In a moment of candour, while he was campaigning to become Leader of the Conservative Party, Sunak admitted that the state of the UK today constitutes a national emergency.

He did mention the state of the economy and the NHS. He did not mention the unfolding climate emergency, the failure to invest in public services more generally, the mass impoverishment of the UK population or the destruction of the UK’s democratic safeguards.

And, of course, he did not explain how much all of these issues is the result of policy choices made by his party.

At the next election, there are two plausible outcomes: the largest single party will either be the Conservatives or Labour. And if the largest party is Labour, there are two possibilities for what will happen after the election: either they will be cautious and incremental in the changes they make, or they will take steps proportionate to the scale of the emergency we face.

This article explores three scenarios these outcomes may produce, and it suggests what those of us who prefer the third outcome might like to do about it.

Let us consider each scenario in turn, looking at how it could come about and what the likely effect would be if it did.

Emergency Becomes Catastrophe

Could the Conservatives still win the next election? At first glance it seems impossible: the country is in a multi-dimensional mess and Labour are (at the time of writing) 18 points ahead in the polls. But we are still some way from an election, and the general trend as an election approaches is a swing back towards the incumbent as voters wonder whether the devil they know is better than the one they don’t. The UK media are vastly disproportionately right-wing and are prepared to be very aggressive in their support for the Conservatives and their attacks on Labour.

All of that, of course, was true in 1997 but Labour still won. What was not true in 1997 is:

  1. that the Conservatives have taken numerous steps to reduce the effectiveness of our voting system: introduction of voter-id which disproportionately affects younger and poorer voters, taking the formerly independent Electoral commission under ministerial control, and manipulating the electoral boundaries to gain extra seats;
  2. that they now have powerful assets which were not present to anything like the current extent in 1997:
    1. the top management of the BBC and BBC news are all Conservative Party loyalists; and
    2. new technology means that what used to be military-grade Psyops techniques can be and have been – eg in the Brexit vote – deployed against the British population.

What would happen if they did secure re-election? The most likely answer is a continued implementation of the market fundamentalist agenda to which virtually the entire cabinet is signed-up.

For the UK population, this would mean further erosion of our human rights, further mass impoverishment, further weakening of public services including a likely abolition of the NHS and further conversion of the UK economy into a Plunderstate where the government acts as a mechanism for redistributing wealth from the ordinary subject citizen to the wealthiest.

Most vitally, we could expect a further weakening of our electoral system to the point where the election of any other party becomes a realistic impossibility. In fact, if the Conservatives do win the next election, that –  in itself – suggests that we are already very close to that point. If that happens, the road to serfdom for most of the UK population is clear.

Our conclusion is that a Conservative victory is now unlikely, but far from impossible. There are significant grounds for hope, but none for complacency.

Short Intermission

For the reasons above, Labour is desperate not to lose the next election. They know that any careless pledges will be used mercilessly against them in the run-up to the next election, and they have adopted a stance of safety-first. In practice this means that to avoid any charges of economic profligacy, they have adopted what they call ‘cast-iron fiscal rules’ and to avoid being cast as Corbynites, they have rejected the idea of tax rises. The downside of this combination is that it makes it impossible for them to increase spending as much as is needed.

Nevertheless, given the level of dissatisfaction with the Conservatives, it is possible that Labour will win with their current platform.

There is an old joke about the Democrats of the 1980s being asked how their policies differed from the Republicans’ and replying, “Compassion: we care about the victims of our policies.” The risk for Labour is that without significant extra spending – and according to their so-called cast-iron fiscal rules, though not if they thought more radically as Attlee’s government did when faced with a similar emergency, that would require extra taxes which they have ruled out – the day to day lives of British citizens will improve little during Labour’s term of office. That old joke may apply to Labour, if they are not careful.

When we look at the Labour policy platform so far, it is clear that although it has many good ideas, it risks non-delivery for voters:

  • It contains laudable long-term ambitions:
    • Aim for at least 3% of GDP across the public and private sectors to be invested in research and development
    • Modernise and build the capacity of the state to be a more active, capable and reliable partner
    • Tackle NHS staffing issues
    • Deliver a long-term plan for adult social care
    • Look at ways to close the digital divide
    • Set the target of 70% home ownership (currently it is 63%)
    • A landmark shift in skills provision
    • Within the decade, halve the level of violence against women and girls
  • It has numerous sound ideas at a detailed level:
    • Establish an Integrity and Ethics Commission with the power to investigate misconduct and breaches of the Ministerial Code
    • Prevent algorithms from promoting harmful content online
    • Protect Royal Mail
    • End tax breaks for private equity bosses.

