This is not a conventional review. Following the review there is a synopsis of each chapter, intended to tempt you into buying the book, taking action and encouraging others to buy it.
This is the most important book I have read in years. It’s about the state of Britain today and how it must be changed. It is full of practical ideas and solutions. It is written with passion and offers much needed hope. It is also shocking. Shocking because it reveals how bad things are, how poor our economy is and how badly we compare with other countries in Northern Europe. Shocking because it reveals the level of dishonesty, deceit and incompetence of many of our political leaders.
The book will empower you.
It provides an analysis of what has gone wrong over the past fifty years. The authors also put forward inspiring whole system proposals for a new economy and social settlement. Not all the ideas are new – none the worse for that – but they are put together when their time has come. The authors have been backed up by a substantial host of respected researchers.
It also reveals how divided our country is: the prosperous London and South East and the rest of the country, which by every measure is poor and deprived. It reveals how people were conned into voting for Brexit by what amounts to lies. How people were misled by sensational headlines in the right wing press such as the Daily Mail, Sun and Express, and were manipulated through social media and the Brexit campaign was illegally funded by a few rich donors.
We live at a time of great threats. In particular from Putin, Trump and Xi Jinping, the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong. The EU is a force for good and security. It has set standards that the world is following. Britain, a small country, needs to be constructively playing its part in Europe as a member of a strong EU, as it has done hitherto.
The book is a manifesto for a better Britain, Better Europe and a better world.
And now we receive this news: The Planet Is Dangerously Close to the Tipping Point for a ‘Hothouse Earth’ from the Stockholm Resilience Centre
The big question is: where is the leadership of the stature needed to make these proposals happen? We need women and men of the calibre of Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, Beverage, John Maynard Keynes, Attlee, Nye Bevan and George Marshall. I see no sign of their emerging yet, but they will if we play our part.
My only criticism of this book is that there is little mention of climate chaos, our destruction of the ecosystem, the deadly air pollution that is killing millions and the need to live lightly on the Planet Earth. These challenges are arguably the greatest facing humanity. This is a major omission. Addressing them is crucial to our survival. Also there are huge opportunity costs in not doing so. Providing sustainable energy and refurbing Britain’s leaky homes would provide thousands of jobs.
Now a summary of each chapter:
Chapter 1 Falling to pieces describes just how bad things are in the British economy outside the City and South East. England is two countries: London and the South East and the Rest. “Inequality is grotesque.” By every measure of wellbeing the North, Midlands, Wales and Northern Ireland are worse off; worse off than people in many other northern European countries. Nigel Lawson said in the Financial Times, “Brexit gives us the chance to finish the Thatcher revolution.” But what was that revolution? Moral decline – employees seen as costs, vast executive bonuses, the supreme objective of driving share price higher and faster. Austerity leading to cuts that delayed recovery and continue to have disastrous consequences. Productivity is stagnant and companies are underperforming. A third of Britain’ workforce is in persistent poverty. Real wages have fallen by 7% since 2008. Good jobs are increasingly rare, dead end jobs common, education poor, few good apprenticeships, poor career hopes, stagnant wages and virtually no social mobility.
The Farage technique was to blame our shortcomings on the EU and migration.
The realities of the huge interplay between UK and Europe manufacturing are not understood by Brexiteers. Nor are the advantages of doing business which is relatively near rather than thousands of miles away. Brexiteers fail to appreciate the advantages of the numerous EU trade deals and the difficulties Britain will face in establishing new ones. EU achievements are considerable: creating a greener environment, diminishing the dangers of climate change and promoting good working conditions such as health and safety. The EU made Britain stronger, not weaker. Much of what the Brexiteers offer is pie in the sky. At a time when China, the US and Russia grow ever more threatening, the West must stand together.
Chapter 2 How Mr Farage became leader of the Conservative Party I love this chapter. I like to think of Farage as the artful dodger or the pied piper. He has virtually the whole of Parliament at his feet, most MPs not daring to challenge the alleged “will of the people” , and call for an end to Brexit. Of course he’ll keep his MEP pension of 73,000 euros pa.
