One Nation in isolation?

January 18, 2013 2:13 pm

This week I attended the launch of LabourList’s One Nation book. Arriving, as I often do, ten minutes late meant I was confined to the corner as a packed-out room listened to, and engaged in the debate on the future of the party.

As someone who is open about his patriotism, John Denham’s speech – that touched upon themes of national identity – a shared and diverse history and collective responsibility to our future was music to my ears.

For a One Nation approach to work, however, we cannot assume we are entirely in charge of our own destiny – especially since our future is so entwined with the economies of countries further afield.

Much of the wealth and many of the jobs created in the UK relies on inward investment – foreign companies looking to the UK and seeing it as a good place to do business.  In 2011/12, 112,000 jobs were created through inward investment, and around 20% of new businesses are now ‘born global’.  So not only does Labour have to ensure the One Nation philosophy is relevant to how people want to live their lives, it also has to ensure it is relevant to how global industry wants to invest its money. If we get it wrong, investors will lose faith in the UK, there could be fewer jobs, less money, and the resulting absence of opportunity will divide, not unite the country.

The challenge ahead is made complicated by the actions of this Government and the overall economic backdrop. The positives are that the UK has become more competitive in each of the past four years.  Our labour market ranks as the 5th most efficient in the world, and we have a global reputation for innovation and the sophistication of our business environment.  These are fantastic selling points.  But our competitiveness will remain under threat from a macroeconomic environment that sees our national debt rising to 85% of our Gross Domestic Product – and without a real agenda for growth, the budgetary surplus necessary for debt reduction will not be forthcoming until well into the next Parliament.  If more full time jobs are not created, growth will be impossible and the national debt will continue to grow at the expense of our international reputation.

But of all the things that international investors look for, it is stability and certainty.  As one professional from the shipping industry – perhaps the most international of industries – said to me recently, ‘we can live with regulations, bureaucracy and weak growth – all we ask is that Government give us a clear picture of what the future looks like so we can invest appropriately’.

David Cameron rightly cancelled his speech on Europe, scheduled for today, in light of horrifying events in Algeria.  It was, however, widely reported that he was set to announce a referendum in 2018, with the exact question to be worded at a later date whilst he negotiates the UK towards, in any case a more distant relationship.

My views on the European Union are not for this article – but whether you are pro-European or otherwise, creating 5 years of uncertainty will harm the economy.  Companies will be unsure of what regulations they will face, what trade deals will be in force, and in which direction the UK wishes to travel.  Quite simply, they will invest elsewhere – and as a result we will see a weaker economy and a more divided country, with those less able to cope with economic fluctuations driven deeper despair, becoming more reliant on the state for financial assistance as a result.

The Labour Party, if it is to unite the country as one with a shared vision and a common purpose, must take its vision to the whole world – recognising the need to create the environment where job creation and economic growth is possible. It will need to steady a ship being lashed by waves of debt and uncertainty.  To do that it needs policies that will make Britain the most competitive in the world.  If international investors are, in the months ahead, put off by the Government’s approach to Europe, Labour has a duty to put forward its policies sooner rather than later so that job creators and international business can find hope for the future of our economy.

So to deliver One Nation, Labour has to get its business head on – and take a pragmatic view as to where the UK can lead the world.  Nothing should be off the table.  Even a country as great as ours cannot be One Nation in isolation.  The whole world is watching.

  • AlanGiles

    Sorry to hijack this thread Jon – nothing personal, I promise, but it is just the most recent article to mention “one nation”.

    I have been arguing, ever since Miliband dredged this term back from the 19th Century, that we never have had, and never will have “one nation” – not least because politicians see themselves as a special case.

    Here is the most up-to-date news item which shows that “one-nation” doesn’t exist:

    There will be some of those who habitually vote me down who will do so again, or will say “ah but that is the Coalition”.

    To those people, can you seriously look me in the eye (or your computer keyboard) and tell me that had Labour still been in power they would’nt have rewarded themselves in this way?

    We can make things fairer, but it will NEVER be “one nation”

    • dave stone

      One Nation could be a useful concept – it’ll all depend on how it’s handled and so far, to me, it seems to produce at least as much opacity as clarity.

      Johathan does well though to focus on an international dimension – one of the first things in need of explication is how One Nation can be reconciled to a globalised economy. For me, and perhaps I’m misunderstanding Jonathan, there’ll need to be something more than bending over backwards to make ourselves into an attractive profit grab opportunity for rapacious international corporations.