And all that is welcome. But many of the long-term ambitions will not be delivered in a first term without significant investment. And the detailed ideas will not make enough difference to the issues voters really care about, in particular:

  • Voters’ #1 issue: the cost-of-living crisis – the problem of mass impoverishment: most of the UK population is earning less in real terms than they were in 2007;
  • Voters’ #2 issue: the state of the NHS. Labour have not yet made a full-throated declaration that they will do what it takes to save the NHS. And as we have pointed out, if they cannot save the NHS, they cannot save the economy.

Labour are far stronger on voters’ #3 issue: climate change, and have pledged £28 billion to address the challenge. This is enough to make a difference in that area, and that will be of help to normal people in containing their energy bills. But it will not on its own end mass impoverishment or fix the NHS. There is a real risk, in other words that they will not deliver on voters’ top two issues.

Labour are largely silent on the need for a democratic reset. What Trump very nearly succeeded in doing to the US and what the Conservatives have already nearly succeeded in doing to the UK demonstrate the fragility of our democracies when subjected to a determined and systematic assault by those who do not approve of ‘mass democracy.’ If we want to remain democratic, we need to take defensive steps while we can.

As we approach the end of Labour’s term, the risk is that voters will see little improvement – true, things would have been worse under the Conservatives, but voters are hoping to see improvement. And Labour will not have unwound much if any of the Conservatives anti-democratic legislation.

If this is their approach, there is a real danger that Labour will not secure re-election, and this extremist version of the Conservatives will simply pick up where they left off.

Return to Sanity

Looked at from abroad, the UK appears to have gone mad. As the former editor of the Daily Telegraph – not a man known as a left-wing firebrand – Max Hastings put it:

“What’s heart-breaking, I think for all of us, is that our country does seem in the eyes of the world increasingly ridiculous. … they don’t hate us, they just look at us with complete disbelief: ‘what has this country done to itself over the last 15 years?’ … Nigel Farage has poisoned the Conservative Party … the [extreme] right is now running Britain and it’s a terrifying sight. … For the sake of the Conservative Party and for Britain, they’ve got to go.”

For a return to sanity, we need first to accept reality and then to deal with it. And there are some in the opposition parties who are clearly aware of the UK reality. Mhairi Black of the SNP, for example, made a powerful speech warning how close the UK has now come to fascism.

But many others seem to think it is politics as usual. Here, for example, is the usually admirable Jenny Jones of the Green Party explaining why she thinks people should vote Green rather than tactically. While her frustration with our electoral system is more than understandable, her advice could lead to national disaster: if many follow it, UK democracy – and with it any hope of addressing climate change – could disappear.

What the UK needs is for progressive voices from all parties to call out the emergency and to focus their fire on putting an end to this extremist Conservative government.

If they are successful in this, they can also co-operate to ensure that UK democracy is returned to a sound footing and UK policy is formulated for the benefit of the UK population, rather than for the short-term benefit of wealthy donors. This will require five steps which are described fully in the book 99% and outlined briefly below:

  • Step 1: Democratic Reset
  • Step 2: Fact-based Policy
  • Step 3: Policy for Solidarity and Abundance
  • Step 4: Investing in the Future
  • Step 5: Clean-up Capitalism.


Step 1: Democratic Reset

Of  course, we need to see policy change. But even more fundamentally we need a democratic reset. We don’t have a written constitution in this country – and recent events have shown clearly how precarious our rights are in the absence of such a protection. It is not illegal for a government in this country to pass legislation that it knows will harm the interests of 99% of the population. And we are now living through a government that is happy to take advantage of that freedom. Here are the key elements of that democratic reset.

We also have a flawed voting system, which favours the largest party at any given point. Introducing proportional representation would provide a further bulwark against a drift to the extreme right (or other forms of extremism).


Step 2: Fact-based Policy

And we need fact-based policy. There is a spectrum of truth from absolute truth to unfounded falsehood. And far too much recent policy has been based on the right-hand end of that spectrum.

Since 2010, policy has been guided by the myth of unaffordability – that was the reason for austerity. When Theresa May wanted as her final act to commit the UK to carbon neutrality by 2050, Philip Hammond didn’t try to deny the science, but he claimed that it would cost £1 trillion, and it was taken for granted that this meant that we couldn’t afford to do it. Why not? Because of the ‘state of government finances.’ But Government Debt:GDP is today roughly at its 300-year average, below where it was before the Industrial Revolution took off, and below where it was before the Golden Age of Capitalism, the most successful period in Britain’s economic history. It is simply a myth that we can’t afford to protect the health of the economy and our environment.

Without facts, there can be no sanity.


