Who will emerge as the UK's next Keynes or Beveridge?

MPs in the House of Commons

MPs in the House of Commons - Credit: PA

MARTYN SLOMAN reflects on a year in politics - and looks forward to life beyond the pandemic.

Even if the imposition of Tier 4 in Norfolk had not made it impossible, I was not in the mood to celebrate on New Year’s Eve. 2020 was a disaster year.  Together with many readers of The New European I felt great sadness when the Brexit details were agreed on Christmas Eve., though I accept that such feelings were irrational.  By that stage the battle was well and truly lost and the departure terms were certainly better than no deal would have been.  I did, however, feel that lingering hope had finally disappeared - albeit any crude triumphalism from the Prime Minister would be eclipsed by an inability to get to grips with the pandemic.

What has deepened the gloom is that any positive vision for the future has been extinguished in the course of the year.  As we enter 2021 our political leaders will be pre-occupied with an agenda which will suck energy from the system rather than inspire – even assuming that a successful vaccination programme will allow some sort of return to normality.  There will be inevitable disputes arising from the detailed implementation of the trade agreement.  Keir Starmer has been left with no choice but to deal with the challenges to his authority posed by Jeremy Corbyn and his acolytes.  Boris Johnson will be absorbed in a major fight to deflect the demand for growing Scottish independence.  In years to come my grandchildren, should they study politics at University, could well be asked to answer the question: “Why did the European Union survive and the United Kingdom disintegrate?”.  This is a dreadful legacy for my generation to leave to those that follow.   

I realise that this all reads rather like one of the more down-beat passages from the book of Job, but, like that book, it is important to understand the wider context in which we have travailed.  Progressive liberal democracy has failed to ensure that the benefits of relative prosperity were more widely shared and the undercurrent of resentment was captured by populists of the right; for their part they could win elections but could not deliver.  It may be that this tide has begun to turn.  Easily the brightest beacon of the outgoing year was the defeat of Trump and the election of Joe Biden who succeeded without compromising his standards.  The tragedy for the United Kingdom is that no country will have suffered more in the long-term from the wave of populist reaction. The damage to our international reputation has been immense; the vision of our nation as an active force for progress in the world has disappeared for decades.

So, what is to be done?   When the times are out of joint there are two sensible courses of action.  The first is simply to wait for better times.  New leadership will emerge once the worst is over.  We need someone to provide a compelling articulation based on new thinking; I am looking out for the next Keynes or Beveridge.  I have no idea what they are going to say but I think that I will recognise the importance of the message when they say it.  Importantly the scope of the new politics thus created will be global; it will unite people behind a progressive agenda across national boundaries.   

Such is the hope at the macro-level, where there is little that most people can do to influence events, but it is also important to keep going at the micro-level. 
Activists must continue to be active. So, however much distress we feel, we must not lose faith or give up.  Remember Job was eventually restored to good fortune, though it has to be said through events largely beyond his control.

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