Happy New Year – and Onward to 2021

2020-12-31T15:32:00+00:00 December 31st, 2020|Blog|

This has been a pig of a year but it ends with hope of things to come. Yesterday the EU (Future Relationship) Act passed the House of Commons with a majority of 448 and the world’s best hope of post-viral normality – the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine – was approved for immediate use. These momentous achievements will not be the end of the Brexit saga or the pandemic. But they do signal the beginning of the end of both, and allow us to start thinking seriously about the future.

After the war must come the reconstruction. There is much to do. The economy is suffering extreme short-term distress and long-term geographic imbalance. The protective fabric of society is fraying and the UK’s national community – the Union – is in peril from separatism and neglect. And we have just three decades to decarbonise our domestic economy and convince the rest of the world to do the same.

These are the issues that will drive our politics in 2021 – and they are where Onward will focus its energies. Thank you for all your support – and we look forward to working with you next year.

Happy New Year from The Onward team

What we are looking out for next year

This year more than most proves that political predictions are a fool’s errand. But here are some things that the Onward team is expecting to see in the next year:

Onward’s Programme in 2021

We spent much of December finalising our programme for 2021 and are excited to announce that we will be working on four key research programmes over the coming twelve months:

1. Levelling Up

The Prime Minister has said that now Brexit is done, the Government’s focus is “to level up and spread opportunity across the country”. Onward’s Levelling Up programme, launched last May, has already scored several policy wins, including reform of the Treasury Green Book, a £4 billion investment in regional intra-city transport, and the new National Infrastructure Bank announced in the Budget. In September, we set up the Levelling Up Taskforce, which now counts 65 MPs as members. 

In early 2021, we will publish papers on how tax reform can contribute to levelling up, the role of innovation in fixing Britain’s regional productivity problem, and the regional balance of foreign direct investment in the UK. We will also shortly launch a major series of events on Levelling Up, examining how transport infrastructure, devolution, digital and financial investment and clusters can level up lagging parts of the UK. Get in touch with James Blagden to find out more.

2. Getting to Net Zero

In November, the UK and Italy host COP26, the UN Climate Conference. Last year, the UK was the first major economy to legislate for Net Zero emissions by 2050, prompting China, Japan, France and South Korea to increase their ambition. If the USA, as expected, signs up to a similar target under President Biden, more than three fifths of global CO2 emissions, and three quarters of global GDP, will be subject to legally binding net zero targets. Three decades is not a long time and the changes required are enormous. 

In 2021, Onward will launch a major year-long programme of work, Getting to Zero, to explore the political and policy challenges to net zero and to develop bold policies to help us achieve decarbonisation. It will include papers on decarbonising incumbent industries, retraining workers whose jobs are set to go, and setting the market incentives to drive change. Get in touch with Ted Christie-Miller to hear more.

3. Repairing our Social Fabric

The pandemic has taught us both the vitality of social connection and its fragility to many people and in many places. While the early stages of the crisis were characterised by amazing acts of kindness, recent months have witnessed rising isolation, mental illness and social decay. It remains to be seen whether high streets, pubs or local community assets can be revived. While the pandemic has been disastrous for society, this is a long term trend. As Onward’s work on social fabric as shown, the decline of community is also highly correlated with the political volatility of recent years. 

In 2021, Onward will continue our work exploring the state of community in the UK, publishing a series of policies to reinvigorate belonging and equip fraying communities with the powers and capital needed to renew themselves. We will also look at what works in regenerating left behind places and seek to understand why some people, especially young people, appear more detached from community today than other generations were at their age. Get in touch with Fjolla Krasniqi to work with us.

4. Defending the Union

The United Kingdom will face one of its sternest tests in the next twelve months, if – as expected – the SNP secures a majority in Holyrood. Westminster will rightly seek to delay any potential referendum but it will be difficult to sustain a position that another vote has no mandate. With nearly six in ten voters now backing secession, the Union is on shaky ground. 

Yet for all the awareness of its fragility, there is surprisingly little research on the Union. In 2021, Onward will work with leading campaigners to better understand how different parts of the UK view the Union, what values and culture it holds for different groups, and seek to develop policies which will defend and improve the United Kingdom in the face of those who seek to pull it apart. Get in touch with Will Tanner to hear more.

Thank you for working with us this year. Onward to 2021!