BBC BLOGS - Newsnight: Paul Mason
« Previous | Main | Next »

What's Wrong With Britain? And How Do We Fix It? Monday 2230

Post categories:

Paul Mason | 16:53 UK time, Saturday, 27 March 2010

Next week on Newsnight begins with two reports from me looking beyond the financial crisis at the structural problems facing the UK.

I can sum it up for the time challenged: low skills, de-industrialisation, depressed towns and booming London, absence of social mobility.

I can sum up the "easy-win" part of the solutions I've been hearing too: reindustrialise, re-localise, spread out the capital away from the M25 into the regions and nations of the UK. And become part of the green revolution that's sweeping the globe.

And do something to address the growing disenchantment of many among the lowest paid who believe their wages are being undercut by migrant workers, and that nobody in authority cares.

Also, re-boot the finance system so that it supports innovation and employment in the UK rather than City speculation and employment in the far east.

That's how I'd sum up the responses of the businesspeople, experts and social entrepreneurs I spoke to.

But the bigger issue, harder to solve, is what we're going to be good at in this country? I've travelled the breadth of Britain to meet people who are trying to go beyond the policy wonk approach and actually do something to answer this question.

But it's going to be a challenge.

Tune in for the first of two reports on Monday night 2230 on BBC TWO. Second report same time Tuesday. Hopefully you'll be inspired more than depressed by the end of it.

But whatever, let us know what you think. How should we fix the UK? Its economy, its social fabric, its low self esteem problem? Hit the comments button.


  • Comment number 1.

    The first thing is that the media aristocracy like yourself,and like Jon Snow on HIS little trip round the country a few days back, have to stop being part of the problem.

    If you can't see it, here it is:

    'And do something to address the growing disenchantment of many among the lowest paid who believe their wages are being undercut by migrant workers, and that nobody in authority cares'.

    You can't see what's wrong with that???

    I will spell it out for you:

    NOT just 'the lowest paid' (and dont they count as people ??)
    All skills levels are being hit, except those culturally incubated like people in the media, or in the old boys' club

    'who believe'??? Not only does this deny the definitive proof of the effects of migrant labour on jobs and wages, but you assume, from your lofty position, that these silly ignorant 'low paid' people misunderstand and have false consciousness. Well NO - its fact.

    And 'who believe that no one in authority cares'? If 'people in authority' have any interest its because they are taking a backhander from firms to keep it this way, or, ditto, cos it suits their shares portfolio. Other than that, again its not think - its know. And if it wasnt like that, they would have changed it, obviously, but they haven't. See?

    So - v bad start.
    Try being part of the solution, though it might take guts.

  • Comment number 2.

    We could do with some inspiration (aka vision) for sure.

    Traditionally this country seems to insist on having a huge kick in the pants first before we pull together and create something compelling and worthwhile.

    We have some great attributes, great people bound (in the main) together by a sense of decency amongst the soaked and abused ' hard working families and small business'. They will only take so much.

    Persobnally I am hoping for a hung parliament with the associated re-examination of the main parties that will come from that. I hope that will give the opportunity for something new to emerge ..if the electorate can just crack the current cartel via a hung parliament to start with and open up the possibility of something different.

    I am looking forward to being inspired, I take it non of the people you interviewed are the usual leveraged political suspects and probably come from the ranks of hard working families and small business, so maybe I will be.

    keep up the good work.

    It matters.

  • Comment number 3.


    Any fool can see that material growth is not infinitely sustainable. However, PERSONAL GROWTH, leads to contentment, and the ability to live a simpler life. Current complexity is unsustainable.

    While success and value are measured in current terms, nothing will get fixed. The psychology of individual voters, leaders, society and governance is key, but we are manipulated into believing 'policies' are all.

    How many of the individuals you consulted, Paul, drank alcohol before the day was out? How many 'needed it to get through the day'? While the majority struggle just TO BE, their DOING will not fix anything in a sustainable way.

  • Comment number 4.

