‘It’s tough to make predictions’, said the great baseball sage, Yogi Berra, ‘especially about the future’. But in politics there are great prizes for a political party with a sense of how the world is changing, the new risks and opportunities on offer – and a plan to make the future work for ordinary families.
When Labour has been most visionary, in 1945, 1964 and 1997, we have won big. And that’s why the debate about the renewal of our party must start with a peer into the years to come.
Think about what’s changed since the 1980s. Globally, life expectancy has risen some 20 years – a change that before, took from the Stone Age until the 1980’s to achieve. 300 million people have been lifted out of poverty. 65 nations became democracies in the years after the Berlin Wall came down while 4.5 billion new connections were made as the world wide web spread across the earth. Vast new trade deals and portfolio flows connected us in a global marketplace of 6 billion people. So, what of the world to come?
Red Shift – a group of Labour MPs and activists focused on future trends – has now tried to map the five key trends that will reshape the future of England in this vast and newly complex world. And from our work, a clear story begins to emerge of the kind of renewal Labour needs to offer.
First, Labour will need to offer new economic hope to a country that wants to leave the EU – yet not lose out. That inevitably means turning east, where ‘emerging’ economies are likely to grow 3-5 times faster than the West. Much is made of China’s slowdown. But it is still a $17 trillion economy growing at 6 per cent a year. By 2050, new rising powers may make up 70-80 per cent of global growth. Yet today, Britain’s productivity rates are terrible. We’ve run a persistent trade deficit since 1998. And hugely short-changing investment in science: China is increasing science spend 17 times faster than us – every year.
Second, the new English working class will face extraordinary new challenges from the rise of the robots – and the retired, who chose to stay on at work. New technology and demographic shifts will transform the world of work, creating the risk that millions of England’s low paid workers will be locked into low-pay, low-skill sectors of the economy, unable to earn their way to a good life. But new jobs will emerge as technology and trade accelerate – and Labour’s task is make sure that England is equipped with new institutions to help workers adapt, thrive and advance as the jobs market quickly changes. As the party of labour, our mindset will need to adapt as we seek to represent the new ‘English working class’ of ‘new tech workers’ – in medicine, computing, fintech, engineering, agri-tech, and manufacturing, the self-employed and the returning ‘retired worker’ staying on in work.
Third, for each of us to thrive, we will need some crucial new collective solutions: the new national assets that will make up a 21st century public realm strengthening the ties that bind us. Some are well known – like a national NHS which must modernise for the new age of personal medicine and cell reengineering and a social care system that helps a country where by 2030 there may be an additional 2 million adults with a mental health problem. We know we need a new revolution in housing, and a second pension system that is genuinely universal. But some new national assets are not well debated: like the infrastructure of personal and public data which will soon need new solutions. Just as the Factory Acts of the Victorian Age made the world of work safer, so Data Acts for the 21st Century will be needed to ensure safeguard our data.
Fourth, we will need to champion the better instincts of a big-hearted England, not little England, in a world that desperately needs our engagement. The world is no less safe as China and Russia multiply defence spending and where violent ‘non-state actors’ will soon acquire drones for biological weapons. And that’s before we contemplate ocean level rises of 1-2 metres as the planet warms.
But, the key challenge for Labour will be mobilising new answers and new majorities in a country that is perhaps more divided than ever before dominated by older voters (over half of voters at the next election will be over 55), but where the next generation urgently needs collective solutions.
This is the challenge of defining a New English Socialism. Labour is ultimately a ‘we’ party. We believe we each do better when we act together. But we get elected when we show how the ‘we’ helps the ‘me’. Ultimately, no matter the rhetoric, the Tories tend to offer solutions that leave you on your own. A cursory glance at the future is enough to prove that is not the way to unlock the extraordinary potential of the years to come – or safeguard our country from the threat of an unprecedented new inequality. That is Labour’s new challenge.
You can download Red Shift’s report, England in 2030 from www.redshiftlabour.co.uk
Image: Reinhard Kuchenbäcker