These inclinations meant that when George Osborne said that we needed to rebalance the economy and create a northern powerhouse I was very happy to praise his vision. I was less happy that he did nothing to equal out the massive disparity between heavy investment per head in capital projects in London and desperately little in the north. I was less happy that he insisted on a silly local government re-organisation in the form of mayors in return for recycling a bit of cash that was already being spent locally. I was also not impressed by his failure to invest in northern broadband adequately. Nor by the complete lack of any plan to properly integrate northern rail services that are currently a jumble of out of date track and trains run by a myriad of peculiar privatised franchises. When May and Hammond took over I waited to be impressed by clear well thought out strategies for ways of creating multiple regional powerhouses with real money behind them. So far we have a few fine words but not a penny of new money and not a single workable proposal to actually do something. The autumn budget statement will give us a clear indication of whether they can pull off what should be a relatively easy and uncontroversial win for their own party and for the country. Don't hold your breath.
But even the most devoted fan of strong local democracy wouldn't suggest that we could run the whole of the UK without a national parliament. Some things have to be decided nationally and we need a strong and vibrant national democracy making clear decisions for the benefit of our country. Indeed it is almost impossible to imagine the degree of chaos and uncertainty that would exist in our lives if every locality could do exactly what it liked and there was no ability to make a proper collective decision about issues of concern to us.
Actually you don't have to imagine that situation. You only have to look at the world economy and it is staring you in the face. We have a massively powerful global economic system but only the most pathetically weak international institutions trying to manage it. That is a very dangerous situation and the central challenge of our times is how to resolve it.
We saw this most clearly in the 2008 crash. Financial institutions told governments that they wanted to get rid of pesky regulations and that they would move their business to the place with the lightest regulations. Margaret Thatcher listened and introduced a Big Bang in Banking regulations which removed all serious controls. As a result the UK became the heart of the modern banking industry and a post industrial economy. Also as a result the banks started gambling with our money to such an extent that over three times the size of the entire world economy was bet on complex financial derivatives. We got such a horrible crash that the entire capitalist system was almost destroyed - not entirely what Mrs Thatcher was aiming for! We were rescued not by the free market but by governments and central bankers.
Unfortunately they patched up the system but weren't able to create a proper system of international economic management. We got out of the crisis of 2008 because a small number of very powerful people made brave decisions in the middle of rapidly moving dangers. A strange alliance of George Bush, Gordon Brown and a few central bankers pursued a strategy that saved the system by moving the debts and obligations away from private banks that were collapsing by the day and putting those debts and obligations onto governments - or more accurately onto the public. Our reward for taking on those debts has been 8 years of austerity and no sign of balanced government budgets.
Trying to manage a global economy on the basis of that kind of patched up panic management in the middle of a crisis was not a very good idea. Letting 8 years go by without putting the necessary international management arrangements in place is an even worse one. We still have insecure banking systems. We still have markets driven by automatic trading orders that can make the pound collapse in value by 6% in minutes and then recover just as quickly. We still have multinationals telling governments that they won't pay tax in the country where they earned their money and an increasingly greedy elite taking their income to tax heavens unchecked whilst the middle and working classes feel like mugs for paying up and vital public services decline and collapse through lack of cash.
Uncontrolled and unguided capitalism produces huge booms and slumps. We know that from the nineteenth century in the UK. We know that from the great depression of the 1930s. We also know from the 1930s that markets don't self correct. In fact the reverse. Markets often exaggerate trends. When everyone is selling in an uncontrolled panic it has an impact on the real economy. When you lose money you spend less so others earn less and they too reduce their spending. A proper depression just keeps on getting worse unless the government acts. Managed recessions can be quite helpfully creative in freeing up resources from old fashioned industries enabling them to be used elsewhere. The full scale uncontrolled depression of the 1930s produced something much more unpleasant. A decade of poverty followed by the second world war. There was nothing very creative about that.
We got out of the 1930s depression by national governments learning how to use the state to guide capitalism. Initially governments were forced to plan and to spend to deal with the military necessities of the Second World War. It became obvious to all that people and resources that were not used by the free market could be employed when the government started to spend money on war. So for 30 years after the war nation states avoided both unemployment and inflation by adjusting government spending on schools, hospitals, transport and technology to even out booms and slumps and to improve the standard of living and the welfare of the country.
This was a fine way of doing things when our nation's economy was mainly self contained the nation state was able to successfully manage and guide capitalism and provide secure employment for its people and an effective welfare state. As the economy became more global we lost the ability to control and manage one nation effectively. National government became inadequate. You can't print money and boost your national economy if most of your citizens' spending goes on Japanese TVs.
Just as we could not run our country solely on the basis of local decisions we reached the stage in economic evolution when nations couldn't run their economies properly without international collaboration and international institutions. We couldn't run the UK on the basis of a gathering of local councils each of which has to agree on a deal before a decision can be made. We cannot run the world's increasingly global economy on the basis of unbinding agreements made at a G20 conference or at a central bankers discussion group. Instead we have to agree to give up some of our national decision making and create institutions that can make binding international decisions.
I therefore think that the single most wrongheaded slogan to come out of the Brexit campaign was "Give us our sovereignty back." The days of a network of independent nation states making independent decisions without any ability to manage a global system have to go. We need to be honest. The only way to get through the current era is for nations to understand that they have to give up some of their sovereignty.
We need strong local decision making and strong national decision making but that isn't enough anymore. We need proper international government. Not least because we have only one planet and you can't manage that on the basis of gentlemen's agreements.