    A few suggestions to solve the UK's problems:
    How about flying the Union flag from public buildings, schools and police stations to encourage national pride? (As they do in France, Australia, the US etc)
    How about paying all business invoices within 30 days or so like they do on the continent? Or not being allowed to write cheques that bounce? (It's a criminal offence in some countries)
    How about getting school leavers employed before going to Uni, then via an agreement with the employer they undergo an appropriate training scheme which may include Uni, under the supervision of their employer? (This would eliminate the silly practice of getting into student debt)
    How about local mayors with real power, so we could get the roads repaired and the litter cleared up?
    How about not allowing smoking in prisons? (It was tried in a prison on the IOM and the crime rate went down by 20 - 30% as prospective inmates feared not being able to smoke more than prison itself!)
    How about MPs being subject to the same laws as the rest of us?
    You did ask ...

  • Comment number 5. really are being just a tad disingenius here. You will need to grow some real cajones before you even think you are be able to present some plausible solutions to this nation's terminal socio-economic decline.

    The Yanks might have to worry more about their industrial-military the UK we need to focus more on the social-economic complex.

    What do you think is the real root cause behind the de-skilling, de-industrialisation and mass immigration to the the UK?

    Hint!...what political ideology has forced the UK down this road?

    ...and more importantly, who do you think benefitted from this ideology?

    Until you understand the real root cause of the failure, you cannot propose a fix. It's a basic engineering approach. The only way to fix a highly complicated problem is to fully understand and explain the real root cause of the systemic failure as the first action.

    To date, you have not done this on any of your NN pieces or blogs. Some very clever posters to the NN blogs have imho.


    (btw - please explain what a social entrepreneur is?)

  • Comment number 6.

    HOW DO WE FIX IT? (apologies - overlooked @3)

    It is significant that both Labour and Tories are using top-flight persuaders, of the Satchi stable, to persuade voters to swing their way.

    Were government to employ such persuaders to, incrementally, alter the whole mind-set of Britain: mothering, honour and integrity, pleasure without nihilism, eschewal of state-sponsored alcohol, low 'stuff' footprint, psychology/philosophy etc, we could move away from our current miserable existence towards a contented populace.

    It will, of course, require government 'for the people' and to achieve that it will be necessary to SPOIL PARTY GAMES. To quote another poster:

    Vote RADICAL.

  • Comment number 7.


    Someone who can work out how the get the elephant out of the room without doing any damage?

  • Comment number 8.

    What's Wrong With Britain?

    Can't imagine. But here's some possible hints..

    'We haven't done technically done anything wrong. And if we have, we are quitting soon anyway' Truly a Government of all talents.

    And How Do We Fix It?

    Seems like getting anything done now depends on gatekeepers & those skilled in steering around them, with the glue binding them together and keeping the public out, being their love of money and a shameless dedication to and blissfully shameless immunity from the taint of hypocrisy.

    Yet as we have revelations of even more scummy ex-Minsters from just one party (so far), still it's only 49% that think this to be the most corrupt regime in history, and in any case 'they are all at it' so 'we' might as well stick with this deluded fool, his GOATs and their 13 years of proven competence.

    Amazing the loyalty you can buy with golden salaries, perks, bonuses (how does that work in the civil service??) index-linked pensions and/or lavish, why-work benefits... especially if you don't have to actually pay for it. Or even account.

    The only save will be to restore a culture of responsibility, accountability and... tangibly, 'no rewards or failure'. Why the heck should anyone work, save or try and excel when those in power or paid vast sums in public service seem to be expanding, over-rewarded, under-policed and above any measures that they, ironically, impose daily on the general public.

    And I rather fear that is beyond the current calibre of politician, and the equally compromised media remora class that follow and depend upon them.

    The expression 'you have no choice' has never sat well with me. Nor has it weighed as heavily as I face the voting booth seeking inspiration on how to vote for my family's future in a few weeks.

  • Comment number 9.

