Because I’m on a trip to the States, I am behind in posting new stuff however, a couple of issues did attracted my attention before leaving the UK and one of them concerns something Liam Fox said at a private meeting which inevitably was leaked to the Press.
There are many, business people and politicians who will say that in Liam Fox stating that business people today lack the drive and vision of their predecessors in earlier generations, he has made a “Serious Gaff”. I noticed a Labour politician saying that it was proof that he and the ‘Leavers’ never had a plan and were just lining up business people to blame if Brexit goes wrong.
This type of comment was amusing comment but one that too in its own way, shows just how out of touch every level of our “Establishment” which includes opposition MPs, has become to the fundamentals required of any independent nation and also what the whole world too needs to consider. Does this mean that the purpose of this post is to ‘defend’ what Liam Fox said ?
In truth not really because I doubt that even he fully comprehends the ‘sore spot’ he has probed with his comments and this despite being a doctor by trade. No, I would like to illustrate a slightly different perspective on this which admittedly fits in with my own “current main themes” concerning education, training and future economic developments.
In summary my view is that there is a global problem that centres around the fact that our current economic model is failing us all. The resulting consequences are of ever greater disparities in wealth, fewer chances for upward mobility, an increasing number of unemployed and those excluded from society in one way or another. We have an increasing pool of young unemployed of military age, because of fear for their positions, politicians whipping up nationalist sentiments and therefore by accident rather than design, the conditions are set for a major global war. However much politicians may say that this couldn’t happen, we live in a period that is parallel to the complacency that preceded the outbreak of WWI.
The real question, if I am right in my view just how we can try and avoid this dreadful fate and this is where the comments made by Liam Fox have perhaps a broader relevance in that rather than striving for some kind of global agreement which will be next to impossible, the UK could perhaps show some leadership by example.
A Visit to Duxford
I am very fond of the Imperial War Museum site at Duxford, a former RAF base of some fame during WWII and this year as in previous ones, I attended their “Meet the Fighters” September air show. So what is the relevance of this ? You may well ask and the answer is fairly simple, it is almost exclusively WWII or earlier vintage and whilst there may be the odd early 1950s jet, mostly they are ‘tail dragging’ piston engined aircraft that fly. In both the American and British aviation museums there are later jet models on static display. However it is the British aviation examples that interest me most particularly those from the 1930s through to the 1950s.
It is easy to just ‘skate past’ the various exhibits without fully comprehending their major significance which is the sheer diversity of technologies and individual businesses they represent. Prior to the outbreak of WWII there were many individual aircraft manufacturers often owned largely and run by one or two people. Inevitably by the 1950s, the complexity and cost of Research and Development accompanied by lower production volumes led to industry consolidation so that today instead of more than half a dozen major aircraft manufacturers we have in the UK just one and they are a “Defence Contractor” because they are also into shipbuilding and armoured vehicles. More than this however, they are not capable of developing a complete aircraft by themselves and always need partnerships funded by the taxpayers of other countries.
Now when you consider the complexity of projects such as the F35 that whilst mainly a US product, involves quite a number of other NATO countries as well who have contributed to the development costs, you can say that this is no surprise. However I would question the “direction of travel” as far as the UK is concerned and pose the question as to whether we need to change our mindset. To be fair there has been some signs of this in proof of concept projects such as Taranis an unmanned interceptor but we really need to push far more into that direction.
The basic idea of getting the pilot out of the airframe is obvious, they cost too much and take too long to train to put them in harms way plus, having no pilot simplifies the whole design, construction and operating requirements of the aircraft, G Forces on aircrew no longer figure. However it is more than that, it is also taking the opportunity to stop thinking in terms of production runs of 50 aircraft and start thinking in terms of thousands built on automated assembly lines using sub components manufactured by different companies.
Commercial and Strategic Logic
I have always thought it rather daft that a country develops highly sophisticated weapons systems then can only afford them themselves by selling copies of them to other countries some of whom could well turn out to be potential future adversaries. We need to take a different stance, one that is geared to UK defence. Why should a business just sell a weapons system to HMG and then expect to live off the income from replacements and spares ? Why shouldn’t a business design build, upgrade, replace and operate a weapons system for a monthly/annual fee with their operational staff part of the Volunteer Reserve and subject to the chain of command ?
As throughout history, only infantry can take and hold territory, they are irreplaceable so arming and protecting them is crucial so personnel carriers are essential but pretty much all other equipment could most likely be reconfigured to be unmanned. The only reason governments are prepared to spend big on new hardware is because it provides high paid civilian jobs and profits for big corporations, we need to change this concept.
Now whilst I could develop the above ideas in some detail, I will stop on that for now but also finish by explaining just why I’m focusing on military spend. It is simply that military spending on hardware and systems is under total government control and direction which consumer focused and fashion spending isn’t. Whilst the other “big spends” such as welfare, education and health are also government spends, they are politically difficult, with lots of vested interests and are relatively inflexible to use as a starting point to revolutionise UK economic activity through radical innovation and changed business structures.
The Need for Change
Now back to Liam Fox. It is less a matter of British business people being fat, lazy and wanting to bunk off work on Friday to play golf and more the fact that they are psychologically part of a business model that is dying on its feet. Their defence is that they are working within the system “the way it is” and see no need to rock the boat by trying to be revolutionary which by itself is quite a condemnation. Even worse, because big business has become little better than a game of Monopoly, the top management is vastly overpaid and chosen more on their presumed ability to get on with the City and Wall Street rather than having any particular knowledge of the business they are put in charge of.
Where Fox is wrong is that this is not just a British problem, it is with slight variations, a global one that leads to far too much wealth and power being vested into the hands of far too few, not just ‘business managers’ but more importantly, the owners of capital. At the same time whether in motor cars or mobile phones as examples, actual products are no longer purchased outright but acquired by consumers on monthly lease payments, it is the regular monthly payment coupled with high volumes of the same that our current global economy is totally reliant on, it all lacks robustness.
The reason I have headed this piece with a picture of a prototype of a Hawker aircraft from the 1940s is to make the point that we as a nation have had in the past the intellectual and engineering skill to manage very complicated engineering. Liam Fox is in charge of drumming up international business post Brexit but I would suggest that we can make a faster and more meaningful change to our economic prospects by looking at how we spend currently. Trade follows the Flag and that doesn’t mean colonising other countries, it means that an efficiently and substantial military capability with a UK Government prepared to deploy it (Corbyn need not apply for the job) will ensure that people want to be a ‘best friend’ of post Brexit UK.