By Tim Cross, Nigel Hall, Cat Tully and Brett Lovegrove

"In particular, we are unprepared to maintain public order on the scale that would be required, within just a few hours in certain is now possible to envisage scenes not known in this country for centuries..."

"It is clear that we have insufficient numbers of emergency responders and, in particular, police for the worst case... a thorough stress test of the whole system would be a very efficient use of a small amount of money"

However kindly you look at it, the United Kingdom's (UK) economy is broken and so are significant parts of our society. How worried should we be? Just over twenty years after that infamous 'end of history' and triumph of western capitalism moment, have we now reached the nemesis point?

The current doom around mob and markets might, some argue, be slightly overdone. But few dispute that we have probably reached the end of the world as we knew it - the norms of the post Second World War era are disappearing fast, both at home and abroad. Various major new risks are appearing, and the UK is more vulnerable than most if events turn really nasty. It is time to get out of denial, face up to a few brutal facts and search for new versions of democratic capitalism and global economic governance; and this as much as for ethical and moral reasons as for political and economic ones. We need a more just, fair and communal society - a social contract appropriate for the challenges and opportunities that the 21st century brings.

For the economy, it is hard to find anyone who believes in a good outcome anytime soon. A reasonable assessment indicates a fifty plus percent likelihood of a terrible scenario - global recession, extreme turmoil from low growth, insolvent banks, debt contagion - in the United States (US) and Europe; and as much as a twenty percent likelihood of a catastrophic scenario - severe economic meltdown with some major packs of cards tumbling.

However close those figures are to what will actually emerge, the bottom line is that we are witnessing the abject failure of 'me-first capitalism'. American power and self confidence has significantly diminished. For all its enduring vibrancy and innovation, recent events in California and Washington suggest the US may already be the next empire collapsing from within.

In the UK, we have the prime minister admitting that the recent explosion of civil disorder was the result of decades of progressive moral decline; and widely admired Ian Duncan Smith says we are in the 'last chance saloon' before irretrievable social breakdown. Although we agree with part of this assessment, the reasons for the breakdown in community and social cohesion are much more complex than simple headline diagnosis accepts. Primarily, the recent riots have as much to do with the loss of legitimacy of the elite across the media, political, and economic spectrum, encapsulated in a vacuum of moral leadership. This is understandably reflected in the trend of diminishing respect for traditional forms of authority and the increasing response of our citizens to make political statements via social media, bypassing hierarchical political institutions.

These trends are not unique to the UK, and like others across the world we are less in control of events than ever before. It is not just about power slipping east faster than expected, it is also about a declining impact in all of the western-created major organisations of the international system. Big issues such as climate change, population growth, migrations and natural disasters, along with wars, revolutions, and state collapse are piling on extraordinary pressures on governments and across the international system. The pillars of global economic governance have failed to address fundamental imbalances and reverse the economic downward spiral. Like many national governments, the United Nations, NATO and the European Union have become more dysfunctional, often unable to cope and out of touch with the public and lacking their support.

But the UK is more vulnerable to prolonged economic turmoil, global disorder and major shocks than many other nations. Our inter-linkages into other countries' societies and economies are certainly a part of our strength, but we are much less resilient than we should be. In our increasingly interconnected and just-in-time world, we are very densely populated, have a creaking, second-class infrastructure, and are utterly dependent upon an imbalanced economic model based on exports, banking, and services to pay for imported manufactured goods, and for far too much of our food and energy.

What is certainly clear is that 'me-first' capitalism has failed as spectacularly as old style socialism. It will not deliver our future security and prosperity. It is telling that it took the recent explosion of violence from the so-called 'underclass' to get the rest of us to see our own moral collapse. But how many really get it? The test of a civilized prospering society is whether it looks after its most vulnerable and marginalised citizens well; overall at present we seem to have failed at either end, with many of our youth and our elderly.

This collapse is not about 'immorality' - we have always had that, and we always will; it is about 'amorality' - a conscious decision to embody in the body politic and economy that it does not matter what you think, or believe, or do, or trample over - all that matters is economic growth. This collapse first exploded in the financial sector - home to today's super-elite - then rippled through our politicians, media, and even through our defence and police hierarchies who have been found wanting on too many occasions.

Complex and dangerous times demand simple and straightforward strategic responses. We have passed trying to move the super tanker by a degree or two. A fundamental change of course is required. Forget traditional manifestos. We must unite behind just a few paragraphs.

We must see the world as it really is - increasingly complex, interconnected, and potentially dangerous. We should shift to a new 21st century style calm emergency mode that unequivocally puts community, not individual, first. The goal is the next and successor generations' security and prosperity, not our own. This requires redistribution of hope and opportunity, and also of wealth. It is not a return to socialism but a shift to a 21st century form of interventionist 'community-first' capitalism, one that delivers a richer sense of identity and society.

We will not safeguard our security and prosperity by tweaking the coalition agreement. It needs updating; we may even need a national government to get the strategic framework in place. Carrying on more or less as usual will see us becoming more divided, becoming ever more like the United States - with more gated communities; more tough law enforcement; more prisons; more ghettos. Aspects of the big society definitely go in the right direction. Responsibility, building community, and getting big government out of the way is certainly part of building a flexible, responsible, and empowered system of governance for the UK.

But we need to go further; we need a very short national strategic plan that most of us can understand and support.

We should provide more hope, opportunity and employment for everyone able and willing to work. Emma Harrison, the welfare-to-work czar, is absolutely right to single out 'lack of purpose, low self-esteem, zero confidence' as the top issue. We need a really big policy change - a 21st century 'New Deal', massive apprenticeship schemes and the like. Rebalancing the economy should also be a focus. Whatever it takes, manufacturing industry and agriculture must be significantly increased as proportions of GDP. We need to set percentage of GDP targets for Education, Innovation, and Research. This becomes the national main effort to deliver prosperity and help facilitate community cohesion. And we should activate citizenship schemes across our society. We must incentivise everyone to contribute in some way beyond self and own family. This comes down to devoting time and making personal sacrifices. If all of our people - especially our young people - are to find a sense of identity and purpose in their lives they must have experience of some community-wide projects which help break down social barriers.

Things are about to get more difficult. We need to face up to it. For that, we need confidence in the direction of travel and our top priorities. Above all, we need accountable leaders who realise it is not about them; we must change the rules of the game. No more obfuscation with unread pages of mainly gobbledygook manifestos. Let us vote for our politicians based upon performance around no more than one page of strategic priorities. We have reached one of those historical 'needs must' moments. Above all we must find and then become the acceptable face of capitalism.

(General Tim Cross, Brigadier Nigel Hall, Cat Tully (formerly in the Prime Minister's strategy unit), and Brett Lovegrove (former Head of Counter Terrorism, City of London Police), are all directors of NHJ Strategic Consulting.)


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