The future of the left since 1884

Britain 2037 – Vol. 3

Letters from a Better Britain, featuring Miatta Fahnbulleh, Lis Wallace and more. This is the third and final online instalment of Britain 2037, originally published in the Autumn 2023 Fabian Review.



Miatta Fahnbulleh on devolution

Twenty years on from the Brexit referendum, the slogan ‘take back control’ finally has meaning in communities across the country. Rising living standards have been sustained for a decade, and communities which for so long were held back by Tory economic failure are on the rise. People are beginning to feel that they have a real stake in the economy, and can feel the benefits when it does well. Homes are being built; new bus, tram and rail networks are connecting the country; and our neighbourhoods, towns and cities have a new lease of life.

The catalyst was a new Labour government, determined to reverse 13 years of decline, pushing through a radical programme of devolution in its first 100 days. The ‘Take Back Control’ Bill, as it was popularly know, was bold, brave and decisive. It devolved a third of Labour’s £28bn a year green investment pledge to local areas alongside new tax powers and control over education, skills, employment support, energy, housing, planning and local transport.

In return for these powers, a new generation of directly elected regional mayors – supported by combined authorities – were tasked with driving economic change in their communities. New partnerships with local businesses, trade unions, public institutions, and community groups were forged to drive the place-based economic revival. Local leaders successfully used the procurement and investment power of the local state to create new green industries and rebuild local services – unlocking millions of good jobs that pay decent wages. And through a boom in cooperatives & community ownership, people in every community have a direct stake in the new industries and services that have sprung up. People feel power and agency for the first time over the foundations that shape their lives. And the promise of change feels real.

Miatta Fahnbulleh is chief executive of the New Economics Foundation and Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Camberwell and Peckham

Lis Wallace on global justice

To understand the Britain of 2037 – a Britain that has enjoyed 13 years of Labour government – you must look beyond our shores, and beyond Europe, to the rest of the world.

Because 2037, and Britain’s place in it, has been moulded by our ability to respond to the global challenges and opportunities of the present era. The threats of climate change, food insecurity, pandemics, instability and conflict have been mitigated, reversing the decline during the first decades of this millennium. What changed was that under 13 years of an internationalist, progressive Labour government, Britain pushed for a fairer and more equal global system.

By reorienting British foreign policy to be more respectful and solidaristic, particularly with the global south, the UK helped bring about a more equitable and prosperous future for all. By supporting African countries to harness renewable energy sources, a greener future now lies ahead. Reforms of the development finance system, supported by the UK, have unlocked huge sums of money for low-and-middle-income countries to build resilience and invest in infrastructure. By adopting a ‘prevention is better than cure’ approach to humanitarian crises, Britain has helped avert emergencies. By promoting partnerships that build global health security and endorsing efforts to manufacture vaccines on the African continent, it has helped ensure the world as a whole can respond to health threats more effectively, wherever they are, creating a more equitable, healthier and prosperous world for all.

Britain in 2037 is more appreciated by the global community; we are their partner of choice. Not only have progressive international policies shifted power, tackled inequalities and transformed the future for so many around the world, but British people are safer, healthier and wealthier as a result.

Lis Wallace is director of UK policy and advocacy at The ONE Campaign

Jeni Tennison on digitalisation

It’s hard to believe the tech we rely on in 2037 hadn’t been invented when Labour came to power. And hard to remember how out-of-control everything felt, with anti-AI strikes, data-centre-driven water shortages and election-compromising deep-fakes – not to mention vague threats of extinction – making us feel that tech was something we could only react to, never shape. How did the Labour government turn it around?

First, it didn’t just believe that artificial intelligence could be used for public good, but insisted it had to be. Scorning market-driven hype cycles, Labour targeted digital public-sector procurement and research and development spending to focus on the most important problems, including the climate crisis and improving quality of life. It invested in public connectivity, data centres, and digital and data infrastructure, with subsidies at the community level, making tech development easier and cheaper as well as returning value to the public purse.

Second, it made people power a reality. We’ve all seen coverage of the national citizen assemblies, from the seminal Democracy Digitised, now more than a decade old, to last year’s somewhat controversial AI for a Healthy Britain. Closer to home, many of us have participated in deliberations about digital adoption in our workplaces, schools and communities. Having a powerful say has helped us understand tech and enabled us to welcome it on our own terms. Finally, re-establishing the UK’s international reputation has paid off in the tech space, and we’ve played a useful role in brokering concrete global agreements to ban lethal autonomous weapons, crack down on deepfakes and reward creators. It’s a far cry from Sunak’s tech-bro posturing and the exclusionary ‘Global AI Safety Summit’ of 2023.

