britain.
We now risk doing that again, but this time the competition is altogether of a different order. I could list 50 things but here's 15 things we have to agree on if we're going to have a chance as a country 30 years from here:
1. Raise the retirement age to 72 by 2025 and 77 by 2040.
2. Keep the public sector at no less than 38% and no more than 42% of GNP. Limited public sector providers - most functions delivered by private and social enterprises. Cashable personal budgets - or vouchers- extended to many areas of public provision: social care, long-term health conditions, welfare, education.
3. Structure the tax, benefit and migration system to keep population at 60 million.
4. Maintain much smaller UK military forces than at present but join them up with a European force, including a European nuclear defence system.
5. A written constitution which devolves power and income generating powers to LA level.
6. Reduction of Corporation Tax to zero for ten years for companies investing in deprived regions. Nil Corporation Tax for ANY new company for one year.
7. A national Start-Up Bank to capitalise new businesses - easily accessible start-up funding.
8. The NHS operating as a set of principles - free, accessible and high quality -but not as a unitary organisation, but a diverse set of organisations seeking business under good regulation.
9. The state to provide 'first-in' investment into green tech and underpinning of our capabilities to lead in renewables field, in biotech and digital. Tough new UK environmental laws to provide stimulus.
10. Conversion of our Embassy and Consulate networks into commercial outlets for selling UK services and products rather than their current mainly diplomatic function.
11. Vocational training for most children from age 14-18, including work-placements from 14. Streaming of brightest children at 9, 11, 12 and 14 from all backgrounds so that these enter highest level of education possible at 18.
12. Make all out of work benefit immediately conditional upon doing half-time community work so that nobody gets out of the habit of working, loses confidence etc.
13. Repositioning UK as part of Europe which in turn is part of a multi-bloc world - US, China, India, Europe, the BRICS. Allow early Turkish membership and encourage long-term Russian engagement in EU.
14. Liberalisation of drug laws in the UK - most crime is related to drugs in the UK. Reduction in prison numbers from 90k to 45k by 2020.
15. Change the laws around assisted suicide to operate in the UK so that choosing one's time of death becomes socially normal. This will end unnecessary suffering and help to use limited health resources more efficiently (i.e on the young and those with potentially many years of healthy life ahead).
A bit of a hotch-potch I know. And controversial in party. I could go on but that would be too long for even the most patient reader. But there's themes here: a strategic state - but not one that just lets the market rip. A concerted attempt to become world-leaders in key areas - and to market ourselves. Taxation and spending at sensible levels. Devolution of power at all levels. Dramatic unilateral action on the environment. Break-up of monopolies, state and private. A liberal criminal justice policy. Britain in Europe. Huge encouragement to entrepreneurship and enterprise at both the micro and macro level. Improvement of work-ethic and end of something-for-nothing culture.
What this makes me politically you can judge for yourself. When I look at the list, it isn't hugely Liberal, Conservative, Socialist or Green but has elements, possibly of all. I find some of my own ideas quite unsettling - but then again I can't see many good alternatives to certain problems.
Views welcome, as ever.