Mrs Thatcher’s policy was to destroy anything she could not control like the GLC. Her ideology was to privatise; hence she created the housing crisis. Her successor is Farage. “Faragism” became the driving philosophy of the Conservative Right. He is described in this chapter as “A brash public school semi-rebel – self-confessed “wind up merchant”, “bloody –minded” and “difficult”. “Chap about town with a pint and a fag” image. He decided not to go to university but instead to make money in the metals market. He outwitted the Conservatives. He won MEP seats, manipulated the public, blaming their ills on migrants. He used the influence of Sky News, sensational headlines in the Sun and Daily Mail, money used illegally and manipulation of social media to misinform the people.
Democracies can only function if citizens have accurate information. Cameron’s blasé approach to the referendum design did not help. This chapter sets out all the flaws in the referendum. And as said by Rafael Behr, in “This Faragism of the left will leave behind a loathing of all politics” . The mood of radical protest is bad for moderates, most of all those making the case for Britain staying in the EU.
However underneath it all “Brexit voters were right. ….We need a new deal for a European Britain. We need to transform the way our country works. … Brexiteers dodge these truths.”
Chapter 3 The lion without the roar We are ambivalent. While many of us feel intensely European, two thirds do not. Yet Britain has always been deeply involved in Europe. Our history has been interwoven with Europe. Our monarchy is an example, a most European institution: The Georges from the House of Hanover; Queen Victoria married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coberg; Queen Elizabeth 2 is cousin to many European kings or queens. Prince Philip is a prince of Greece and Denmark, son of a German princess, describing himself as a “European mongrel”. Most of us are descended from migrants. The Industrial Revolution arrived first in Britain but was due to an interplay with European Enlightenment. Social unrest associated with industrialisation was a catalyst for demand for democratisation, opening the door for redistribution and extension of social and educational right. William Beveridge, godfather of the NHS and welfare state, studied the social insurance for pensions and sickness introduced by Otto von Bismarck, first Chancellor of Germany, in the 1880s.
Winston Churchill, exemplifies the English European. “We must build a kind of United States of Europe”, in his 1946 Zurich speech. I quote from Saving Britain: “The reality is that British strategic thinking has always been – has always had to be – at least as European as global.”
Global Britain, branded by the some Brexiteers as “Empire 2.0” is ludicrous. At a time when democracy is under threat in many countries including our own, in a world facing great threats from Putin, Xi Jinping, Trump and not least Hothouse Earth , Britain, on its own, without an empire, is far too small. We need to be whole heartedly in Europe, working to make the EU stronger and more effective.
Chapter 4 Get real In today’s world no country can enjoy democracy, global economic integration and untrammelled national sovereignty free from international organisations. Sovereignty, democracy and the benefits of global trade are reconciled through the principle of subsidiarity under which the centre only performs those tasks which cannot be performed at a more local level. The EU creates a level playing field for its members and is large enough to stand up for principle. Otherwise there would be a race to the bottom in standards such as those for environment, employment, health, construction, engineering and education. Britain played a major part in fashioning these standards. Because of the EU’s strength, European models of regulation are being studied in the US, India, China and Brazil. The EU is large enough to cut good trade deals. The EU is a global trade hotspot and it is at the global frontiers of technology and productivity.
In getting real, this chapter spells out the realities of what will happen if we leave the EU. It also suggests a rational approach to addressing concerns about migration. We need to do more to train the people we need, particularly in the NHS. London’s Muslim mayor Sadiq Khan, makes many suggestions for assimilating migrants including helping them integrate fully. We can also negotiate an “emergency brake”.
Chapter 5 Stakeholder capitalism and the new social contract
“Fundamental reform is now urgent. Social justice requires that every citizen in our islands should be confident of decent minimum living standards, comprehensive public services and the opportunity to make the best of their life, wherever they are born and live.”
This is the most visionary and inspiring chapter of all. It is refreshing at a time when political dialogue is at a low level. It is full of practical strategic solutions. It is critical of the failure of government over the past sixty years to create a modern British economy. According to neoliberal doctrine, less government is necessarily better government, including withdrawal from the EU. This is social and economic illiteracy. So is Austerity which has done huge damage to our economy and attempts to rebuild it, now compounded by Brexit.
