So. France has a new president. The usual promises, the usual fanfare. Following the bling of the Sarkozy model, promises and threats of great reforms, a longer working week, a higher retirement age, various labour reforms, a reduced Civil Service with instant redundancies. It’s all been heard before, and will doubtless end with very little to show since France, as always, will have none of it.
The real, genuinely interesting novelty, however, has been Macron’s campaign itself. It marked a complete break with tradition and history, a totally ‘clean’ approach, discarding the baggage of left and right, bosses and workers, standing alone with no previous tradition or commitment, and simply asking: what does France need to succeed? Which in turn raises the question: is it time for Britain to do likewise?
Let’s face it, our right-left confrontation has had a good run, its modern form dating back to 1901 when the Webbs ‘invented’ socialism as we know it today. But extremism can so easily result in deadlock. And in Westminster the general disorder backed by mutual bad feeling is not a suitable climate for doing ‘what’s best for the country’.
It’s asking a lot, but could it be possible for our politicians to set aside their differences, their right-left mindsets and simply ask: what does the country need right now? Not the Brexit thing, that will pass, albeit not easily. Of more lasting importance is wealth-creation, not at the top, but right across the spectrum. For that we need full, productive employment, which is where we need to blur the lines between right and left if any headway is to be made.
Some years ago Britain had Regional Development Agencies. Who knows what might have developed, if the government had not closed these Agencies down. And quite rightly so too, for they gave grants, not repayable loans, thus serving only to increase the already horrendous national deficit.
Properly capitalised Regional Development Agencies can provide investment for new enterprises, thoroughly researched and costed, reviewed by volunteer retired businessmen and women with perhaps some initial support and advice, then closely monitored to ensure that projections are reflected in reality, with emergency assistance available.
Development Agencies would have as their focus the longterm prosperity of their region, with the aim of full, productive employment. Existing businesses too could benefit from an injection of additional capital, particularly since so many start on a shoestring, working hard for several years before reaching full productivity and profitability. Startup capital can give a new business an instant start, as well as boosting existing firms.
But underlying all Development Agency investments must be an insistence on top quality, in design, production and maintenance. And in run-down areas with few current prospects, the promise of an apprenticeship leading into a worthwhile job will provide a positive impetus to take education seriously, both by the students, and the teachers whose labours would also be rewarded.
We need to see education for what it is: an investment in the future. Which comes back to business, industry, and the availability of productive and rewarding employment as a reward for education, and in turn, back to investment, not as a vehicle for making the wealthy wealthier, but as a catalyst for growth, especially in areas where it otherwise just wouldn’t happen.
And this isn’t right or left. It’s poverty or prosperity.