    8. 'The only save will be to restore a culture of responsibility, accountability and... tangibly, 'no rewards or failure'. '

    And maybe fewer rewards for those not interested in success, or rewarding it:

    Before the online stooges get active and start leaning on acceptable editorial. With luck the BST switch have caught the staff 'reporters' (in this case, those who are tasked to report on others - a growing industry, evidently - little concerned at the Income Tax folk leaning on the Royal Mail to open up letters in case folk need to account for more missing revenue to support the public sector pension demands) off guard for a wee while vs. we poor posters and mods toiling away all hours.

  • Comment number 10.

    "low skills, de-industrialisation, depressed towns and booming London, absence of social mobility."

    Paul, I know you have a deeper understanding of economics & the nature of crises than this.
    A rather parochial blog that will just mislead people into thinking we've just got to be more like the Germans.

    The big question is are the limits to growth being hit?

    Is there an accumulation problem (as Rosa Luxemburg argued)?
    Does capitalism require non-capitalist inputs into the circuit of capital to be able to grow?
    Are these 'free' inputs becoming harder to loot, e.g. peasant labour?

    That whilst some previous crises have had this element, e.g. the imperialist world wars fighting over external markets & resources, imperialism, in the sense of the conquest of non-capitalist areas, is now at an end.
    The whole world is now capitalist.

    Even if Rosa Luxemburg was wrong & capitalism can accumulate without any looting of non-capitalist inputs, doesn't the peak oil theory (arrived at, soon to arrive at) impose a similar limit to growth (actually, this is just a variant of Rosa's theory)?

    Either way the objective economic conditions are here & no amount of fictitious capital can wish it away.

    It really is more a question of how political conciousness changes & how much nationalist/racist sentiment holds us back.

  • Comment number 11.

    Well, no sooner referred to, than he appears. Like the Candyman. Only without the same level of benign intent.

    Just watched Mr. Balls on Mr. Marr's show. A lot gets explained, at least on why we are where we are, if sod all on where anyone is proposing we might head.

    So, at last, it's nice to see our 4th estate proxy interviewers getting a little impatient with fudge and more fudge, sprinkled with fibs and sad diversionary straw-men counter-attacks. Even if we were left, yes, with 'It's the right thing to do'. I hope Mr. Marr managed to avoid falling off his chair.

    Then I scooted over to find the same frustration welling with Andrew Boulton interviewing a wind farm (for all I could hear... why this obsession with shooting such things in the garden?), or maybe it was the Conservative shadow health minister.

    Oddly, in all this, I think the real winner was Andy Burnham, who declined to turn up anywhere, to talk about anything. At least he did not end up looking like a vacuous, evasive waste of space.

    Not a great way to run a country you claim to lead, mind. Or get voted back to try again.

  • Comment number 12.


    'WIND FARM' - What a title for a chronicle of the flatulent Naughties' (epitomised by the fatuous Balls) redolent of 'Animal Farm' (also, now, known to be dangerously flatulent!)

    Bullseye Junkk!

  • Comment number 13.

    Sorry but before anything else can be thought up, go forward and be maintained the financial system needs to be addressed and its simply not happening. QE + wide-boy banks / hudgefunds + derivatives + sovereign debt in all major currencies, inflation/deflation plus the problems x 500 in the US = destruction. While the way of democracy (the correct and only way) to change takes the time of argument and law the incentive's to destruction remains in place and will play out.

    TV makers have to move on but the problems so far remain the same - what we have is wall paper over a leaking roof in a submarine. The question is how far down is it ?

    On the matter of presenting to camera - keeping hands as still as possible is always good and then using them to emphasis an important point is a good way to go, but when your on show to millions, well its very difficult - work at it. And hope the jerky camera situation is sorted.

    To Jo Coburn - your going the right way.

  • Comment number 14.


    Oh what a feast today!


    Let joy be unconfined. Bravo flicks!

  • Comment number 15.

    Perhaps it's time this one had another outing?





  • Comment number 16.

    #14 15 - Yes Barrie and its gets worse - we're in total darkness - not only can no one can find the periscope we don't know what it is - we're all deluded out of our minds .

