What happens when the jobs dry up in the new world? The left must have an answer
© Nate Kitch
We need to address the questions raised by rapid automation, and find new ways to redistribute power
If modern Britain has a defining problem, it boils down to an across-the-board failure to leave the past behind. Brexit, self-evidently, is a profoundly retrogressive project, helmed by Tory politicians split between continuity Thatcherites and devotees of a supposed one-nation Conservatism who still yearn for a quiet, sepia-tinted England. The latter are personified, in her own shaky way, by the prime minister. Labour, meanwhile, has a clear set of moral responses to an obvious social crisis, and the first stirrings of a convincing programme for government. But it, too, has a tendency to take refuge in fuzzy dreams of yesteryear: 1945, old flags and banners, the idea that a dependable job in a factory is still a byword for emancipation.
And all the time, the future takes shape. Academics at Oxford University’s Martin School say that as automation gains pace, even work in retail – which is all many places currently have left – “is likely to vanish, as it has done in manufacturing, mining and agriculture”. The era of driverless transport will soon be here. Even for the labour market’s winners, a digitised economy’s quickfire cycles and ever-changing demands are steadily killing job security.