In a radio interview this morning it was alleged that Britain has forgotten how to develop strategic planning in defence and security. The interviewee told us that the Civil Service College has reduced training in strategic thinking from a six-month course to a one-day module. The allegation has the ring of truth, and not simply in defence and security.
It appears to me that British thinking is plagued by short-termism, with policy initiatives being entirely reactive to latest events. There is little sign that anyone is thinking of where the country should be in the longer run: twenty or thirty years’ time. Why is this? A clue lies in the present obsession with the obscure notion of ‘fairness’. It seems that every initiative becomes swamped in debate on whether it is fair to this or that group. In these debates the word ‘discrimination’ is commonly used in its newly pejorative sense.
Well, long term strategic thinking demands discrimination. If the country continues on its reactive, egalitarian course the future will be determined by the loudest voices, rather than by a vision of where and what we wish to be. Britain must learn afresh to discriminate in numerous fields. In education it is important that children from poorer homes have access to higher education, but it is arguably more important to ensure that graduates can find gainful employment without having to emigrate. Such a future is not assured if we treat all degree courses as equally worthy.
It is economic madness to pretend that a degree in media studies or visual arts is as important to the nation as one in material science or engineering. People with the latter qualifications can ensure that Britain competes in tomorrow’s industrial world. They are the people who can ensure that others are able to indulge in the arts. Britain needs a diverse manufacturing base if it is to remain a developed economy, and it needs politicians who are prepared to discriminate in their policies to bring such a future about. Nigel Lawson was clearly wrong to discount the importance of manufacturing.
Certain degree courses should be financed entirely by government, and certain industries should receive discriminatory preferences to ensure that those young people with the preferred qualifications do not have to go abroad to find work. The alternative is to have a poorer future for Britain as a whole.