The voices of reform must be heard over Brexit brooding

 
Michael Hayman
SAFRICA-BRITAIN-DIPLOMACY-POLITICS
Theresa May’s message to Africa should be brought home to these shores (Source: Getty)
quot;I’ve never played for a draw in my life.” That was the clarion call from the legendary former manager of Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson.


And it’s a message to consider as the autumn term for business and the body politic begins.

If ever there was a need for a new chapter of courageous capitalism to lift the spirit of the nation, it is now.

So much of the summer discourse about Britain’s future beyond Brexit has felt like the search for the safety of a single point from a draw, rather than three points from a win.

When you speak to many in government, the air of exhaustion seems ever-present. While hands are tied on anything that is not related to Brexit.

The mantra is that all of the nation’s political energy is being ploughed into Brexit at the expense of anything else. The consequence being that these are halcyon days for the “computer says no” brigade.

I was part of the team that established StartUp Britain as part of an urgent attempt to embolden the national fibre with a can-do message in the face of falling startup rates. From 2011 to 2016, startup rates grew year-on-year. But they suffered a considerable setback in 2017 with a 10 per cent decline in new business creation.

It’s exactly the sort of issue that we can’t afford to paper over, and it needs attention.

That means new policy prescriptions, and we shouldn’t give the lack of them a free pass.

On matters of Europe, very soon – and forgive the Noel Edmonds pun – we will face deal or no deal.

Irrespective of the advantages or dangers of either, we still have to face the nation that we have become and will become under our own steam.

The danger for this government is that it somehow manages to bring the ship through the storm, but is too exhausted to get it into port.

But alongside our long summer of Brexit battles there have also been some interesting signals that could avoid the need to launch the life boats.

While Theresa May’s trip to Africa might rightly be recast as the political equivalent of the Noisettes’ song “Don’t upset the rhythm”, it also contained a significant speech in Cape Town about the reforming zeal that capitalism could deliver to the continent.

“In those countries that have successfully embraced properly regulated market economies, life expectancy has increased and infant mortality fallen. Absolute poverty has shrunk and innovators have developed technology that transformed lives,” May said.

It’s a message she needs to bring home to these shores, and if she needs to hit the dance floor to do it, all the better.

Last week, health secretary Matt Hancock gave one of the most uplifting speeches on the future of public services that we’ve heard for a long time. He portrayed the NHS not as victim, but as a technology-enabled architect of its own future.

“Now is the moment to put the failures of the past behind us, and set our sights on the NHS being the most cutting-edge system in the world for the use of technology to improve our health, make our lives easier, and make money go further,” he said.

But these voices of reform are quiet compared to the brooding voices that are fixated on Brexit.

Under this noise, we risk drowning out the signal that, whatever our views on the rights and wrongs of the decision, it would be nothing short of a national tragedy if we came out of these negotiations worse rather than better as a nation.

I read “Limitless” by digital marketer Ajaz Ahmed over the summer, and in it he spells out the vision that courageous organisations share: “An excitement for the future you can see. An invitation for others to join the adventure.”

And that is also what courageous capitalism has to embody.

To do this, we need many more eyes on the horizon beyond Brexit. Because it’s really so much more than the technicalities of our future trading relationship with the European Union.

It speaks to how ready we are for a world where change has become the new normal. From the way we work to the way we live, future generations will look back and probably see us as a nation that had tough decisions to take, but also one that had plenty of choices about how it chose to adapt to the pace and challenges of change.

It’s why we really can’t play for the draw. Capitalism needs to show its courage as a reforming and progressive force that can bring about change for the good. That’s the key to the win and it’s this autumn where the shots on goal really do have to count.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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