With Britain so plugged in to the global economy, the pandemic has raised questions about our ability to provide for ourselves. Fears of shortages at the outset gave the concept of economic resilience – “the ability of an economy as a whole to cope, recover from and reconstruct after a shock” – a new significance.
Demos’ summer polling suggested a protectionist boost, with a rise from 76% to 84% of people who thought Britain’s self-sufficiency was important, even if it cost them more as consumers. Yet our new research reveals a more nuanced picture, and a deeper economic consensus that seeks to reform the economy to address weaknesses rather than simply close ourselves off.
What we found
In response to our earlier poll, we used Polis – a survey tool which allows users to add their own statements for others to vote on – to explore where people now stand on trade, economic self-sufficiency and resilience, and Britain’s relationship more broadly with the world.
As this is an open-access survey, we can’t tell exactly how these results map onto the wider population, but we can see how different viewpoints overlapped into two groups. Group A is more internationalist, in favour of global cooperation and interdependence, and less inclined to view the economy in terms of patriotism. In contrast, Group B is more nationalist, in favour of economic independence, and inclined to view the economy patriotically.
Divisions obscure common ground, however. Importantly, it is not the case that the two groups are blindly committed to even their most defining positions. Our initial polling asked whether people would pay more for UK products, even if these were more expensive than imported alternatives. Our Polis found strong agreement from Group B, yet 69% of the same group also agreed that ‘Having a duty to buy British assumes the consumer can afford to’. Evidently they would not castigate those opting for cheaper imports out of financial necessity, suggesting their notion of economic duty is more nuanced.
Similarly, Group A is not entirely opposed to upping their consumption of domestic products at an expense – 67% would ‘buy more goods produced in the UK to help the environment, even if they cost more than imported alternatives’. What’s more, 79% of Group B would do the same.
Where does everyone agree?
These contingencies point to a deeper consensus. Three related points stand out:
- Ensuring Trade and Resilience: 81% of all participants agree ‘The UK should develop extensive global trade relationships, but also ensure a buffer against ‘just in time’ supply chains for critical goods’.
- Preparing for Disasters: 89% of all participants agreed that ‘We need better disaster planning which enables us to scale up quickly and leverage business capabilities, including re-purposing themselves’.
- Protecting the Climate: 81% of all participants agreed ‘Nations who ignore climate change & continue building coal fired power plants should be penalised by applying tariffs to their goods.’
What does this mean for policymakers?
The self-sufficiency swerve we found belies deeper motivations. This disaster may have driven reappraisal but people had others in mind too: 86% overall agreed that ‘What used to be thought of as a rare disaster now seems to happen with more frequency e.g flooding as a result of climate change’. Politicians should feel emboldened by these results to build resilience against disasters into Britain’s economy, and move forward with a vision of our global economic relationships that foreground the green economy.
Keep in touch
It isn’t too late to have your say on the UK’s approach to the economy, role on the world stage, and national resilience after the pandemic. Join the conversation, and tell us your views.
This research is part of Renew Normal – our project to understand how Britain could and should change in the wake of Covid-19. Make sure to sign up to get the latest updates and be part of the national conversation.