    What will happen is: they will deceive as much as they like - running around flogging their self government importance like a Pheasant or stud horse when the pound and $ is worth nothing and the China bubble bursts what will be the point - they will find themselves in a turkey shoot or turned into a gelding - all will be blood, gore - droopy missile and no fuel. That's if the press don't get to their stupidity first. And look what we have running this time round - Anna Span - miss strap-on lock and load. Next part is edited out but you would laugh barrie - blame blog dog they REMOVED it a week or so ago.

  • Comment number 17.


    Don't tell me flicks - there's an elephant involved somwhere - yes?

    Re Paul's next ode to joy: didn't the Neocons build a lot of concentration camps already? They don't appear to be thinking '25 years'.

  • Comment number 18.

    #17 - well a kirsty featured with a barrie and the words ejaculation and articulation Ms Span is noted for getting the first female ejaculation past the censors - quite a feat of projection. Then we had a quantum 'e' in both houses - same time of course.

    ejaculations and articulations - way to go

    Now you have me thinking barrie - an elephant over a cliff ?

  • Comment number 19.

    #18 may well have to be removed barrie - terribly sorry if it does.

  • Comment number 20.

    Quite honestly Paul, we need to become a bit more self critical rather than running hither and yon about the world telling others how they should do it when we can't even do it ourselves. The great British failing is hypocrisy; we do it rather well but we do it to each other first.

    Might I suggest we progressively dump globalism. I propose that we do this through the European Commission and at the expense of other trading blocs. I could be accused of creating a Fortress Europe but we need to define where and how our welfare is to be sustained.

    There is nothing wrong with free trade between nations but when we are in a situation where low wages in one or two very large countries are undermining our entire industrial base, our whole economy and our society we need to ask ourselves whether we can allow such a policy to continue?

    This will allow us to redefine what we are good at in this country other than cooking up financial bubbles. Obviously such a policy would be condemned by the established elites but surely some nine million economically inactive people tells us there is a problem here and now that needs attention.

    By seeking to reduce our global economic exposure we can use tariff barriers to repatriate our manufacturing industries, promote local manufacture, local supply chains, reduce carbon outputs, enhance agricultural output, increase employment and induce social and economic recovery. We can do all this within the context of the European Union which is a large free trade area anyway.

    I agree that this reversal into older policies has its risks but what are the risks if we try and go on as we are? We need to reduce the public deficit, reduce the public debt, bring the banking industry to heel through reform so that it serves the needs of the taxpayer who has been conscripted into underwriting its risks, restructure our economy so that it serves all the people in the country, create a lot of productive, value adding jobs promptly and reverse the crumbling social structure.

    Are we able to do this within a globalised economy as currently arranged? I fear not.

    I would like to be disabused of this idea developing in my aged, shrinking brain.

  • Comment number 21.


    My history is bunk, but I think I am correct in asserting that as the 'known world' grew in size, so did the ambition to rule, of the conquest-minded, aberrants. It follows that, today, nothing less that 'the globe' will satisfy infantile, wannabe hunger.

    Until we turn everything upside-down, bringing the wise ones who, according to ancient proverb 'are seldom noticed' to the top, the Blair, Bush, Brown, Thatcher (and ilk) madness, will prevail.

    We are a long, long way, as things stand, from even picking at the first thread of Emperor Brown's new clothes. Is Paul Mason ripe for the hero role? I have no idea. But there is enough written above for him to make a damn good fist of radical action - and of losing his job. The problem we have, lies that last phrase - and a fearful, courage-stripped BBC.

  • Comment number 22.

    What we need is, in a word, re-engagement.

    National politics is completely discredited and i cannot see any way for the to recover. London dominates - look at the cockney arrogance in the row over the "vital" Heathrow 3rd Runway. The nationalism of the English Defence League and it's paranoia over Sharia Law getting the whip-hand has the feel of a last desperate throw of the dice to scoop the plebs back into the meat-grinder.

    The answer to all of the above is regionalism - micro-economies with low haulage distances and local power grids, regional transport systems, and local taxes with a percentage passed to a national (or continental - why not?) federation for things that need to be done on that scale.

