Friday, November 25, 2016


I wrote this a while ago and posted on facebook, but not on my blog, so here it is. I intend to write in more detail on some of these issues.

I am not going to talk directly about Brexit or the current confusion in the government, but much more widely about the problems afflicting the UK's political system, and their possible solutions.

Whether you are a leaver or a remainer, whether on the left, right or middle of British politics, most people would agree that there is something amiss in the state of the system right now.
Those on the left, whether old Trots, Unionists or young idealists (no disrespect) feel that the voice of the working poor, the unskilled, the uneducated, the unemployed, is being ignored.
Those on the right feel that their concerns over immigration and the stress it can cause on local communities, infrastructure and services is not being addressed.
And those in the centre are worried that the increasing discontent from all directions leaves us in a parlous state which distracts us from the business of improving our society.
And pretty much everyone feels that the gulf between those at the top, and those at the bottom of society has grown too large. And also that there is a large and widening gap between regions in the UK, especially London, which is almost becoming a separate state within a state. And there is a distrust of the affluence and influence of those in the city who control our financial sector.
Of course there are always differing views in the country, the far left and the far right are rarely going to see eye to eye on anything much, and our elections have always been split fairly evenly in terms of numbers.
But the current malaise runs deeper, with the growing feeling that there is a big disconnect between society and the body politic.
Our system, though adaptable, remains with its roots in the 19th and 20th centuries, and is showing the strain.
A fresh approach to politics is needed. That does not mean violent (or even peaceful) revolution. Western democratic capitalism, with all its faults, is still the best socio economic model we have come up with so far. But ours needs modifying.
Firstly, we need to change the voting system. The well worn first past the post system has its benefits, but its faults are being glaringly exposed. The fact that large numbers of voters from left and right have no effective voice in Parliament is testament to this. We have tried, and failed, to adapt a proportional voting system. We must now grasp that nettle and make changes. A new system must be simple to understand and operate, and must give voice to differing views in society.
Our elections also suffer from the fact that, in this century, less than 70% of the electorate vote. This leads to a lack of clarity as to the legitimacy of the results, and the dilution of the democratic process. We should now adopt a policy similar to Australia and other countries, requiring everyone to vote in either a general election or a referendum.
Communication with the public should be enhanced using net based methods, not just by MPs tweeting their thoughts, but by well designed sites with simple explanations of pros and cons of public issues, and means of collecting public opinion in an ongoing way. This should help to avoid a gradual divergence between the population and their elected representatives.

There are not enough houses in the UK. They are not being built fast enough. They are too expensive. Many young and not so young people have no hope of ever buying a house.

Build more houses. Utilise modern fast building methods. Increase the use of well planned high rise units.
Provide capital with a mix of government and free market sources, and establish new foundations funded by high wealth individuals and corporations. Simplify planning systems (again!).
Make house builders free up dormant land banks by charging for them to keep them idle.
The wealthy are now very wealthy. The UK has over 100 billionaires, with a total wealth of over £300 billion. These people are not to be pilloried or punished, but they should also reflect that their wealth ultimately derives from the rest of society. They (may) have created great wealth, now it is their responsibility to use it wisely. There is a limit to how much people can spend on 
themselves and their families without abusing their wealth.
There is a fine tradition from Carnegie and Rockefeller to Bill Gates that great wealth should be sensibly distributed for the benefit of the society in which they flourished.
Individuals have set up charitable foundations. These should be enhanced and encouraged by the government under an overall foundation scheme. Contributions from government, individuals and corporations, large and small, should be used to provide infrastructure and services for the benefit of all. Contributions from the public should be encouraged using web based crowd funding services. PR and marketing skills should be used along with social media to put moral pressure on these people and organisations to see this as an opportunity to meet their debt to society.
Those wealthy individuals and corporations who seek to avoid paying their fair share of taxation should be made to do so by a combination of legislation and international cooperation; but also encouragement using social media skills. Carrot and stick often works best. Excessive bonus systems should be discouraged by taxing them (above a sensible threshold) at a much higher rate.

