Political, Economic & Environmental Hopes for 2023…

I shared some Metro themed Hopes and Moans in two related blogs yesterday. Here I want to quickly share some broader political, economic and environmental hopes (mostly naïve I suspect) that I hold for 2023 and beyond (with links and references to some of my blogs over the last five years).

I really hope/expect that some/all of the below will be addressed in the manifestos our political parties may be preparing in 2023 for an upcoming Westminster election!

#1 The Climate Emergency needs more than Lip Service

We can’t go on pretending we can just tinker at the edges to address the Climate Emergency. The way our economies are structured and the stark reality that we do not adequately account for the negative externalities (esp carbon emission and environmental degradation) of our activities is exacerbating the challenge.

Just looking a Christmas; how many presents were shipped around the world via Amazon (or similar) on ships and planes, in trucks or lorries to people who probably didn’t need them…and so may well end up in a charity shop or landfill in less than two years! A bit cynical perhaps, but we really make, buy, sell, ship, too much stuff that we dont really need – but which levies an enormous cost on our environment We need to be able to live with less stuff!

What is sustainable economic growth? I’m not sure we know the answer yet. However, I am pretty clear, more of the same is not an answer (Kate Raworth and Doughnut Economics is worth a read!). Most serious economists acknowledge this and confirm that GDP is not an entirely useful measure given the omissions. If all the costs (inc externalities) of our unconstrained capitalism and consumerism flowed through into consumer prices – we would all make very different choices and GDP might look very different?

I am also sure that we do need a functioning economy, entrepreneurism and innovation…but we need to incentivise, through public investment, progressive tax and regulation, activities that help and not exacerbate our current problems. So, for example, more investment in renewables, energy storage, home insulation, in skills, in localism, sustainable food production, etc

Big changes are needed.

#2 We have to recognise we don’t pay enough tax in the UK

We hear a lot about the “increase in taxes” and the UKs historically high tax burden. The truth is that the UK is a relatively low tax economy with a tax/GDP ratio of about 35% (up from 33% following the recent increases). This is far lower than many other comparable economies with ratios of over 40% (eg Denmark, Sweden, France, etc). Many of those countries also have a higher GDP/capita; so it is clear that the oft trotted out mantra of “low tax = bigger economy” is just plain wrong!

Unsurprisingly, many of these countries also have public services that don’t seem to be at breaking point as is the case today in the UK. The stark reality is that effective, reliable and equitable public services require funding – and in the UK that has been squeezed over the last decade! If we want a functioning NHS and fairly paid staff….then we have to pay. If, as we need, we want more public transport capacity, available to more people in more places, then tax payers have to take on more of the costs (as is the case in Europe) . Etc, etc…

The UK’s current immature political system and associated public discourse (infected as it is by #brexit and its “oven ready” undeliverable rhetoric) still pretends you can get something for noting, that there are no tough choices and hard realities. There always are choices- and for the UK and its constituent countries (now and in any future constitutional arrangements) we need to be honest about needing a higher tax/GDP ratio. (Noting how flawed GDP is anyway as an economic metric)

Figure X – “Pre-Covid” tax/GDP of major economies

The truth is that Britain is rapidly become one of the worlds most unequal major economies – this needs to be addressed. We also need to tax to address the environmental damage resulting from unconstrained markets and consumerism.

This does not mean we dump this increased tax burden in the ways we have always done. We need a radical fiscal overhaul to shift our tax burden from income to wealth, asset appreciation and damaging negative externalities (especially those associated with carbon emissions and environmental degradation).

So we need to tax more, for example: excessive car use, inbuilt obsolescence, waste, excessive flying (esp luxury jet flying), use of plastics (esp in food supply chains – remember bottled water companies are not selling you water, they are selling you plastic bottles!), unnecessarily long supply chains, tourism, more sales taxes, even land, etc

Our political discourse needs to get on top of this if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change and the social dislocation of inequality.

Covered some of this in some older blogs…..

#3 All the main political parties finally acknowledge the economic damage of Brexit

Its beyond embarrassing that our UK political system is unable to acknowledge and address the primary source of the UKs current economic problems – Brexit. I get it that the UK conservatives (now run by the anti-expert populist ERG rhetoric mongers ) are never going to admit this reality. However, UK Labour are letting everyone down in this regard. This is a symptom of a deeper malaise in UK politics that requires more than a lick of paint at the Palace of Westminster to fix!

Brexit has, is, and will continue to cause major damage to the UK economy – the OBR are pretty clear in their analysis

I don’t pretend that the EU is perfect. However, at the very least, we should be seeking to re-join the Single Market and the Customs Union – remember many leading “brexiters” promised we wouldn’t leave these arrangements and that we would enjoy the exact same benefits after #brexit!

On #brexit I covered some of this subject in these earlier blogs:

#4 We finally recognise that it is not the EU, but Westminster that is our problem – especially in Wales

The UK clearly and self-evidently needs a major constitutional overhaul to drag it from the 19th Century (“FPTP” House of Commons and crony stuffed unelected Hour of Lords, over centralised Whitehall bureaucracy and the disproportionate representation of public schools in senior roles across all of Westminster Government) and into the 21st Century.

