Cameron tasked with changing Brits’ expectations

May 12, 2010

— Mark Kobayashi-Hillary is the author of several books, including ‘Who Moved my Job?’ and ‘Global Services: Moving to a Level Playing Field’. The opinions expressed are his own —

After thirteen years, it’s all over. The New Labour project is dead. Or is it? Tony Blair brought British politics to the centre-ground and ensured that a single party could support free-market economic policies as well as social justice.

And that’s what most people want today, a government that can help the citizen without hindering the economy through the dogma of dated ideology. The old notion of socialists waging war on small-government-right-wingers feels somehow quaint. Clearly Tony Blair knew that David Cameron would be his successor in the New Labour project, but nobody told Gordon Brown.

Now the back room deals have been done between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, and the cabinet post announcements are being released from Downing Street, the real work has to begin. I don’t just mean the public sector cuts. Any new government would have to cope with the deficit, though many in Labour are probably grateful that it’s the Tories who are going to be seen slashing public services.

I mean that we need to change the attitude of a generation that has only known affluence, constant growth, and easy borrowing secured against property that has only ever increased in value. British people are going to have to spend within their means, no matter how unfashionable that might seem in a society obsessed with the latest dress or jewellery worn by Cheryl Cole.

The boom of the eighties led to a mighty recession, yet memories of that time feel mild compared to recent events. Many high street banks in the UK remain in public hands and when they are returned to the private sector will they ever really be private again, or will they continue to operate safe in the knowledge that the government safety net will always be there to stop their fall? It seems that banking may have changed forever.

And don’t forget that much of the nineties now resembles a dream. A popular American president, the emergence of a popular British leader, the growth of the Internet, and constant economic growth that had apparently led to the death of the boom and bust cycle. The dot com crash felt like a blip to most property owners.

What leaders like David Cameron and Barack Obama need to really face up to is that the future is no longer just an extrapolation of the past. China, India, and Brazil are all set to surpass the ‘old’ economies of the west within no more than a decade or two. The developing economies are no longer developing. They are leading the growth engine of the world and creating new markets.

What is a new British government going to do to ensure that we work with these nations and become deep and valued trading partners? Or will we fear change and toughen our borders, making it harder to trade internationally? Just ask the companies working with offshore technology suppliers what they think about suddenly having to pay VAT on non-EU service contracts because EU rules changed this year.

Will countries like the UK – and even the USA – rest on their historic laurels and international privileges, such as a UN Security Council seat, and ignore the shifting sands of globalisation?

If we are really going to ignore the changing dynamics of the global economy and rely on yet more economic growth fuelled by easy to obtain personal debt secured against constantly rising house prices then I fear for the future. David Cameron has a lot on his hands today, but changing the expectations of the British people has to be high up on his ‘to-do’ list.

I don’t envy him that task.

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