The Week

The Week 24 May 2024

Joe Hill
Policy Director

With a General Election scheduled for the 4th of July, Westminster is in for a busy six-week campaign. Given the high stakes, it’s too easy to focus on who will be in power on the 5th of July, and to lose sight of why that matters.

This week saw the public conclusion of the Infected Blood Inquiry, which the Prime Minister called “a decades-long moral failure” at the heart of our national life, stemming from “systemic, collective and individual failures”. And a leaked document from the National Police Chief’s Council on Tuesday guided officers to stop making “non-priority arrests” until there is more prison capacity to hold offenders.

In ‘Reimagining the State’, our Director Charlotte Pickles argued these kinds of crises were symptoms of a greater problem, “attempting to manage a slow decline in our public infrastructure, accepting anaemic growth and public disillusionment”. Failures like the infected blood scandal, or the shortage of prison capacity, stem from an overall failure to confront the state’s shortcomings, and to rebuild critical capacity. Unless we radically reimagine the shape and role of the state, the current system will continue to deteriorate. As Senior Researcher Patrick King pointed out, the limits of the state will be decided arbitrarily by external factors, rather than by public policy.

Whatever the outcome of the election, the next government needs to be bold in tackling state dysfunction. Change comes with risks, but as our institutions fail in more and more fundamental ways, sticking with the status quo is far riskier.

Watch this space for more of Reform’s analysis of election announcements and our priorities for a new government.

Read of the week...

The Reform team are big fans of the Statecraft Substack, which looks at how policy is made in the United States – particularly on issues around science and technology. I was fascinated by this week’s post on How to Assess the Future’s Technologies looks at the historical Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA). The OTA partially inspired our own Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, which still exists today.

Given our politicians’ ambitions to forge Britain into a ‘science and technology superpower’, this piece is a fascinating insight into elected representatives can understand scientific and technological developments. In particular, there are good ideas about to make sure science gets traction with politicians (one-page “Senator-sized summaries”), how to avoid scientific advice being seen as partisan (presenting the consequences of multiple options, not just making recommendations), and flexible hiring of staff to suit the topics they had to work on – rather than a permanent civil service.

There is plenty we can learn from the OTA, both successes and failures. No doubt, the next Parliament will debate generative AI, nuclear energy, drone technology and personalised medicine. Accessing expertise on those issues will be crucial to getting the best legislation.