Just looking at capital spending/head across the UK as an example – the disproportionate investment in London (esp transport) exemplifies how the current structure restricts the UK economy; not just Wales, but Greater Manchester, Leeds/Yorkshire, Liverpool/Merseyside, Newcastle/ North East England and Bristol/SW England (and to note I suspect the figures below overstate the spend in Wales because of how spend on projects like HS2 is allocated)

So, I do mean radical change is needed. Proportional Representation is an obvious and long overdue first step at Westminster, as is the complete removal and replacement of the current House of Lords (to note I do favour some time-limited appointees, “aldermen” if you like, in any replacement to complement a new elected system or senate of the Island).

We also need to see much more radical devolution (especially fiscal); federation in England and a confederal relationship between sovereign Wales, England and Scotland….(I expect that Northern Ireland will eventually unify in some form with the Republic). This reform needs to go much further that the recent Brown report and reflect and respect the output of the Constitution Commission in Wales. (Don’t get me on rail devolution!)

I think those advocating radical change in Wales should seek common cause with people like Andy Burnham in England. Whatever happens, England, Scotland and Wales will reside on the same island and will by necessity have a close relationship and so manifest many cross border agreements and arrangements – with many areas of shared responsibility and accountability. “Independence” for Wales and its relationship with England and Scotland needs to look more like an “EU type arrangements” rather than a North Korea version. Sadly it is the latter that the ERG led UK conservative party and its rampant “do what I say” British nationalist seem most keen to emulate in their post brexit Ladybird book British fantasy.

On politics and the dysfunctional British “constitution” :

#5 We stop conflating gender and sex

This conflation is really unhelpful, muddies the waters of an already factitious debate and risks, in supporting equality for all, damage to hard won sex based rights and protections. We also need politicians to be able to answer clearly the question, “What is a women?”.

We are in such a state at the moment leaving room for radical evangelical views to shout down those who offer more reasoned accommodations. The slogan “Transwomen are women” and the social media attacks on JK Rowling are symptoms of a collective inability to find those accommodations.

#6 Electric Vehicles (EVs) are not the golden bullet…

…..and that we need to allocate and recover the negative externalities of excessive car use/dependency and finally acknowledge the reality of induced demand

I hope the penny will drop…..Electric Vehicles (EVs) can can only help our decarbonisation efforts if we have fewer, smaller, lighter and better utilised cars that last longer. What the car industry is selling are bigger, heavier (and so more carbon hungry) cars (SUVs biggest sellers!) often wrapped in a financial service products encouraging replacement with new every 2 or 3 years – “mobile phones with wheels!”. The car industry greenwash is deeply worrying…..

More importantly, we need to quantify and apportion the huge negative externalities of car use to car owners/users. They are hugely subsidised by all of us through our taxes at the moment (eg £16Bn each year in the UK resulting from 170,000 reported Road Traffic Accidents) and the cost of 000s of premature deaths resulting from poor quality (and tyres and tyre particulates are more of a problem than tail pipe emissions).

Then add the 50 years of car based out-of-town shed office and retail development that has decimated many local high streets. Any regeneration interventions for the latter have to address the legacy of the former. This is before we get onto to low density housing and sprawl and our collective urgent need to embrace Transit Oriented Development.

We also all need to become familiar with the concept of induced demand – and acknowledge you can’t (in most circumstances) build roads to address congestion. The answer is more public transport capacity and “Road Pricing” (or the reduction in the “road use discount” as I prefer to call it) which will free up existing road capacity more effectively.

Finally, and given my points above re: the climate, environment, tax, GDP and an economy needing less stuff; the truth is we already have enough road space for the kind of sustainable economy we need to retain balance with nature but nowhere near enough public transport!

#7 Recognise the importance of honesty, expertise and data…

The rapid growth of Social Media and it potential to disseminate opinions to millions without any veracity or reference to data or evidence is a risk; even without such, the lack of intellectual honesty on display is misleading millions. The spread of conspiracy theories is a manifestation of this. The role of our oligarch owned printed media is hardly helping either.

Now, more than ever we need intellectual honesty, measured objective analysis, advice and data presented by those interested in the truth and doing the right thing, not the narcissistic hand waving and often misleading rhetoric (or just plain lies) so loved by many mendacious charlatans (including those who sold us their oven ready brexit on the side of a bus).

We also need to ensure that balance in necessary debate (and fyi our media organisations) has to be based on evidence, data, and intellectual honesty, not on the volume of, or evangelical fervour used to project an opinion!

Finally…

In such a fractious environment, where honest informed debate is hard, we do need to find space to be less judgemental and to listen, to be be kind and to be prepared to change our minds.

We also need to be comfortable with the reality, that in some circumstances, even those we most violently disagree with, may on occasion, say something or offer an opinion we do support.

We all get things wrong, and we all need to be prepared to change our minds if the evidence requires it.

What is hard, is giving space and time to those narcissistic individuals who openly lie and manipulate those around them and especially the public, or those who knowingly ignore data and evidence to further their own interests no matter what the cost to everyone else.

The next few years is going to require a lot of determination, collaboration, accommodation and a little compromise!

Blwyddyn Newydd Dda

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s