In 1942 Beveridge declared war on “five giants” squalor, ignorance, want, idleness and disease. After the war for a time Britain did well. But efforts to continue were broken by bad relations with the unions. Enter Mrs Thatcher. Today there is a “shit life syndrome”: low or no skills, futility of many working lives, loss of hope and a mental health epidemic. Much of British capitalism performs badly, especially compared with Germany. We need a 2020 version of the ideas and practical imagination of Keynes, Beveridge and Attlee.
A new tune – a new economy.
Amongst the main features of the proposed strategy are:
- A banking system that supports enterprises local, regional and national as in Germany.
- Building stakeholder capitalism in which employees, customers, unions, suppliers have a stake and are represented on the board.
- Challenging the PLC model and strengthening the law.
- Company constitutions that state their purpose – such companies out-perform others.
- Creating nodes of growth encouraging business clusters all over the country. A critical mass of thriving companies in regions that are large enough to work. Nodes of growth and “brain hub” clusters require “the entrepreneurial state”. The state’s role in supporting enterprise and funding important companies such as Rolls Royce and Glaxo Smith Kline is vital. In fact the City is a de facto example of both public and private collaboration.
- Devolution to regions, cities and local communities is vital.
- Digitalisation has huge potential but needs to be managed so that everyone benefits.
- Encouraging innovation centres such as the Big Innovation Centre encouraged by Vince Cable.
- Ending scandalous executive pay and emphasis on short term gain – what Keynes called “casino economics” through speculation and hedge fund jackals.
- Fair taxation, fair to the individual and to businesses of different sizes. London is in effect the largest tax haven in the world.
- Fostering a variety of models such as co-operatives, mutuals, trusts, partnerships, state companies, employee-owned companies and public benefit companies.
- Mittelstand – the lessons it offers us. Alongside the major, world-famous companies, there is also a whole range of small and medium-sized companies in Germany which provide a large number of jobs and are extremely productive: these small and medium-sized enterprises, or SMEs, make up what is known as the Mittelstand
- Social responsibility: insisting companies are socially responsible especially global companies – Only the EU has successfully challenged Google’s monopoly, fining it 2.4 bn euros and making Facebook and Amazon pay more tax. The EU is now considering breaking up Google.
- Transforming our education system so that it meets diverse individual and national needs – the right to life long development.
- Unions need to re-invent themselves as social partners and co-creators of stakeholder capitalism.
As someone said to me at a talk I gave, “we need a change of heart”.
A new social contract. Briton has a weak implicit social contract. It needs a strong explicit one. Social policy is essentially “austerity for the poor and welfare for the rich”. Public services squeezed in many areas, especially social care, are threadbare, awful. The NHS in crisis is being privatised by stealth . Constant spending cuts are borne by the public. The consequences are disastrous. Local government spending has fallen by 40% since 2010. Tax evasion is huge. There is an obsession with reducing national debt even when the economy is weak – another case of economic illiteracy, not understanding what it is for. It is ridiculous to say we cannot afford decent public services. This part of the book offers many proposals including a land value tax . However the book does not include Sovereign Money that would enable much needed public infrastructure investment without borrowing. Nor a Universal Basic Citizen’s Income , which could offer enormous benefits, especially as the 4th Industrial Revolution proceeds.
More democracy. “The cure for the ailments of democracy is more democracy.” John Dewey said. A Great Charter for Modern Britain would hand over power from Westminster to the cities, towns and counties of Britain, enabling them to transform their localities, represented in a Senate replacing the House of Lords, located in the north of England. This should be the foundation of a fully-fledged written constitution.
Honouring our young. Britain’s neglect of the young is the most shameful consequence of our disintegrating social services. We need a British Statute of Social Rights. Essentially we have an education system geared to produce three hundred thousand eighteen-year olds who each year go to the top twenty four Russell Group universities. The consequences for people and nation are severe. A revolution is needed. We need an excellent system that educates the half million or so teenagers who do not go to university and provides the skilled workers we so badly need. Back in 1884 a royal commission said: “The one point in which Germany is overwhelmingly superior to England is in schools…. The dense ignorance so common among workman in England is unknown in Germany.” We need to follow the examples of Germany, Denmark the Netherlands and Norway. Britain needs a £2.5 billion Education Marshall Plan. Honouring our young also requires their having the vote from 16 and several suggestion for youth involvement are made.
