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 ‘That would be great, but it’ll never happen' – a phrase often used when radical or innovative ideas are put forward. It is of course the naysayers standard response to something they find too difficult or uncomfortable to get their head around. And yet, look at the evidence.


For years we were told it was impossible to ban smoking in public places, and yet it happened, and with barely a whimper. Equally, the plastic bag surcharge was resisted as unworkable, but the same thing happened. Trite examples? Well, think bigger. Same sex marriage was something unthinkable only ten or fifteen years ago, but is now mainstream. Or take renewable energy, something traditionally regarded as fringe, or to be filed in the ‘nice to but’ box; and yet there was a period a few days ago when we in Britain were generating half the country’s electricity from green sources.

The lesson? Sometimes a little bravery goes a long way. This is particularly important to remind ourselves of now because as a civilisation we are in the early days of a transformation at least as radical as the industrial revolution, and probably more so. Negotiating these changes is going to take a lot of bravery to confront potentially uncomfortable truths, as well as a capacity to focus on how we extract the potential of the future, rather than fret about the downsides.

Visionary leaders are going to be needed, which makes the current state of politics and our leaders, in the UK in particular (but by no means exclusively) all the more disheartening. In the recent UK General Election we were offered manifestoes from the two main parties that both pulled more on the past than the future. Whether this was the Tories, harking back to a time when Britain traded primarily with its Empire, and when it was seen okay for a pack of hounds to tear apart wild foxes; or Labour, who seemed to think that a Britain with British Rail, Water Boards and national debts at World War Two levels was somehow something to strive for.

Leaving aside for a moment the regressive nature of these offerings, in taking these positions, the two main parties also inadvertently succeeded in highlighting divides both between fear and hope, and the old and the young. The Tories majored on fear, but clumsily took their older demographic for granted, and Labour on hope directed at a demographic who, reasonably enough, bought the rhetoric, but are too young to remember that we’ve tried the statist approach before and it ended in chaos and calling in the IMF.

What were conspicuous by their absence were leaders willing and able to embrace the future, in offering a vision we could vote for, rather than voting against the alternative. We are increasingly living in a world of possibilities, but so long as we remain stuck in the past we will only go backwards. Technological advance will continue and the rest of the world will move on without out us - sorry if this is breaking news to some, but the rest of the world does not revolve around our wishes.

If the General Election told us anything, it was that people want something different, but all that was on offer were different versions of the past. How can we harness hope in a positive way? With a dysfunctional political system mired in Brexit, the ultimate backward-looking project, it’s difficult to see a way out of this mess until we have brave, forward thinking, and probably much younger leaders. Where are they, and how can their voices be heard? Ultimately, we need someone brave enough to tear up the rule book and offer something completely different. Where is the British Macron?

Published: Jun 13 2017

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