    This is not pie-in-the-sky. It could be kicked off by a hung parliament as parties begin to realise the importance of regional power-bases. Devolution, renegotiating of council powers, transferrring of Development Agencies and other quangos to local control. This would force re-engagement at a local level.

    Or, what would be better, change from the ground up. Vote in 'progressive' councillors, take control of councils, federate with other councils, force a confrontation with the national administration.

    This would be our saviour as it would allow the compost of progress - diversity - to nurture a range of possible avenues, excite imaginations with practical possibles worth fighting for. And then from that, hopefully, would spring hope for the future.

    Keep up the good work Paul. I will not be coming back to these comments as i think 92% of people who comment on here are conspiracist crackpots and morbidly socially retarded.So don't bother replying for my sake.

  • Comment number 23.

    There are many problems in the UK too numerous to mention in a few sentences. However do not despair. Not only can I solve this, but I can also summarise the big issues.

    The government has hijacked democracy, de-motivated the population, wrecked the economy, reduced NHS efficiency, confused education and generally annoyed the population of United Kingdom.

    Solution: Full roundup of the problems and solutions, visit:

  • Comment number 24.


    But my intestine threatened to throttle my brain. That's not important right now - we have moved on. What is important, perhaps, is how much freedom we have to do ANYTING radical under 'Lisbon', and whether 'they' can stop us with legislation (I got the impression they can pass new stuff without consultation?)

    How hamstrung by Lisbon are we - does anyone know (who will tell the truth)?

  • Comment number 25.

    Leaving the nutters aside ...

    The important things to do are, firstly, as you say, to re-balance the economy so we are not dominated by finance. Finance is a tool for enabling the economy not the economy itself.

    Secondly, to re-invent regional policy - to provide incentives for companies to locate outside of the south-east.

    But the main point is to do a thorough analysis of what we are good at - what we can sell to others around the world. It is possible - for example we still have areas of engineering where we are at the forefront - but let's make sure that this involves making things, not killing people.

    We have seen companies like Dyson do well, we've done well in computer game publishing. It's not rocket science. The French and the Germans have shown that it is possible to pick winners and direct investment in the right direction.

  • Comment number 26.

    We need to stop the money banks from using tax payers money to speculate on the forex markets. We also need to bring house prices back in line with earnings. Doesn't seem as if present govt wants to do this - its still prioriatising debt and consumption rather than investment and saving.

  • Comment number 27.

    The problem is that what needs to be done for the good of the population in the future years ahead can't be done because it messes up the banks balance sheets. I remember you coming on Newsnight about a week before the banks started to fail in America a couple of years ago and explaining that part of the problem with our economy in the eyes of the financial bigwigs and politicians was that they felt that falling house prices were making their life difficult, so they wanted taxpayers money to be pumped in to keep what they well knew was a bubble inflated. The Crosby Report was the backbone of the plan and it was adopted along with other measures just over 12 months ago and house prices have risen steadily since.

    Thats all well and good from the banks point of view but where does it leave ordinary people? I know I live in the South but my parents live in East Anglia and they tell the same story that a house is £200,000 plus and yet nearly everyone I know earns between £15,000 and £25,000 a year. Some of my friends bought homes over 10 years ago and they have mortgages of well under £100,000 for 3 bedroom homes, but others, earning the same money, but not on the 'property ladder' are unable to live anywhere!

    If it goes on like this then in 20 years time we will be back to whole families living in one room of a rented house, Mum and Dad in the bed with the kids sleeping on mattresses on the floor! Where I live families of 4 are already living in one bedroom flats and private landlords are buying up old council flats and turning them into bed-sits, so we are well on the way down that road as it is.

