It’s a little hard to get your head around, but the UK has a five day working week ahead of it – for those without long memories, the last time Monday sat at the foot of a five-day hill was 11th April.
All well and good, but as well as getting back to work, it would be refreshing to have politicians and commentators get back to business as usual. The swift succession of Royal Wedding, Bin Laden and Saying No to AV has created a sense of unreality – politicians haven’t had to think out loud about the economy or public services for weeks, but it would be great to stop the nursery squabbling, ditch the trivia, and knuckle down.
For what it’s worth, I’d like to see a functioning coalition again, which lives by the principle of Cabinet responsibility. (David Laws would raise the tone a little, I’d like to think.) Global politics, terrorism and the euro are well beyond my remit, but, domestically, I’d welcome a straightforward focus on key issues: rebooting the economy, and effecting the right balance between the private and public sectors. The Prime Minister told us repeatedly when he entered office that this was a long-term project, but we’re seeing too many flip-flops, U-turns and eye-catching announcements, a situation hugely worsened during the grim and futile AV referendum.
My other main concern, from both a business and social standpoint, is education. Our schools need to be creating entrepreneurs, engineers, artists and craftspeople. This will take at least ten years to effect, but an educated, enthused and socially involved new generation would be a far greater prize than any short-term poll wins.
Otherwise, domestically, health is always emotive, always personal – it needs reforming, but with care. And as to the rest? My plea would be to avoid stupid conflicts. The Blair government felt as though it wasted most of its first term on the hunting bill – a classic example of an issue about which two small minorities cared passionately, and the great majority of the population really wasn’t fussed. (Rather like electoral reform, then.) The recent proposal to raise a few bob from selling forests was another own goal.
An unlikely partnership of Eric Pickles and Vince Cable is apparently committed to cutting red tape for business. This is an important step towards a broader and sustained economic recovery, so I’d like to make a plea to retailers: leave Sunday trading alone. Not because the status quo is ideal – it isn’t, but because Sunday trading is a classic example of a polarising non-issue. The benefits of longer hours would be most felt by the large supermarkets chains who (passim) are used but not loved by all. Other sectors – fashion, home – would appreciate the opportunity to trade the hours they chose, but it isn’t make or break – longer Sunday hours wouldn’t have saved Focus DIY. There is an opportunity, working with this government, to create a more business-friendly, even retail-friendly commercial environment – let’s not blow it by focusing on divisive issues, rather than those from which everyone can quietly and progressively benefit.
Of course, this isn’t a political blog, but we do live in a political world…