Britain – A Land of Opportunity or Despair?

As the Tory Party conference draws to a close and Party conference season ends, what will we remember about any of them in a few weeks time? Did we get memorable announcements or just the same old politics? Could we have predicted much of it? I’m left feeling slightly confused and irritated – the middle ground of politics is well and truly crowded, with all 3 main parties vying for control, trying to appeal to everyone and only minimal differences showing between them.

I was looking for Labour to be more socialist, the Tories to show their true colours and the Liberals to break away from the constraints of coalition politics and show us what they are made of. And to be fair we got some of that, Labour showed they are the only party with an interest in reducing inequalities and providing opportunity for all, but didn’t go far enough on some of the issues that really matter, such as the railways, environmental policy and the Living Wage. The Liberal Democrats were a bit of a let down, with little substance to show us what difference they would make if they were in government for longer (except ban carrier bags!). And as for the Tories, well I guess they did actually show what they are about – penalising people who are out of work and characterising them as lazy scroungers, supporting big business and sticking to Plan A on austerity because it is clearly working!

The Prime Minister talked about Britain as a Land of Opportunity but is that what we really have under the Coalition Government and is it what we would get with Labour in Government? I have my doubts, there are policies across all 3 main parties and those put forward by the Green Party that would get my support but sadly overall no single party goes far enough.

No one made real commitments to adopt a minimum wage that is a Living Wage – why is that? How are people expected to live on a minimum wage that doesn’t cover living costs?How do we achieve a decent standard of living for all if the basic concept of paying people properly for the work they do cannot be implemented and doesn’t have the backing of all the main parties?

I’m no clearer now on how we are going to tackle energy policy to ensure we have both environmentally sustainable and secure energy supply for years to come. There were Tory commitments to fracking and nuclear power, Labour promises on energy price freezes and some talk of renewables, but overall, no convincing energy policy from any of them.

Housing was a key area of policy discussion, which in itself was pleasing, but again not entirely convincing. Promises were made about building more homes and helping people to buy, but I didn’t come away with the view that politicians have actually really understood why we have a housing crisis and what is needed to solve it. The discussions were often single focused, which really doesn’t help. You can’t solve the housing problem by just talking about housing. You have to consider our Industrial Strategy, our business focus, regeneration, regional policy, infrastructure decisions etc. All will contribute to solving the problem that we are not building enough homes in the right place at the right price. The constant focus on either the development industry or the planning system is not the answer – yes these are part of the problem, but so is our regional policy and industrial strategy, so are Government decisions around infrastructure spend. Until all these matters, and more, are brought together in a proper housing strategy the crisis will only get worse.

A land of opportunity or just muddling through? 


3 thoughts on “Britain – A Land of Opportunity or Despair?

  1. Sorry to be despairing again, but the view from my perspective is despair, as far as worldly affairs are concerned.

    When I left school in the early 80s – a time of high unemployment, like now – my family circumstances meant that I had had no support in finding a direction in life and no clue how to “compete” in the jobs market, despite a clutch of O’levels and 3 A’levels. Years of unemployment, followed by years more of dead end jobs in cleaning and call centres later, I finally managed, after long sustained effort, to gain a degree at the Open University – BA(Hons) First Class asitappens. But with nothing of interest to put on my CV from the paid employment pov, combined with abstention from driving on ethical grounds, as well as an acquired inability to kiss arse, I am now approaching my fifties and firmly dumped on the scrap heap as far as any form of middle class employment is concerned. Having lived a life in basic poverty, now facing old age with no pension and no prospect of even earning more than bare minimum wage.

    What a wasted resource I represent!

    Apparently the psychological suffering that I have been through in years of unemployment and feeling unwanted and outcast, is called “scarring”. There will be whole young generations suffering this through their rest of their future lives if nothing is done to reform society’s entire approach to work.

    Just take a look at this guy for one example:–job-cleaning-toilets-London-cafe.html

    My prediction is that there will be a lot of very righteously angry young folk growing up who were promised the world throughout the nineties and noughties: “Go to school, study hard, get your exams, go to university, study hard some more, then you’ll be able to get a wonderful, interesting job with good pay and excellent prospects.” “Honest, you will!”

    But it’s all been a lie. Graduates now are ten a penny and PhDs are waiting tables or working in call centres selling crap to morons.

    That’s despair!


  2. It’s interesting to read your comments and the other example you give, and I could add others too. But earlier this year I had a conversation with some people from UWE who assured me that the media overemphasise the problem with graduate unemployment and were very dismissive of my examples and claims that people working in bars/restaurants etc were often graduates and that many found it difficult to get a decent job once they graduated.

    With that kind of denial and the pressure from government for young people to go to university rather than anything else, the problem is indeed likely to get worse and we will have a whole group of young people disillusioned, unemployed and wasted.

    One thing that always struck me in these kind of discussions was that we are trying to push all young people in a particular direction. We need to be offering more choice and putting as much value on apprenticeships, work experience, training etc as we do on sending people off to University. Only then will we get the range of skills we need to fill the jobs that are available and only then will young people be offered real choice.


  3. Oh dear, they really are in denial aren’t they. But none so blind as those who will not see.

    I totally agree with you, it would be wonderful if this country could do away with the snobbery that elevates university and academic study above practical know-how and vocation, but, you may not be surprised to hear, I find it unlikely that the English will be able to free up our minds enough from the stifling class obsessions that we have, in order to do this.

    My observation is that one of our big problems is that British employers have been allowed to get away with utterly shirking their responsibilities for training, for far too long now. They have done this in order to keep more profits back for the shareholders, but it is a completely false economy that is leading the British economy down the drain. One evidence of this failure to train is the huge numbers of fully trained and qualified staff that Britain poaches from other countries. This not only causes havoc in developing countries, who can ill afford to lose precious staff that they desperately need themselves, but it also means that there is less incentive to offer proper training to young people in this country, meaning that it’s a lose/lose situation all round.

    Something has gone desperately wrong with education in this country all round really. Having done some “training” of new recruits in a call centre (for no extra money than the usual few pence hourly above min wage I hasten to add) I saw for myself all too painfully clearly that quite a few young people are leaving school after 15 years of boredom, and barely able to spell or do some pretty basic things, and aren’t willing or able to fit in with the kind of unfulfilling workplaces that are on offer to most of us now – and who can blame them! But at the same time, I can fully understand why employers, wanting an easy and profitable life as they do, would far, far rather employ the much more biddable people from Eastern Europe or East Asia and leave native Brits on the scrap heap to rot. Hardly conducive to social harmony in future though, having millions of unemployable and poverty-stricken underclass white Brits though, is it? What are we going to do with all these people?

    Put them in camps?


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