Time To Build — An Extremely Short Manifesto

There is one thing for which there is a mandate — so let’s get to work.

I realised this morning that it’s not true to say that there was no plan for after Brexit. There was. It just wasn’t very clear and it wasn’t in Westminster or Whitehall. Brexit is not — was not — won’t be — a revolution, but it was what happens when developed countries with reasonably reflexive democracies achieve the state which precedes one: a large part of the population feeling that the world in which they live is radically worse than the one they were promised.

Britain rejected the status quo. The old order is smashed and the conceptual frame of the country that held until the beginning of this year is broken. This moment is genuinely a pivotal one. Whoever defines the terms from here will potentially define the country for decades, maybe centuries.

And no one is doing it. Not really.

The mandate is to build. To make things. To produce, to work, to be paid, to live. To feel that one’s family has a chance. To feel that one might retire comfortably. To be free of fear. The mandate is to rebuild community — something that has unquestionably been lost as the traditional touchstones of self-location in society have been dismantled by the arrival of the future.

It actually does not matter which way, in terms of Europe, we go from here. Things will be more or less difficult depending on how the political wrangling plays out, but those needs will not change. The mandate will not change. If it is not satisfied, the upheaval will repeat.

One part of the political machine will be trying to create a deregulated labour market. Another will be trying to redistribute wealth. Other agendas will play into the mix. But Labour MP Mike Gapes said it recently: we can no longer assume there is a core vote. The traditional tribal allegiances to specific parties have fractured and people want to be represented not notionally or conceptually but in fact. They want concrete results. They want their politicians to show up and get the job done.

It’s time to build. It’s time to build houses and schools and hospitals and transport links. It’s time to build these things and from them we will get society again.

I don’t care how we manage our financial system, really. If it turns out that you can get more out of the tax system with a flat tax, and it’s possible to make it relatively fair in practice, I don’t care that it’s conceptually regressive. I don’t care whether banks are heavily regulated or whether they gamble with Russian oligarch money, and I’m not really that fussed what bankers get paid — so long as the banks serve their purpose in the financial system smoothly and reliably. I also don’t care if a small proportion of society chooses to live off benefits, so long as the rest of it can work. What’s important is not that the system be elegant but that it deliver. I don’t care whether Cornwall is about fishing, agriculture, mining, tourism, digital technology or space exploration so long as it has a future. I don’t care whether we’re a United Kingdom or a Federal Republic of The British Isles.

This is the moment of change. It is the biggest hinge in my lifetime. If you have a plan, now’s the time to say so. The national substrate will be written in these months. If you think it’s absurd that we still do education around the agricultural calendar and you want to build a new system entirely and you know how, now’s the time to say so. If there’s a way to resolve the nation’s energy needs into the future, and you know what it is, now’s the time. If you want your industry — biotech, space, computing, entertainment, farming, tourism, fashion — to be one of the leaders of the next UK, now’s the time to say so, and to outline the world you will make. If you think we should become a cash-free nation, a wireless nation, say so. If you believe our future lies in becoming the absolute global centre of medicine and biological research, this is the moment — so long as you can frame a new vision of society around that. Ask yourself, if you’re reading this, what is it that you have always believed we needed, that you have always thought should exist and doesn’t? Because you will, weirdly, never have a better chance than now to make it happen. Not because it will be easy to get resources or commitment, but because if you have an idea that will make the future, people are looking for you now. Right now. Today. So what will you do?

It’s time to build.

[Addendum: following on from this piece, I wrote another – https://medium.com/essays-and-non-fiction/dreaming-britain-eab5d2003ee0?source=linkShare-c53d8c8a4322-1467573160 Dreaming Britain