Every pundit seems to be pushing pet ideas that will immediately unlock growth – some making more useful comments than others. But while individual measures – planning policy, enterprise zones, lower tax for small businesses – can all contribute to greater growth there are also some deeper realities that we must face. While governments want us to be competitive and reverse decline have we, as a nation, lost that ambition?
The United Kingdom cannot function in isolation. We are living through a fundamental readjustment of the global economy accelerated by the financial crisis of the last few years. This country has no inherent right to be at the top table, and we are dealing with competitors who neither suffer from complacency nor are respectful of the historic dominance of the West. We must face up to the fact that unless we really change our ways, our competitiveness, and our growth strategy; our expectations in life and for the next generations are going to have to change dramatically.
So while the present coalition government is addressing many of the challenges that were ducked by the last administration – benefits reform, pension reform, worklessness and education attainment – we also have to spearhead a change in our nation’s desire to grow, to succeed, to perform and to win.
The last fifteen years have been a grotesquely wasted opportunity. The Labour government created greater dependency on the State while the world was dramatically changing around us. Blair and Brown allowed us to be deluded by a sense of entitlement rather than preparing us for the significant challenges that faced this country.
This Government has more guts. But it needs to be clearer about the challenge that we face and it needs to show that we are determined to fight against the debilitating culture of complacency. We cannot cherry-pick our options.
Parents cannot just hope that our children will find a job – we have to inspire and compel our families to work hard and achieve. Teachers cannot be passive about their charges – they have to be ambitious for their students, making it clear day in and day out that if they don’t work hard their futures will be at risk. Employers have to demand more of the best from their staff – second rate work is no longer good enough.
As a society we are losing our drive, we are nervous about confronting people, we have forgotten how to expect the best from each other. Low aspiration and low achievement have become the order of the day for far too many employees and managers alike.
So this Government’s real role must be to confront the country with the reality that has been avoided for too long. Having suffered from the psychological damage of dependency and delusion we now have to prepare the United Kingdom to look at itself in the mirror and understand that the modern world is much less forgiving both at home and abroad.
We will only be successful in the medium term if we can achieve significant change to our behaviour, our attitude and our ambition. Legislation is comparatively easy; changing a nation’s behaviour is a much bigger challenge. The Great in Britain needs to earned it is not an entitlement!