I’ve written before about the UK’s need for a strategy for the 21st century. I think David Cameron’s EU referendum pledge + his announcement of a new generational struggle against Islamic terrorism in Africa +the looming referendum on Scottish independence + the shifting priorities of the US under Obama etc. etc. pose interesting questions about the UK’s place in the world, for example:
– What is strategy for? Does Britain have one? What has formed it? How is it made? Is a global role in our interests? What do / will we stand for?
– What are our capabilities in the context of geopolitical power: military, diplomatic, cultural, human capital etc. How will these capabilities change? Where will Britain be – as a diplomatic power, and as a military force – in 2025 / 2050 / 2100?
– The gap between our self perception, and the rhetoric of our politicians, and our actual ability to influence regional and global events. The idea of British exceptionalism – when Blair resigned as PM in 2007 he said: “This country is a blessed nation. The British are special. The world knows it. In our innermost thoughts, we know it. This is the greatest nation on earth.” Is he right? Or does this sort of conviction hide the truth, and hold us back?
– How is the world changing around us: the shifting architecture of regional and global relationships and administration; climate change, migration, demography … how will these trends impact on Britain and our place in the world?
– Who are our real friends, and who are our enemies? What do the threats of a multi-polar world look like? How can we best meet them?
I’m not sure what the answer is yet, though I think that goes for Whitehall too and this feels too important to leave to the experts. Last week I had a cup of tea with an independent minded (and retired) public servant who has strong views on the subject. Here are some highlights:
- Today’s elites are divided, and de-coupled from the sensible instincts of middle England.
- Our politicians are inexperienced, populist, under-powered, self-absorbed and lacking in confidence.
- A morally relativist culture and short term thinking means that intractable problems are passed-on. Decision-making is deferred.
- Jargon reinforces the power of the elites, hides their lack of effectiveness and alienates the middle.
- The solution is to align the elites with the middle: for example, by creating a rotating, randomly selected upper house; reform of the commons to turn our politicians into statesmen but to hold them to better account.
- If we had a Grand Strategy in place (developed by the Privy Council or a Royal Commission and mandated by referendum?) then correct decision-making would be simple, though not easy.
- “Politics needs to be made safe for leadership”.
- “If it’s not impossible, it’s possible.”