“The global race” is one of David Cameron’s favourite phrases. He uses it regularly to talk about how Britain needs to be more competitive, and to justify austerity and its related policies. If we don’t cut the deficit, for example, we’ll fall behind in the global race.
Last week in his speech, Ed Miliband repeatedly referred to this race too. He disagrees with Cameron about what the race is, but he’s in no doubt that there is a race. I’m sure Cameron will respond in his own conference speech, but I’d like to get a few things sorted, as I’m a little confused.
First, what kind of race are we talking about? This seems like fairly critical information, but I’m not sure what it is that they have in mind. A space race, an arms race? Egg and spoons? Or in Mr Miliband’s case, perhaps a sack race?
According to Cameron, “you know what the global race means because you’re living it,” but that sounds like dodging the question.
Second, who are we racing? Presumably, if we’re all being urged to join in, then it must be a national race and we are competing as a country. But are we running against other countries? Which ones? If we’re competing against Tuvalu or Lesotho, that doesn’t seem very fair. But then it’s not very fair if we’re up against China either. They’re bigger than we are and I can’t see it ending well. Either way, the race is well underway. Cameron says “the world is breathing down our neck”, which sounds a bit like Britain has been on a breakaway and is being drawn back into the peloton.
Some suggest we’re in a race against global warming, but that’s not a race we want to win, apparently – Chancellor Osborne says “I don’t want us to be the only people out there in front of the rest of the world,” when it comes to climate change. Then again, Number10 has a habit of adding the hashtag #globalrace to tweets about the oil industry, so perhaps we’re in a race towards global warming rather than away from it. Cameron says that without fracking, “we could lose ground in the tough global race”, which would support that interpretation. Miliband however, promises to “take all of the carbon out of our energy by 2030” and suggests that “that is how we win the race.” I’m clearly not the only one who isn’t sure what the race is all about.
Which brings me to my third question, which is looking increasingly important – where is this race to, exactly? This seems pretty vital, because a race is impossible without a finishing line. You can’t even tell who’s winning – you might be ahead of everybody else, but heading in the wrong direction. If we’re running without a destination in mind, it’s not a race. We might as well be lemmings, and we know what happens to them.
Miliband has given us some information here. He insists it’s a “race to the top, not to the bottom”, and that’s really important to him. “We’ve never believed in a race to the bottom,” he adds in case there was any confusion. “We’ve always believed in a race to the top.” But the top of what?
David Cameron on the other hand says that “Britain is in a global race to succeed”, but I can’t find Succeed on the map.
Finally, who signed us up for this race? I’m more of a team sports person myself, so I’m pleased that we’re all in this together, but I’d still rather not be entered into competitions without asking first. Especially if it’s a race with high stakes, and it turns out this one’s to the death. “In this global race” says David Cameron, “you are quick or you’re dead”.