19 April 2009

The challenges and hopes for a progressive future

The problems we face in 2009 are clearly drastically different to those we inherited in 1997. The global financial crisis has exposed the shaky foundations of the Thatcherite economic consensus and politicians are clamouring over themselves to call for greater regulation.

Terrorism that once invoked images of IRA bombings has been replaced by radical Islamic groups and the prospect of failed states that harbour them.

The internet has revolutionised the way we socialise, learn and work and is having a profound impact on political campaigning and the dissemination of information – useful or, ahem, not quite so helpful.

LabourList is today being taken over by Young Labour. A number of the young members of the party will continue on trajectories that will make them preeminent in their chosen field – whether they remain in politics or not. So, as we approach the general election and the next generational shift within the Labour Party what will the key issues we will contend with be - not jus in our 2010 manifesto, but in 2020 and even further beyond?

I certainly don’t claim to have any unique insight in to what the future will hold for Britain so I ask you to merely allow me a moment of conjecture.

Possibly the greatest legacy of any Labour government, the National Health Service, will come under severe pressure as our population continues to age. By 2025, more than a third of the UK's population will be over 55. We are witnessing a dramatic and unprecedented demographic shift, which, according to the BBC will see the number of over-65-year-olds overtake the under-16s by 2014. And by 2025, the number of over-60s will have passed the under-25s for the first time.

How can we ensure an inter-generationally fair share of the tax burden as the percentage of the population in the workforce continues to fall? Will the National Health Service remain relevant as strains upon its resources increase by a larger, ageing population and the increasing expense of new medical technology?

And how will we regulate new technology to ensure it is applied and offered fairly? If we can already screen babies for the presence of breast cancer genes how to we ensure the health and wellbeing of a child is not the prerogative of only those who can afford it?

On the international stage competition for resources will become ever fiercer causing regional instability and greater risk of conflict. Over the past 50 years, as the world’s population rose from 3 billion to 6.5 billion, water usage roughly trebled. On current estimates, the population is likely to rise by a further 2 billion by 2025 and by 3 billion by 2050. Demand for water will rise accordingly. Water supplies are dangerously insecure in vast amounts of the world.

Australia has suffered a decade-long drought. Brazil and South Africa, which depend on hydroelectric power, have suffered repeated brownouts because there is not enough water to drive the turbines properly. So much has been pumped out of the rivers that feed the Aral Sea in Central Asia that it collapsed in the 1980s and has barely begun to recover.

We have very little indication that our oil supplies will see out this century and our economies have little other fuel to survive on.

Climate change will begin to wreak havoc across the globe causing famine and flooding. Our ever growing population will not be fed by our declining harvests.

How will the new world superpower, China, cope with growing internal discontentment as its farmers starve and its burgeoning middle classes demand a political voice?

Will the issue of population control step in to the mainstream of political debate? David Attenborough has just this week become a patron of a group seeking to cut the growth in human population.

Growing global inequality will continue to fuel international terrorism as a generation of unemployed men and women in unstable nations feel isolated and neglected by the affluent West. The United Nations has recently stated that global inequality has reached "grotesque" proportions.

The European Union will need to learn to cope with ever higher levels of immigration as it desperately seeks to fill the gaping holes in its overstretched young and middle aged workforce. How will we assimilate ever larger numbers of migrant communities? Can we prevent the rise of the far right who seek to exploit divisions and stoke racial tensions?

Will the world economic situation remain precarious as the growing economies of the world suffer domestic unease and an unwillingness to fund Western spending?

What strikes me about all of these problems is that to tackle them we need a strong, proactive and flexible state that is willing to back up schools, universities, immigration services and global regulation with real action and real investment. How can a Conservative government that calls for less government intervention, less regulation and a refusal to sustain vital public services with the investment they require to tackle these problems?

Only by encouraging the talent and ingenuity of all will we be able to rise to these challenges and those that remain unforeseen. I don’t know what the solutions to these questions are, but I believe that it is the Labour Party and the left that is uniquely placed to offer the answers.

First posted on LabourList

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1 comment:

Jez said...

Really good post. We're all screwed!

Just kidding. I thought you made some good points. There are a lot of challenges that we're going to face. Not sure i agree that its got to be labour who solves them though.