All that you can’t leave behind
With the UK election looming very large on the horizon, the themes of inequality and austerity have been being dragged to centre stage. Given the unlikely prospect of any single party securing a majority result, the prospect of another coalition government looks likely. As such, the debate’s been pulled towards the left-of-centre by the parties that look pivotal to any potential coalition and the strong anti-austerity agenda these smaller parties share. Given the threat of deeper austerity measures and their knock-on effect on the health services and the benefits system, never before have the election lines been drawn so clearly around the haves & the have-nots (or as some have suggested: the old and the young).
Polarised viewpoints are not uncommon in politics and the mainstream British press is not known for nurturing nuanced debate: but now the campaigning has reached the final straight, the newpaper headlines have painted stories that are black & white in both a literal and a figurative sense. The front page tabloid stories gravitate towards topics dear to the hearts of the haves — mansion tax & non-dom loopholes — and the have-nots — the ailing National Health Service & local government cuts — as well as the perpetually emotive subject of immigration.
There are a lot of things I’ll miss about living in the UK, but I won’t miss the tabloid press and the way they report the political narrative through a lens with such a narrow field-of-view. Nor will I miss the vicious economic/political cycle that spins around the same subset of topics. I will however get to vote before I depart, so I at least my voice goes into the ballot box with approaching 65 million others (or at least the 65% expected to turn out tomorrow).
One thing I do think is an interesting story though is the total void in the discussion about the clear structural changes to the economy caused by fundamental shifts in technology. Not one of the political parties has an informed standpoint on how technology is driving the winner-takes-it-all economy that is a major factor in driving income inequality. The fact that this is not anywhere in the election debate seems to me to be a huge missed opportunity: not only does this lead to a discussion that has a much more human scale, but in turn can this not lead to a much bigger conversation about building a future where the UK can thrive?
We need to foster a broader conversation about our collective future and how we’re on the cusp of a new era, which has the potential to be really bright. Yet the young middle-class in particular seems more pessimistic about the future than ever. Never before has tools, technology and funding been more accessible and democratised. Never before have barriers to innovation been so low. The fundamental shifts in the technology landscape seem silent to those in the party HQs, where conversations continue to spin around the topics that fit the tabloids’ polarised agendas. The dominant themes ignore how we need to reinvent our financial and educational systems to embrace this new era.
There is reason to be optimistic though; the signs are already there that the much-needed shifts in mindset are coming; albeit from the ground up. One only needs to look at how education & learning has become so open & democratised despite how far behind the state educational system is in reflecting the needs of today’s children. Engaging in a more distributed economy & networked society offers us all an opportunity to participate and how it develops will vary by community and by person. It’s our collective habits that matter. And as these collective habits are as-yet unformed, it’s our intentions that matter. Government policy will catch up with the emerging reality of the complex societal model that underpins the networked economy, especially when one of the parties realises what a great agenda this represents.
Until then, it’s up to us all — and our business leaders in particular — to think about the part we play in harnessing the forces of change to create a better future for ourselves and our children.
Darren Brooker tweets as @dotdotdashADSK on Twitter.