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing. But we’ve had clear leadership, a bold vision, and ministers who are both passionate and sceptical about technology. The last 13 years have rebalanced the relationship between people and technology: no longer resigned or fearful, we are free to embrace innovation with optimism.

Jeni Tennison is the founder and executive director of Connected by Data. She is also co-chair of the data governance working group at the Global Partnership on AI

Paul Martin on housing

When Starmer’s Labour government came to power, housing was a major national problem, affecting almost everyone in a way it had not done since 1945.

Labour set as its strategic aim “a decent home for all,” and recognised that average earnings and the typical cost of housing had to converge as soon as possible.

Ministers and local councillors were determined to press ahead. They knew that increasing the supply of high-quality homes was crucial and set about tackling the key obstacles: a lack of skilled labour and shortages of materials.

Priority was given to building affordable council properties with the twin aims of meeting the needs of the poorest and helping to bring down the cost of private renting.

At national level, ministers drew on the lessons of a century before, examining the failures and successes of early 20th-century legislation. They decided that the market would not provide unless it was politically directed and driven, so they led a task force which brought together construction firms, trade unions and training centres committed to their programme.

After far too long out of power, Labour ministers and local councillors quickly relearned how to make good things happen and at speed.

As well as funding new-builds, Labour set about the key task of retrofitting older homes, ensuring that funding streams were focused, legal frameworks were fit for purpose and environmental standards would be met.

British people today, the overwhelming majority of whom live in secure, high-quality and affordable housing, have Labour to thank: it met the challenge of the era.

Paul Martin is policy lead for the Labour Housing Group

Praful Nargund on skills and training

After a sustained period of progressive government, much has changed for the better for people in the UK. Thirteen years of Labour government have delivered a growing, green economy and a transformation in public services. Satisfaction rates for the NHS are at record highs. Inequality has decreased and opportunity has been hardwired into the system of school, college, university, and work. The ‘class ceiling’ has been smashed and the country has experienced a skills revolution.

At the heart of this change was comprehensive reform to education and training. The starting point for incoming Labour ministers back in 2024 was getting a solid grip on the skills agenda. The Tories had failed dismally on skilling the workforce. They had cut funding for further education, messed up apprenticeships, botched T-levels, and presided over chaos in the universities. They left office with many British workers lacking the right skills to face the future.

Labour knew that education and training had to match economic needs and therefore had to be as flexible and fluid as the fast-changing economy itself. No more false divides between education, training, and apprenticeships, and no more snobbery and stigma attached to ‘vocational’ pathways. No more sclerotic bureaucracy. No more silos.

The new national skills taskforce – Skills England – proved a guiding force for the skills revolution, and was soon emulated across the devolved nations. Unions, employers and providers sat around the table together to drive forward the skills revolution.

The Labour government leaned into advances in technology, ensuring that technology became a liberator rather than a master. Just like Labour in the ‘white heat’ of the 1960s, Labour embraced the opportunities that could be extended to all. A new era of lifelong learning emerged, with every generation learning the digital skills to adapt to the new challenges of work. Britain solidified its position as a world-leader in AI and digital tech, overcoming the lottery of background and birth to release new innovation, improved productivity and growth.

Putting businesses and trade unions at the heart of the process proved effective. The system flexed to the needs of employers – more short courses, more modular courses and a transformation of the apprenticeship levy. Revamping the schools curriculum and creating an energetic new careers advice service for all young people was another positive reform.

The measure which most changed public attitudes towards apprenticeships, especially among potential recruits, was introducing an apprentice minimum wage in line with the national minimum wage. With this single act, the government signalled that we value apprentices and apprenticeships. As notable economists showed, including the Fabian Society’s own report in 2028, the upfront cost of a minimum wage for apprentices was recouped many times over in returns to the economy.

Lastly, Labour’s skills revolution has played a significant part in greening the British economy. For decades, the talk of ‘green jobs’ had been woolly and unfulfilled. Now at last, British workers could receive real skills training in the jobs that a green economy demands. From construction workers building zero-carbon homes, to insulators retrofitting buildings, to urban farmers, to entrepreneurs in the fields of fashion, recycling, design or renewables, British workers got the skills to get on.

Praful Nargund is an entrepreneur and campaigner on skills. He is part of the Labour party’s Council of Skills Advisors and a Labour councillor in Islington

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