      Let’s not forget how the Tories are sharing their business vision with the world: Mark Britnell, who was appointed to advise the Cameron on reforming the NHS, told a conference in New York, organised by private equity company Apax, that NHS reforms would show “no mercy” to the NHS and offer a “big opportunity” to the for-profit sector.*

      I don’t don’t see how Ed can expect to accrue much support by continuing with a similar New Labour/Tory approach. Remember, Labour’s vote declined at every general election from 1997 though to 2010 and Cameron couldn’t win a majorityin 2010 even though he kept his intentions concealed.


      • AlanGiles

        Good morning Dave. I truly didn’t wanto hijack Jon’s article, because despite our differences in the past, he is always friendly and polite which is more than can be said for some LL writers, and I do have respect for his opinions even if I don’t always agree with them.

        That said, i think “one nation” being dropped into every article (there is another one about about “1N” (my shorthand for the wretched phrase!) “approach to Europe” – again totally impossible given that there is pro and anti feeling amongst voters of all parties, but be that as it may, overuse of the 1N tag will result in it becoming as banal and risible as “an end to boom and bust” or “the many not the few”.

        If greater men like Atlee and Harold Wilson couldn’t bring about 1N, a lightweight like Ed Miliband and his Oxbridge cohorts stand virtually no chance.

        To be fair I don;t think Blair ever WANTED “one nation” simply because he was so fixated on being America’s best friend, and his personal ambitions to enrich himself, that he didn;t mind the fact that under his premiership the division between the poorest and richest in society actually grew. And of course best friend Mandy “was totally relaxed” about the very rich.

        As it is, though Labour will probably “win” the next elecetion (or more honestly the coalition will lose it – like Judd Trump throwing away chance after chance with Graeme Dott on Friday -it wasn’t that Dott played well, Judd just played worse) we all know that they will merely re-arrange the coalitons policies to make them APPEAR better, because on things like welfare, that is what the coalition have done – the only difference being that Purnell had more hair than Duncan-Smith. Not to mention the would-be Mayor of Birmingham is hanging on to the shadow DWP brief, and making a lot of noise saying very little. And despite the mess Lansley and Hunt have caused to the NHS will still know Burnham will chip away with his NHS Global nonsense. At the moment they are offering no real attractive policies, just the “reassurance” they are not the coalition. Half the shadow cabinet are so mute they might as well not be there – they are like “extras” in a film, and of those who do speak (Twigg for example) he has so little of any sense to say he might as well keep quiet.

        Then the other day we had Steve Reed the latest wonder MP calling for “getting more for less” in public services, a variation on the theme of the “Big Society” (that boy will go far…)

        Nothing much will change when the government changes and it, too will probably be a one term government.

        Either Miliband wants to change society or he is just saying he wants to, whichever he is unlikely to acheive it with the team he has around it which still includes much of the dregs of the Blair/Brown years, plus Labour’s over-riding fear of the tabloid press.

        • dave stone

          Hi Allan
          Yes, there are compelling similarities between Blair’s broken promise of a ‘stakeholder economy’ and Ed’s One Nation – it would be great if One Nation was to come about but I increasingly fear it may be little more than a catch-phrase.

          If 1N (good abreviation!) is to be at all meaningful, why is Labour so quiet on saving the great One Nation institution, the NHS? Now is when the NHS needs saving. I was at a meeting with some very distinguished NHS professionals the other day and they are of the view that by 2015 it could well be too late.

          In my view the Labour/Conservative binary is in decline. I say this because where I live the L.P. is non-existent as a campaigning grass-roots organisation, there is absolutely no enthusiasm for Labour so what hope is there for renewal particularly as the democratic pathways to reform have been shut down. Now, those wanting to be politically constructive join groups like 38 Degrees, Ukuncut and National Health Action Party. 38 Degrees are now establishing local groups and these contain well-informed and well-motivated activists who a one time might have been drawn to Labour. I see a coalition of such groups, offering a well thought-out alternative, as the way forward.

          So there’s no longer any need to tolerate the obfuscations of Labour’s careerists with their enthusiasm for non-executive directorships and well-paid corporate lobbyist contracts. Better to establish an alternative focus able to wield an influence on electoral politics similar to that of UKIP. There’s already a lot of support for this and it is growing.

          • AlanGiles

            On the NHS, I think this might be a better hope than the faint chance Labour change their current tune:


            Recent signs have not been encouraging on so many fronts: even on the welfare debate Labour put far more emphasis on poorly paid workers rather than those who through age illness or disability are unable to find work at all.

            I have to say I have had no confidence in Labour for a year now to really deliver on their grandiose promises – ever since the Ed Miliband “relaunch” of the 1968 “Backing Britain” broadcast, and this was compounded by the sheer banality of Stephen Twigg on BBC TV last June. Add to that the outpourings of the likes of Byrne, and you can see they really don’t have a clue.


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