Chapter 6 Taking back control At the eight-hundredth anniversary of the Magna Carta it’s time for a contemporary Great Charter to give real control to the nations, cities and localities of Britain and put an end to democratic feudalism. Living in Berkhamsted I can say “hear hear” to that but it applies far more urgently elsewhere. The authors argue with that “taking back control” is essentially a ruthless power grab to achieve “Thatcherism in one country”. Under the “winner takes all” electoral system, in seven out of ten elections the Tories have been the largest party. Of course it wants to be free from the constraints of the EU. Poet Ben Okri says that a nation’s written constitution is “the best story a people can tell about itself to itself”. But Britain has no written constitution that tells the story of the rights, values, duties ambitions and institutions of the British people. The Conservatives argue that it is not necessary as liberty is in Britain’s DNA. This is contradicted by “our patchwork of inequality of opportunity, quiet suffering and enfeebled local communities”. Swathes of Britain are chronically poor, disempowered and embittered. Without adequate financial resources they are unable to tackle social problems like housing and social care. A Statute of Self-Government is needed. We inspired the post-war democratic institutions in Western Europe, yet now the only written constitution of which we are a part of is Europe’s. We need a Great Charter of Modern Britain to entrench devolution in Parliament itself and replace the House of Lords with a Federal Senate of the United Kingdom with a mission to defend the interests of local communities across the UK and declare the social rights and responsibilities of the British people.
Chapter 7 Statutes of liberty In the six decades of the EU, no member state has invaded another and no member state has yet disowned democracy, remarkable achievements after the previous six decades was ravaged by two ferocious and destructive wars. We cannot be sure these horrors are over.
“There is a clear fault line running from Belgrade to Budapest and Warsaw. The new divisions between those who believe that their best hope for peace and prosperity lies in joining the rules-based European Union and NATO and those who base their hopes on the nationalism and authoritarianism”. Sir Ivor Roberts, British ambassador to Milošević’s Belgrade and Berlusconi’s Rome.
Then there is Putin’s gangster nationalism and a contemporary form of fascism. He will do all he can to undermine democracy elsewhere. Counter-revolution is virulent in central and eastern Europe. There are counter-revolutionary parties in virtually every country in Europe and that includes UKIP. As the authors say, “The 21st century is now in danger of belonging to populists branding independent judges ‘ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE’, the headlines in the Daily Mail denouncing the UK Supreme Court who dared to rule that Parliament must have a vote on Brexit.”
The Ukraine has been violated, the first such violation since WW2 (Actually Georgia was occupied first- in 2008.). A semi-detached Britain will not help. Add Trump’s ambivalence. NATO is not enough. We need to be fully involved in Europe’s security system. Ireland, with whom we now have excellent relations, may become the Achilles heel of Brexit and the Brexit right is actually calling for an end to the Good Friday Agreement.
Here are concluding proposals:
- More should be done to connect the EU to European citizens. One way of doing this would be to replace half MEPs with representatives from the parliaments of member states.
- The EU should give mainstream parties ammunition to fight back.
- Freedom of movement should be qualified by giving countries to invoke short-term “emergency breaks” if immigration reaches pre-defined upper thresholds.
- The argument for staying in the EU should be buttressed by a commitment to repurpose our capitalism, reforge our social contract, and recast our democratic institutions so they work for everyone. Done against a background of rising living standards and economic growth. This requires building on our trade relationships with the EU and the dozens of signatories to its trade deals.
- Country must come before party. The “Brussells bureaucracy” is smaller than London’s Metropolitan Police. Labour’s 217 Manifesto is implementable within the EU. Conservatives prepared to challenge the Brexit right, the best of Labour, Lib Dem, Green and Scottish Nationalist parties must come together to prevent to ensure we stay in the EU.
The EU is a crucial part of the power balance that sustains an international order to secure the common good in face of Russia’s, China’s and the US ambitions. Today’s young people and future generations will bitterly reproach us for not being part of it.
“A battle is only won by those who are firmly resolved to win it”. Tolstoy in War and Peace.
What to do next. At the end of the book, is a list of organisations readers can use to make a difference.
Bruce Nixon is author of The 21st Century Revolution: A Call to Greatness. My Blog and occasional newsletter, which you can sign up for on this site, are available to keep you uptodate.