Step 3: Policy for Solidarity and Abundance


On the basis of this constitutional reform and a commitment to look at the facts, we can expect government to formulate policy that will tackle and reverse mass impoverishment. Policy formulation is complex, but there are only fundamentally four types of policy.

Each policy either grows the pie or it doesn’t; and it either shares the benefits of that growth fairly or it doesn’t. That gives us these four types of policy:

  • Captured growth policies;
  • Shared growth policies;
  • Vulture policies; and
  • Balancing policies.

The chart below helps understand both how we got into our current mess, and how we can get out.

We got into this mess because we have had far too many captured growth policies and vulture policies, and far too few shared growth policies and balancing policies.

And we can get out if we focus as much as possible on shared growth policies. and recognise that where we choose to adopt captured growth policies, they need to be balanced.

First, the shared growth policies. Why not spend £100 billion over the next few years insulating every house in the country? Why not spend a few £ billion on R&D for battery technology or infrastructure for electric vehicles? Why not build a million eco-friendly social housing units? And why not fund the NHS properly? As we have explained before, though perhaps it is too risky for Labour to say it now, these things are affordable, if there is the will to do them.

And for the balancing policies, why not pay a ‘green dividend’ to the poorest, funded by taxes on fossil fuels? If Macron had done that, he would not have sparked the gilets jaunes movement. How about immediately ensuring a true living wage? Why not stop the roll-out of universal credit and replace it with something fit-for-purpose, and why not return to a taxation system that at least stops inequality growing?


Step 4: Investing in the Future

The fourth step is to invest wisely in the future. That is the Type II policies. We haven’t been wise, because of the narrative of unaffordability which has prevented all kinds of sensible investments.

The chart shows the case of flood defences. And of course other environmental investments would fall into this category, too. It is no more prudent for the Government to say that it cannot afford these things than it would be for me to ‘save’ money by not fixing a leaking roof in my house.


Step 5: Clean-up Capitalism

And the fifth step is to clean up capitalism. At the moment, the immensely powerful force that is the profit motive is too often fighting against solving the problems we are most concerned about. But it need not be.

In Appendix IX to the book 99% (you can download the Appendices free from the website), there is the story of a fictitious but quite realistic business, Alpha plc. The story as it is normally told goes like this:

In 1997, Robin Quickly was a young man with a dream. Working with two friends from rented premises in an out-of-town business park, using second-hand IT equipment funded by a loan from his parents and a small government grant, he founded a company which was destined to change the way Britons buy their clothes. In its first year of operation, the then unknown Alpha company had a turnover of just over £300,000 and made a small loss.

Today, Alpha plc is recognised as one of the UK’s most dynamic and successful companies. In little over 20 years, it has grown from nothing to a turnover of £1.5 billion and is still growing at over 10% per annum. Customers love Alpha. Because of its innovative business model, its costs are approximately 5% lower than those of bricks-and-mortar competitors – and it has passed this cost saving on to customers. Its service levels are consistently high. And Alpha was one of the pioneers in using algorithms to drive product selection. It has swept its competition aside.

And the reported profit of Alpha looks very healthy.

But underneath the surface, the picture is very different. Alpha externalises many of its costs. It gets us to pay for its pollution, for its underpayment of staff and its failure to pay its taxes.

Because it externalises its costs, it can outcompete more ethical businesses. Because it externalises its costs, it becomes an engine for mass impoverishment. And because it externalises its costs, it gets rewarded for destroying the environment.

But if it could no longer externalise all these costs, it would cease to have an advantage over more ethical businesses. It would not have grown. It would not have contributed to mass impoverishment or environmental destruction.

In a world without externalisation, ethical businesses would outcompete unethical ones and the profit motive would become a force for good.


Whether you are most concerned about the cost-of-living crisis, the NHS crisis , the housing crisis or the environmental crisis, those five steps are all-important.

Once we have taken those steps, we can start to see progress towards a just, prosperous, democratic society in which everybody has the chance of a decent life. A society with secure, fairly-paid jobs so that ordinary people have a reasonable expectation of being able to afford to buy themselves a flat or house. A society where people can count on being able to bring up children without fear of poverty. A society where access to healthcare is a right not a luxury. A society where the government accepts that it has responsibilities for the population as a whole and that collective action is often the only way to solve important problems (for example tackling the climate emergency or funding basic research with no immediate commercial application).

A society, above all, where each new generation has a reasonable expectation of a better life than its predecessors.


If you prefer the third option, then:

  • Make sure you will be allowed to vote at the next election;
  • Use your vote tactically;
  • Do whatever you can to raise awareness of these issues – for example by sharing this article using the buttons below.

And if you are a politician from any party who would like to see a return to sanity, please reach out.

If you think you might like to help more, take a look at The 99% Organisation and join us.