Right now it seems that the only thing protecting the liberty of American citizens from a would-be dictator is their written constitution: maybe we should get one of those, just in case. Mrs. May – our leader by default, not choice, remember – might come across as having a fair and reasonable approach to civic governance but this has yet to be tested, especially against the wave of xenophobia and associated crop of ‘strong leaders’ sweeping through nation states around the globe. But dictatorship couldn’t happen here, could it? We have our famous ‘checks and balances’ – the Monarchy, the House of Lords, independent judiciary and police services and, last but not least, universal suffrage. Yet, despite this lauded system called democracy, what we actually have right now is a kakistocracy – rule by the worst people. I see no grounds for complacency.
How did we get into this situation? One reason could be that anyone is entitled to stand for election (a good thing) but without training or qualification for the job (a bad thing). Would it not be reasonable to expect that – as in most other professions – candidates should learn the basics before applying for the position? In the case of would-be politicians such basics should include elements of sociology, history, economics and ethics so that they might at least have some idea of which pitfalls to avoid, thus eliminating the two-steps-forward-one-step-back approach to policy-making. A recent example of politicians’ ineptitude is the case of those who thought it was a good idea to leave the EU. Playing down the socio-economic benefits in favour of an argument for sovereignty, they have now lumbered us with years of wasting our time and money on complex, protracted negotiations to leave the club, only to have to re-join it on some form of trading terms to save our economic bacon.
Here’s an example. When Britain joined the EU there was a resurgence of investment into its (by then, foreign-owned) car manufacturing industry. Unfettered cross-border access enabled the development of a complex web of transferable materials and skills: sales boomed in the absence of tariff barriers. Brexit will put paid to all that and the industry will wither. In an attempt to avert this blow to the economy the Government has already promised to protect Nissan against future tariffs and will probably be pressured into doing the same for other companies. A few days ago General Motors sold its European operations to the French car-maker PSA and the workers at GM’s UK plants now fear they will lose their jobs. They probably will. Ironically, VW recently announced that it is adopting English as its universal corporate language – Honda has already done so and, if PSA follow suit, we could at least console ourselves with the thought that, although cars may no longer carry a ‘Made in England’ stamp, they will at least be made in English. And since our reliance on the service sector will continue thus to grow, perhaps we should see this as an opportunity to expand the profitable business of teaching English to foreigners.
In the long-term, things may work out for manufacturing. Car production will decline, inevitably, because driverless vehicles, on-demand apps and an increasingly urbanised population will reduce the need for car ownership but, if the industry redirects its resources – to the development of batteries and renewable energy systems, for example – there could be a resurgence of manufacturing in the UK. However, since Hofstadter’s Law predicts that it always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law, our politicians need to get to grips with some proper forward planning for the long-term – before a ‘strong leader’ elbows them aside.