Dawn at about 5am on Saturday 20 June 2020.
We are living in really difficult times in the UK because of the crises created by Covid-19 and the need to develop new political and commercial relationships, not just with the European Union but with the entire world. So it was a relief to visit a favourite spot; Porthcurno in Cornwall and to stand alone for a while, by the sea, in the blue, first light of the Summer Solstice, looking out over Logan Rock. It is exciting to see the light and colour coming into the sky as the sun rises and calming just to hear the gentle sounds of the sea. But, of course, we cannot get away for very long.
Three days after the Summer Solstice, Prime Minister Johnson announced in Parliament that many of the restrictions imposed during lockdown would be lifted on the 4th of July; good news, in many respects, tinged with concerns about our future. We will be free, we hope, to visit family and friends, to get back to something approaching normality but in the knowledge that we must exercise caution because the Covid-19 virus is still with us. And, there are many other concerns that are beginning to come into our consciousness.
At the end of 2020, the transition period that allows us to continue operating as we did when we were members of the European Union will come to an end. Nobody yet knows what our relationships with Europe and the rest of the world will be like on 1 January 2021. Arguably, Britain will be facing change that it has never seen before whilst struggling to deal with the problems that the Covid-19 crisis has caused. The national debt will be huge and, in all probability, unemployment increased and productivity reduced. There will be mountains to climb.
How Britain got to this point will be debated and analysed for years to come but the fact is that, come the 1st January 2021, it will not be able to blame the European Union for any of its difficulties. It will have to understand the issues and deal with them. The big question that arises is, does it have the institutional capacity and the cohesion across society to deal with them successfully?
At the moment, I think the answer must be ‘no’. The British government is floundering in the complexity of the situation. There is no clear strategy and most worryingly there is a growing lack of trust in a government that is increasingly accused of being dishonest.
That being the case, surely now is the time for Britain’s political party leaders to come together, to jointly acknowledge that Britain’s political system is failing to address the profoundly difficult issues that the country faces and to work to establish governmental systems that can improve performance.
Many will argue that it cannot be done, that political parties in Britain will never be able to work together for the common good. That is the reality that cannot be changed. “That’s politics”, they say. But other countries, more successful than Britain, tell us another more hopeful story. Some models of democracy are more deliberative and consensual and, as a result, they lead to more cohesive, happy and successful societies. Finland is a good example. It recently went to the top of the World Happiness Report rankings.
Britain’s constitutional arrangements are described in laws and conventions that have developed over centuries, a characteristic that provides flexibility, it is often argued. But recent experience shows that the arrangements are obscure and open to interpretation; to the advantage of those in power if they so choose. By contrast, just over twenty years ago, the people of Finland decided to think through what sort of country they wanted to be and what role they wished to play in the world. And, they produced their Constitution (1999). It is obviously modern, it is aspirational and it is also the law of the land. It is available to all on-line. It easily understood and it has many principles set out in it that Britain might adopt to its benefit. Sections 19 and 29 are two fine examples:
No society is perfect. There is no Utopia, but some countries have developed to become modern, social democracies in which citizens are largely content with their governments. Britain has yet to decide what sort of country it wants to be and what role it wishes to play in the world. Its future cannot be decided by a small number of people in a single political party. Attempts to do that will only lead to further division, lack of progress and continued unhappiness. Britain needs to learn from the example of other countries such as Finland. Now might be a good time for it to start writing its own modern constitution.