“Murder is no better than cards if cards will do the trick”
C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
Usually, I’d succumb to the temptation to critique the legislative record and the agenda of either side of the house. However, following the recent policy announcements by both Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer, I’ll let their own words do that for me. Rishi delivered his musings with all the grace and charisma of Siri and Kier Starmer set out his stall as convincingly as the local Avon rep. No, I don’t want to buy your lipstick. There was one silver lining to come from the policy announcements, well not quite silver maybe more stainless steel, and it came in the form of Rishi’s maths initiative. Since his announcement, he’s been widely derided in the press by journalists and commentators on both sides. They’ve called him foolish and ‘out of touch’. The biggest faux pas though apparently is that Rishi isn’t ‘Thinking big enough’.
In my view, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Not his alleged foolishness or out-of-touchiness, but that he’s not ‘thinking big’ enough. It’s ‘big thinking’ from egoic politicians that is precisely why the nation is going through its latest convulsions. An abandonment of the basics of governance for repeated Stalinist five-year plans for education, the health service and the wider public sector, in the search for personal legacy rather than national functionality. Rishi’s ‘math's till eighteen’ policy proves that at least he’s circling around more humble and yet vitally necessary policies, but the nuts and bolts of this recent announcement prevent him from coming into land.
The focus has been on high-minded constitutional reforms and public sector restructurings, certainly since the nineties, and this has come at the loss of wholesome legislation. The type that isn’t sensational, that in the short term won’t give a statesmanlike appearance but the type that, deployed over the long-term, curates society. The new maths initiative speaks to what has been forgotten in our legal systems, and that is local-level functionality. The primary reason, to my mind, for the broad-scale cultural and societal decay, is a misplaced focus on increasingly esoteric broad-scale ‘reforms’.
Sometimes broad-scale reform is warranted.
Take the national health for example, that certainly could use some broad scale reform. Yet in Keir Starmer’s mind, what the people need, what's at the forefront of their mind — the thing that will get them queuing at the polls — is House of Lords reform.
The main political misstep, therefore, is the Westminster abstraction of law from the local. The remedy requires a focus on local lawmaking. Not lawmaking in the sense that it is made on a local level, but parliamentary laws that focus on their real-world, local applicability. A legal framework that serves to foster, enhance, and construct more connected and thriving communities. What would equally whip votes for a candidate and be beneficial for society would be to pass laws and legislation with the community as its highest concern.
Rishi Sunak isn't wrong to want to build up our education system, and in fairness, an improvement in numeracy is as good a place to start as any. It’s the reasons he outlines for this policy decision that prevents it from being a useful one. The Prime Minister wants compulsory maths education until eighteen, because in his mind it will benefit the country economically. As he stated, everything in his agenda is to ‘lift productivity’ and make Britian a ‘beacon of science’, the Prime Minister wants to ‘put innovation at the heart of everything’.
These are the precise reasons why his policy platform doesn't resonate with the voters.
Particularly now, but generally speaking, people aren't interested in ‘innovation’ or ‘productivity’ as an aim in themselves, they’re perfectly happy if these are a byproduct. What use is an extra two percentage points on GDP if you’d have to sell a kidney to get a GP appointment, and there’s a greater chance of meeting Bigfoot up the high street than a Copper? Sunak should be focused on improving the state of education because it is good and proper, and beneficial for society to have reasonably intelligent citizens in and of itself.
Sunak should make the police patrol on foot, not because lower crime will benefit businesses, but because crime is wrong and actively decays communities.
The Prime minister is clearly still thinking in the Westminster abstract. It would serve him well to start thinking in the local as it is this type of ‘local law’ legislative agenda, the unremarkable and unsensational, that if the political classes had the courage to employ would do the trick.