Too many graduates with non marketable skills have been left with large loans and no graduate level jobs. Emphasis must be changed from increasing numbers to better matching skills to demand.
Greater use must be made of efficient low cost means such as MOOCs, and computer based methods as in the Khan academy. A wider mix of courses including skills based ones must be provided. For student still wishing to take the resident university route, a system of sponsorship as in Russia should be used to provide students with funds in return for a 2 year placement with an employer, thus providing them with needed employees and the students with jobs.
Non job targeted education such as the arts should still be supported by government, sponsors, and foundations as discussed previously.

This issue cannot be ignored. The UK is a very densely populated country, especially in the south east, and that density is increasing. This can undoubtedly put a strain on housing, infrastructure and services. We have traditionally not been good at spending on our infrastructure since the Victorians, and the strain is showing. Our airports, roads and rail networks are operating at almost maximum capacity - sometimes in excess of that. Health and education services are sometimes pushed over already stretched capacity, causing local unrest and potential conflicts.
Some control over immigration is needed. A sensible upper limit should be set, with a careful points based system to allow those that we need to enter. Students, health workers, educators, scientists, engineers, and some low paid must all be catered for.
Local hot spots will need special assistance from central government to ameliorate transition periods. On line tools should be used to educate and introduce new immigrants to the UKs language, laws, customs, locations, jobs and opportunities. Lack of language need not be a problem, tablets can be used by children and babies.
Housing stock must be improved rapidly, but intelligently. We should utilise latest ideas in TOD (Transit Oriented Development) to ensure houses are built with transport hubs in mind.
Our infrastructure badly needs attention. Any engineer knows that you need to get the basic architecture and infrastructure right to build any system. Other things can be adjusted, but infrastructure is a long term investment that brings benefits for years to come. We have to improve our road and rail networks, however the costs are raised and paid for.
But we need to be aware of the latest developments for our future needs. Electric autonomous vehicles will need a different approach to road traffic density, control, speed limits, distribution and parking. Just in Time (JIT) delivery systems can be revolutionised by using smaller packets and vehicles. Companies like Uber, Lyft, Tesla, Google, Apple? will redefine the customer car relationship.
We need to take seriously new technologies like Hyperloop which are using new materials to change the way we think about transport.
But whatever technologies, we need an integrated approach to transport. That does not mean we have to nationalise the rail and bus networks, but anyone who has travelled in Europe knows that better systems than ours can and do exist. The approach to leave it all to free market forces has resulted in a disjointed mess. Some highlights like the TFL (Transport for London) web site show what can be done. Use of web based services must provide people with end to end transport solutions rather than piecemeal and difficult journeys.

The rapid and exponential growth in technology, especially AI/deep learning, robotics, 3D printing, autonomous vehicles, nanotech, biotech and big data is going to lead us into an era where there are far fewer jobs. This will be good news for some - those in high skill work, but bad for the rest.
Many solutions have been proposed, but it seems we must plan for some kind of universal income before too long. And we should start now.

Climate change is a global issue that we must play our part in. But sustainable energy is also a win win solution. Great advances in technology are driving down the costs of wind and solar, and increasing their efficiency. New battery tech is enabling realistic local power storage. Reduced dependence on carbon fuels improves resilience and clean air. Electric vehicles could offer a distributed power storage mechanism.
We must push forward rapidly by enabling grants and incentives to drive this change.But we can never be completely dependent on wind and solar; we need to consider nuclear. Small modular reactors look to be a promising way forward, and we must continue our efforts to move down this road.
Involvement in new technologies for sustainable energy not only benefits our energy policy, but enhances UK plc as a global player in this growing market.
There are many other issues I have not discussed. Running a country is not easy. But in my experience, if you get the basic fundamentals right, then other problems tend to fall into place and are easier to deal with. I have tried to identify those key areas that must be dealt with, and their solutions.

UK income inequality is among the highest in the developed world and evidence shows that this is bad for almost everyone.


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