Tuesday 4 October 2016 7:00 pm

Our infantile political class is failing to appreciate the scale of Britain's challenges

Dr Adam Marshall is director general of the British Chambers of Commerce.
director general, British Chambers of Commerce

A country on the brink of a historic transition. An economy in need of serious, long-term thinking. A wider world that, as ever, remains a work in progress. A swathe of our own population here at home that remains on the margin.

These are serious, generation-spanning challenges that require all of us – whether in business, government or civil society – to be at our very best.

The flippancy with which they are so often treated, and the gimmickry that has for so long sat at the heart of our national political life, is therefore all the more astonishing.

Westminster and the 24-hour news cycle that gives it oxygen have together created a culture of gesture politics, lurching from “scandal” to “crisis” for the titillation of readers and spectators. It’s a combination of the melodrama of a soap opera and the cheap gags of late-night amateur hour at a provincial comedy club. Even for seasoned observers, it never fails to surprise.

The incredulity of the businesses I speak with, when faced with the more farcical aspects of our political system, is palpable. While there is respect for the Prime Minister’s initial approach, and the seriousness and dialogue with which she has so far tackled her role, there is disbelief over so much else.

Senior ministers embarked on turf wars and whispering campaigns. The “yah-boo” atmosphere of the Commons, which to many in business resembles a boarding school rather than a serious legislature. Opposition politicians becoming embroiled in pointless rows, while their party turns inward on itself. A civil service that, depending on who you ask, is either trying to steer the ship of state through choppy waters – or taking big decisions themselves. And all of it fed by a media culture that has allowed symbolism and rhetoric to trump facts, logic and reasoned argument.

Read more: Hammond is wrong to assume an infrastructure splurge will boost growth

The very short-termism that politicians love to decry when it pops up in a few well-known businesses is endemic in a Westminster that has lost the knack of thinking about the long term.

It’s time for a more serious, more cerebral and more focused politics – for the good of business, the economy, and the well-being of people all across the UK.

It’s time to organise around the three or four big generational challenges we face as a nation, and ensure resources are matched to tackling them.

And it’s also time to move decisions away from the centre, towards the people and businesses that have a direct stake in their success. Changing our politics means diluting the toxic over-centralisation of power and money at Westminster, and involving committed local businesspeople and residents in the choices that affect their prospects.

Serious thinking, focused strategy, greater autonomy – all of these things come from the playbook of successful businesses across the UK and around the world.

These are the ingredients that, properly mixed, generate the magic elixir of business and consumer confidence – the intangible but crucial factor that sits at the heart of all prospects for the future.

Theresa May understands this. Her task now, as her brief honeymoon ends and the serious decisions begin to come thick and fast, is to impose a new rigour and a new seriousness in our political culture. Businesses across Britain will wish her well in that gargantuan, but critical, task.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.