Why is British politics broken?
And how do we start to fix it?
There have been plenty of bleak weeks in British politics in recent years but the last one might have been the worst. Our Prime Minister and Chancellor fined for breaking covid laws they wrote and forced others to follow, followed by a shameless cavelcade of grubby excuses from political and media allies. And then the Government announced a deal with Rwanda to send them our asylum seekers - an agreement that is not only morally reprehensible and absurdly expensive but also likely illegal. That’s before you get to inflation hitting 7% and NHS waiting lists reaching their highest ever levels.
But the malaise in British politics goes much deeper than this week’s outrages and this particular batch of politicans. We are in a lengthy period of economic and social decline. On current projections by 2027 real wages in the UK will be barely higher than in 2007. We have never had two decades with no improvement in earnings since records began.
The Government are keen to assign the blame for poor economic performance to the series of external shocks we’ve suffered over the past decade: the financial crisis; covid; the Ukraine War. But the reality is the UK has done worse than other countries who have also been affected by all these problems. Back in 2005 Germany’s per capita GDP was around $1k higher than the UK’s. In 2019, before the pandemic hit, it was $6.5k higher.
Thanks to Duncan Weldon for the chart (@DuncanWeldon) - he offered some alternative timelines for the same measure here
The Government are less keen to talk about Brexit, but despite the additional problems it is causing for trade with the EU, that can’t explain the wider malaise either, given it only came into meaningful effect in January 2021.
The economic decline leads to the social. The lack of growth has left us with both substantial debt and under-investment in public services and welfare provision. The NHS is struggling badly, and parts of the system, like Child and Adolescent Mental Health, have fallen over completely. The number of children in poverty has gone up by half a million since 2016 and is set to rise much higher over the coming years. All of these problems become self-reinforcing. Increased poverty puts even more pressure on public services; outcomes deteriorate; which creates more economic pressure and so on.
So how have we got into this mess and is there any way out?