    If it were a free market then there would at least be some kind of cold logic behind it, but it isn't is it? Just how much is the taxpayer propping up house prices Paul? What would happen if we withdrew the funding for part buy/part rent mortgages? I heard Pauline McCole on 5 Live the other month saying that these kind of mortgages would be increased because first time buyers couldn't afford homes and there was a danger of the housing market 'imploding' unless enough of them could be encouraged to buy property. The part rent bit of the mortgage by the way is paid for by taxpayers, the same taxpayers that are stuck living 4 to a flat. If house prices rise by 10% a year can those people then ask for a 10% pay rise to keep up? I doubt it! If they qualify for housing benefit will it rise along with their rents that are pushed up by rising property prices? Will the government be just as keen to pump money in to keep a roof over those peoples heads? I doubt that to. And yet their taxes are what are paying to underwrite the equity in your homes....they are paying to price themselves onto the street in the long term. How fair is that? A growing underclass of people being taxed to remain in poverty.

    Think of it like this....Pre 2008 when people voiced their concerns about being unable to afford to live anywhere they were told to stop whinging and work harder, get a second job in the evenings or whatever, if they do that today they will be paying more tax which will go into propping up higher house prices....So the harder they try the deeper the hole they will be digging for themselves.

    Where are the homes for the millions of people today who earn between £15,000 and £25,000 a year?

  • Comment number 28.


    Touched on, over and over, but not FOCUSED on: the concepts of success and value.

    Win a war = success? Host the most seductive lottery = success? Alcohol more affordable than milk = good value? Westminster governance/management = good value?

    The current malaise, individual, family, social, national and global is down to the triumph of materialist, acquisitive, aggressive GROWTH culture. Yet out current Prime Minister is the HIGH PRIEST OF GROWTH.

    No amount of lever pulling, within the current paradigm, will get us anywhere but back to where we were. In the past, times like this would throw up a radical maverick, and revolution of thought (hopefully not translated into violence) would follow. For some reason, modern mavericks have to be 'in by tea time'. MAVERICK ISN'T WORKING.

    I am doing my best in Newbury, but aside form standing for Parliament (gesture politics?) last time, I do not cast a long shadow. Where is the giant in this land who will lead us to storm Westminster and lay siege to Buckingham Palace? I would be there. We can't 'go on like this' but to hell with juvenile 'fairness' also. What we need is WISELY MANAGED UNFAIRNESS (as good as it gets) mediated by a sense of HONOUR AND INTEGRITY IN THE MANAGEMENT.

    That would be a success we could all value.

  • Comment number 29.

    given the current definitions of nation building [the propaganda of flags etc] and state building [government processes] we need a third building which one might call building [or working] for the common good.

    much of what government does is to block innovation such as Gordon blocking for 10 years a feed in tariff.

    So the government has to stop blocking progress through vested interest hidden behind bureaucratic rules designed to put people off.

    there is plenty to do in the uk including things like designing a new gravity water pipe from the north to the south to deliver water, creating 120 days energy storage, etc

  • Comment number 30.

    ...What we need is WISELY MANAGED UNFAIRNESS (as good as it gets) mediated by a sense of HONOUR AND INTEGRITY IN THE MANAGEMENT. ....

    for a minute i thought i was in the Roman Forum watching a speech by a member of the Senate :)

  • Comment number 31.

    we don't MAKE things anymore, we stopped in the midfifties, if we have an idea now rather than employ our own people we outsource it to China and make it for a pittance and it is called 'good business' there is no pride anymore as we witness BA trying to turn a once proud flagcarrier into Ryanair and we have kids coming out of education that cannot read and write, I am talking the majorities here not the gifted, well financed middle class kids who always seem to get by but the cannon fodder of what we turned out from the Sec Mods in the fifties, straight into the car, I wish...despair all around with macho governments like Mrs T saying 'it is a price worth paying' and condemning millions more to a life of utter hoplessness.....

  • Comment number 32.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 33.

    what was the old joke?

    mrs thatcher said there was no such thing a society and by the time she finished there wasn't.

    tony and new labour merely sowed the land with salt so nothing would grow again.

    glad to see the use of the word model that has been neglected and even denied that the uk needs a model or even a [nation building] plan. After all fundamentalist tony's big idea was that 'the market' is the best arbiter and determiner of a state's affairs.


More from this blog...

Latest contributors

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.