Photo by Elliott Stallion on Unsplash

As we all know, there’s a general election approaching on 4th July this year in the UK.

I’m not going to write up an impassioned plea on who to vote for.

Nor some arm chair statistician view of tactical voting etc.

I think this is a moment for us to take stock of where we are as a country and to think back over previous choices perhaps?

Whilst I wouldn’t refer to myself a patriot and I’m not at all nationalistic, I can’t deny, the UK is my home. Culturally and otherwise, I’m British. And I think there’s still a great deal for us to be proud of here.

But I think a great many people would agree with me, we’re not in the greatest of positions right now? Not at our best.

The stats bear it out.

According to Statista research, as of May 2024 just 14 percent of adults in the United Kingdom approved of the government.

And the World Happiness report for 2024 (which measures individual happiness based on individual feedback from participants) had the UK in 20th position, down from 19th in 2023. This might sound pretty good still and it is. However, it puts us pretty much bottom of the table for the rest of Northern Europe and behind both Costa Rica and Kuwait.

It’s not surprising to me though. There are lot’s of things we struggle with. Consider that :-

– We’ve had 14 years of effective austerity with savage cuts to public services in many areas. Some local councils have gone bankrupt. It’s hard to get a doctors appointment in some places. The roads are full of potholes. The sensation that we pay tax but get little in return is high among people.

– Much of that austerity was excused as a way to fund the banking system bailout in 2008 of course and the sense with the public that “those rich guys got away with their mistakes” is still high.

– We had COVID19 or more specifically, the governments reaction to it. We had the scandals around senior government officials not following the rules they set and around corruption of public expenditure. We had the often questionable lockdown rules, with many people feeling like there hasn’t still been a reckoning over the mistakes that were made, as well as the long queue of mental / physical health problems as a result. Whats more, we borrowed and spent SO much to fund the response to COVID19 that the country became more in debt than at any time since the second world war. Whilst many may argue this isn’t a problem and I’d agree it’s ok to run a budget deficit, one which is as high as 110% of GDP is likely NOT sensible for the mid/long-term.

– The gap between the rich and poor is high (based on income inequality measured by the Gini co-efficient) and 4.3 million children living in relative poverty (2022/2023) with significant rises in absolute poverty over the same time.

-We had a bitter national argument over Brexit, which still somewhat drags on.

– We have a somewhat broken main stream news media. People have moved away from newspapers and TV news and instead have moved to podcasts, social media and online sources for their news. Journalism, which should be unbiased and something to keep politicians painfully honest and catch them out when they are not, seems broken? More concerned with 24 hour, sensationalism and click bait headlines than holding the political establishment to account. We watched with dismay, the Leveson Inquiry and the News of The World hacking scandal unfold.

– We have all the usual fears, with war with Russia, Iran, China or North Korea regularly on the agenda.

– We have ongoing regular, bitter debates about immigration and all the other “culture war” stuff that takes up probably far much more time than it should.

But it’s not just the scandals, arguments and debates we’ve been through over the last 14 years that have led to us not being “in the best formation.”

I think deeper than all this.

I think we are having, somewhat of a national existential crisis? One which is slowly unfolding over several decades. Essentially, we’re struggling to re-find our national identity.

The British Empire, effectively stopped from an economic perspective with independence in India in 1947 and slowly wound down and packed up into “the common wealth” over the next 35 years.

With Rhodesia becoming independent as Zimbabwe in 1980, Britain stopped being the global, domineering super power it once was. But nobody, really figured out what came next? Since the late 70’s, the UK had really just become, “another Northern European country.”

We all grew up with the stories of war and empire ringing in our ears. To a greater or lesser extent, our Grandparents grew up amongst it. Everyone is keenly aware of our past. It hangs around our neck almost? Two World Wars. The empire. The world cup in 1966?

But the vision for the future, in my opinion at least, is never really strongly set? From an economic perspective, in 1979, we basically threw most of our eggs in the financial services basket. A number of ex-colonies would become excellent offshore locations for hiding money. This combined with deregulation meant financial services (yes, including industrial scale money laundering) has become the new national mainstream export.

