The working day on Thursday was bookended by two sets of comments.
The first was the much-publicised spat, in the wake of the UK Autumn Statement, between the Conservative party leadership and the BBC regarding spending cuts and reduction of the public debt.
The point that struck me is how tired this felt – not so much the squabble as the underlying cuts/debt issue. I’m not commenting here on the levels of public debt, the rights and wrongs of cuts, the amount of any spending cuts or where any cuts should fall. It’s rather that the overwhelming impression is that the vast majority of voters will see the debate as mud-slinging between members of the establishment and divorced from the amount of money they have in their pockets and whether they can make ends meet. And that goes for the House of Commons ding-dongs and salvoes between the political parties across all media about the public debt and spending cuts. And people wonder why non-traditional political parties are emerging and consolidating, in England and in other parts of the UK.
The second set of comments made up part of a response by the President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, at Chatham House in response to a question about what he would do to promote women’s rights. (The event was on the record and so I’m not breaching the Chatham House rule.) Although rule of law (Sharia law; civil and criminal law) is crucial to this process, President Ghani said that economic empowerment is fundamental. Without that, women will remain vulnerable, particularly those in urban areas.
But it was his next statement that moved the dial for me. He said that economic empowerment requires real credit, not micro-credit.
I’d been stuck in a very inappropriate rut of thinking that any developing – or reviving – country would only need small sums of money for people to become self-sufficient or that the economy was on a scale where only small businesses would be required or that people would be content with small-scale activities. That isn’t President Ghani’s vision. He’s not looking to make people self-sufficient at the most basic level. For instance, he’s looking for chains such as Tesco and Walmart to share their knowhow in respect of distribution and delivery chains to allow Afghanistan to integrate its economy at a regional and international level so that foreign aid isn’t needed. He wants Afghan goods to be sold in stores in Europe and North America. And he sees women as playing an important role in that process.
It’s a vision that, to me, contrasted sharply with the tired re-hashing of political argument that had littered the media during the day. It felt forward-looking and inspiring, not tired and stodgy. Whoever can bring a vision to UK politics would have a rich seam to mine.