The last few days have seen plenty of debates over political coalitions and the real or imagined splits between the parties, whether it be on taxes, spending, law and so on. Yet perhaps the most important debate is emerging across party lines, without people even realising. This debate concerns Britain’s future. Not in the empty way that ‘Britain’s future’ is usually discussed, but rather the need to make sacrifices now in order to make the future better for ourselves, and the divide between this and policies which preserve the luxury of the present at the cost of the future. The split isn’t a simple one. Most people advocate some measures that will help Britain in the future, while at the same time advocating measures that will harm it. These are not painless choices which everyone can agree upon, and some people will lose out in the short run, which is why they haven’t been implemented. But the alternative is long-term ruin.
There are numerous policies that fall into the above categories. The need to tackle climate change is held back by people unwilling to pay higher prices for energy, change their habits, and fund research into renewable sources. Many people are happy to talk about fighting climate change in theoretical terms, but once they need to reform their own behaviour, their ardour cools. Climate change needs to be managed, but it wonâ€™t be so long as it requires people to make sacrifices.
In a similar vein, consumerism continues to ravage the country. People think nothing of spending Â£100+ on a night out, and our saving habits as a nation are shocking. The consumer binge, already curbed by the credit crunch, is likely to suffer further as prices rise as a percentage of income thanks to the growing standards of living in India and China. A good way to tame this would be to raise VAT (and cut taxes like National Insurance), but this would involve some pain in the present for people, so few advocate it.
Keeping Britain competitive is another issue, especially with the rise of India, China et al (though they are less of a threat and more of an opportunity than most people think). Everyone talks about it, but, yet again, when hard choices need to be made, the pleasant present triumphs over the uncertain future: over-regulation, a benefits system that (mostly) disincentives work and high taxes might be acceptable now, but increasingly businesses aren’t going to want to employ people in Britain. Despite this, some people attacked the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats for opposing the rise in National Insurance. As with climate change, this represented the coalition of the present against the future. Interest on the national debt now consumes more money than the defence budget, and still people argue against cuts in public sector jobs (the only real way to save money), because it is something that hurts the present to heal the future.
Greece seemingly provided a example of an unreformed Britain in the future: a country stricken by financial chaos; savage spending cuts required; a pension system close to collapse thanks to its unsustainable nature. Every generation in Britain has enjoyed rising living standards in the post-war period. Yet without enduring some sacrifice now, whether that be using less energy or spending less on clothes, Britain will suffer greatly in the future.
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Filed in: British Identity,Current affairs