This is where we fit currently, economically at least.

Germany manufactures, Italy does farming and fashion, Sweden does technology, Norway does oil.

The UK does financial services.

That came with benefits but also plenty of problems.

And culturally? I think we got ourselves a little lost also.

Along with this change in direction for the economy, at the same time, we imported and installed the Regan/Thatcher idea of “free market” capitalism. The Ayn Rand wet dream of perfect markets and rugged individualism. The concept of society itself, under question. And so we’ve run with this since then.

It was not long after this, “the left” in the UK really lost it’s way somewhat. We had the “new labour” governments of the 90’s and up till 2008, which realistically just followed a “lite” version of what came before from the conservatives.

“Old labour” people never got over this change in the party to “new labour”.

This is where momentum came from, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. “The Left” also imported wokeism, primarily from America and the nordics and spent a long time debating what a woman was, whether certain statues were racist and generally anything other than that which would make sense to your traditional working class left wing voter.

This reached its climax in 2019, when labours “red wall” collapsed. Whole communities who would have voted labour at every possible ballot, decided they’d either just stay home or otherwise actually went and voted conservative instead for the first time, leaving seats that were labour since 1950, falling to the conservatives.

And so here we are.

We are now, just another northern European country.

We have a lot of debt.

We are struggling to figure out who we are as a nation and what we should do to move forward.
It isn’t comfortable.

But perhaps the biggest problem we have, is not our politicians.

It’s ourselves?

It’s very easy for us, especially people like me who are left leaning, to point at 14 years of conservative government and point out what a mess it’s been. And to do so isn’t wrong (in my opinion at least).

But theres an old adage in democracy. People get the governments and the politicians they vote for.

WE, the people, returned 14 years of conservative government, at least one of them with a fantastically huge majority.

We know what happened in the 80’s and the track record with public services? What were we expecting?

The election of Boris Johnson in 2019 was the pinnacle of this.

Personally, I cannot fathom a reason anyone would make a vote that might put Boris Johnson close to power. But yet people did. When I asked some of those people that I knew, in my personal life, it was generally for one (or all) of four reasons:-

A) He’ll get brexit done
B) He isn’t Jeremy Corbyn
C) Hes quite funny/you could have a drink with him
D) Hes had lots of girlfriends

I would venture that the strength of one particular topic alone, not being someone else or being “quite funny”, are not particularly good reasons to pick a leader.

But this genuinely seems to be the level that the British public are at when it comes to our political decisions? I won’t go into the Brexit referendum, but there were no doubt lots of similarly bad takes there as well when it came to making a choice.

And so I look ahead to the coming election on 4th July.

Whilst I think it’s no doubt going to be entertaining to watch a conservative collapse, I’m under no illusion that this is the “fix.” We have a phenomenally long way to go still.

The next morning, when Starmer takes charge, we are still broke, directionless and not entirely sure of our place in the world (or at least, not comfortable with it.)

And we still won’t have figured out, ourselves, as voters, what is wrong.

We will still have a broken, anachronistic electoral system. We will still suffer from “first past the post” where the outcome of the make up of parliament isn’t actually what people voted for.

We’ll go on believing the lies and the flimflam of men like Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, with their simplistic and one dimensional arguments. We’ll crave the pride and those that take us back to the “good old days” once more, rather than forward, with a new vision for the future.

And it’s not going to be until we all wake up and start to think very hard about what we want from our country and how we get it that things will change.

I’m not hopeful then for 4th July and what comes after. The people of this country need to learn some things first – and given that the previous 14 years seems to have taught us absolutely nothing, I’m not at all hopeful for the 5 years to come.,with%2064%20percent%20who%20disapproved.,How%20did%20COVID%20affect%20government%20revenues%2C%20spending%2C%20borrowing%20and%20debt,back%20but%20debt%20remain%20high.,from%2036%25%20in%202011%2F12