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The Policy Ask with Ryan Wain: “Democracy is under threat – it’s becoming introspective”

The executive director of politics, insight and engagement at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change on the Great Man Theory, AI, and immigration reform.

By Spotlight

Ryan Wain is executive director, politics, insight and engagement at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. He had previously worked in the private sector, most notably at the international advertising agency TBWA. There, he worked on delivering campaigns for a number of clients, including the Labour Party.

How do you start your working day?

Stuff too much information into my bleary mind with the early headlines on a packed commuter train; through a combination of podcasts, Twitter (X, if you must) and news apps. The New Statesman first among them of course.

Which political figure inspires you?

Never a subscriber to the Great Man Theory, I can’t pick one. Witnessing the collective spirit and determination of the Liverpool dockers was my formative political memory. I have been inspired by them ever since.

What has been the most politically challenging moment of your career?

We’re in it now. Democracy is under threat. It is becoming introspective. It rewards mediocrity. It responds to the loudest voices – and it has an efficacy problem. Democracy is the best idea we’ve got; its flawed execution just now mustn’t be its undoing.

What one thing would improve our political culture?

Listening to the grievances of Britain’s working-class communities. Don’t exploit them as the populists do. Don’t ignore them as mainstream politics does. Build a policy agenda that responds to them.

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What policy or fund is the UK getting right?

Finally recognising that technology has changed everything through the AI summit.

And what policy should the UK government scrap?

Short custodial sentences. They destroy lives and families – and mean more victims of crime in the long-run.

What upcoming UK policy or law are you most looking forward to?

Planning reform. In the next decade, we must build more and better than we’ve ever built before – infrastructure, housing, green industry. Let’s make it as easy as possible to do so.

What piece of international government policy could the UK learn from?

A smart piece of legislation merged Canada’s bitty pension pots into megafunds and they now own more of the UK than our own pensioners do. We should follow suit. It’s never been more important and necessary to have alternatives to yet more tax increases to fund the big projects of our time.

What policy would help Labour win the next election?

Immigration reform that offers an alternative to Rwanda, fixing the small boats problem, while answering Britain’s economic woes and cultural challenges. Make it easier to bring overseas workers into sectors where high vacancies mean inflation is stuck – hospitality, construction etc – and ensure those who do make Britain their home are able to integrate fully. Britain isn’t anti-immigrant, but it does want clear and competent control.

Looking back over your career, what one thing would you have done differently?

Think about the future of Britain. It’s the sort of thing that’s on the curriculum at Eton and Harrow but definitely not a Liverpool comp. I’ll be forever grateful to my current employer for giving me permission to think.

This piece was first published on 24 November 2023 in a Spotlight special print edition about Labour policy. Read it here.

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Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team.
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