Wilson’s White Heat of Technology: Labour’s Green Industrial Revolution 

Labour’s Green Industrial Revolution

Labour’s Green Industrial Revolution

Labour’s Green Industrial Revolution will create one million green jobs and 886,000 climate apprenticeships in the transition to a low-carbon economy. This will be supported by the introduction of a National Education Service, providing cradle-to-grave education for all, free at the point of use, which will help people to reskill for the new, low-carbon economy we need to be working towards.

The launch of a National Transformation Fund is further proof of Labour’s commitment to our planet, with £250 billion ringfenced for investment in green industry, and in tackling climate change. The promise of an Electric Vehicle Revolution, which will safeguard 186,000 jobs and create 32,000 new ones in automotive manufacturing hubs, will give a boost to communities currently struggling after deindustrialisation while making our transport systems greener.

Wilson’s White Heat of Technology the road not travelled.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution. On the 1st of October 1963, Harold Wilson delivered a speech to the Labour Party conference in Scarborough outlining Labour’s plan for science.  The speech covered the increasing impact of automation on British industry, the effects that mechanisation was having on employment, and outlined strategies that a Socialist government could take to ensure that the white heat of technology benefited all citizens.

In all our plans for the future, we are re-defining and we are re-stating our Socialism in terms of the scientific revolution. But that revolution cannot become a reality unless we are prepared to make far-reaching changes in economic and social attitudes which permeate our whole system of society.

The Britain that is going to be forged in the white heat of this revolution will be no place for restrictive practices or for outdated methods on either side of industry.

The need for a highly skilled workforce dominated Wilson’s programme of action: produce more scientists, retain more scientists and make better use of our scientists. In 1963, he highlighted that Russia was “training 10 to 11 times as many scientists and technologists”. Today many of our global competitor countries are recognising the importance of research, innovation, and skills to their citizens and economies – and are investing accordingly.

And while it’s still true that we produce far fewer graduates in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) than our international competitors, it’s not just the numbers that matter. In 2011, 41% of degrees awarded in China were in science and engineering, compared to just 22% in the UK. Although some question the quality of this boom in Chinese STEM graduates; a 2005 McKinsey report found that just 10% of Chinese engineers are educated to a “global standard”. But you can bet that our 22% will beat the odds and punch above their weight on the global scientific stage, despite being outnumbered and increasingly outgunned in investment. The quality of our graduates remains high and our culture of innovation runs very deep indeed. It’s an edge we need to keep fighting to maintain.

Of course, it’s not just universities that will supply us with the highly skilled workers we need. Wilson said, “there is another thing we have got to do in the field of higher education, and this is to put an end to snobbery”. We must recognise and promote the value of alternative pathways to careers in STEM such as the vital role of further education in addressing the urgent shortage of technicians. Jeremy Corbyn has talked about the need to fix these pathways and it has become increasingly clear that both higher and further education need to work together to make that a reality.

Many of the science events will focus on the life sciences – a sector in which we are a world leader. We will hear from medical research charities about the need to ensure research is at the heart of the NHS and from industry about the barriers they face in trying to collaborate with our research base. These collaborations drive innovation and we must enable their success with nimble decision-making and funding processes.
We must see investment in medical research and the staff to maintain our NHS more Doctors more nurses and public funded auxiliary support companies to provide the backup support from meals to beds.

Wilson’s speech captures the excitement and inherent possibility of science, “we are living at a time of such rapid scientific change that our children are accepting as part of their everyday life things which would have been dismissed as science fiction a few years ago.” The pace of scientific change hasn’t slowed since 1963. We might still be waiting for jet packs but the widespread use of driverless cars and augmented reality is closer than ever and Wilson’s sentiment remains true.

As he said, “Unless we can harness science to our economic planning, we are not going to get the expansion we need.” I couldn’t agree more. While the narrative may have shifted from economic “planning” to smarter inward investment and strategic government action, the central role of science in driving an economy that works for working people remains the same. Fifty years on, the legacy of Wilson’s “white heat” call to arms has never mattered more.

It was 55 years ago when Wilson made this speech white heat he laid the case for the UK to move forward to become a front-runner in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.  He outlined the need for more scientists more training, better education, his argument for higher education and the building of institutes for learning, housing and leisure. He foresaw the need to regenerate declining industrial areas placing centres of education in these areas regenerating areas through innovation and research. His vision was to create a socialist movement that worked to master the coming of the Age of Robots. The vision of a new industrial age that would transform society fit for all and leaving no one behind.

What led to the UK’s lag in realizing the vision of “white heat,” the fourth industrial revolution? Were the British people resistant to technological change, or did our collective intelligence fall short of mastering innovation? Contrary to such assumptions, the real culprit lies in the clutches of establishment control.

The divergence from a trajectory of progress into a seemingly perpetual cycle of economic stagnation and industrial decline was not due to the populace’s reluctance or lack of readiness. Rather, the UK’s adherence to an antiquated economic model, reminiscent of a zombie, is the result of entrenched establishment interests.

The affluent and powerful have comfortably overseen the transformation of the UK into a service-oriented nation. Today’s zombie economics, a downward spiral for workers, facilitates global access for the rich and so-called elites to manipulate and control a system rigged by stockbrokers and banks. Public funds are squandered, with millions poured into private companies, and public assets are sold off, often accompanied by hefty commissions for the well-connected.

This control is the linchpin of a rigged system. The fear of change, harbored by the so-called elites and the establishment, has persisted for generations. The very idea of revolution, whether industrial or societal, is viewed as a threat to their control. The fourth industrial revolution, rather than ushering in a torrent of innovation, has been a mere trickle, dominated by the mass production prowess of the Far East.

While robotics revolutionize the creation of innovative devices worldwide, the UK remains excluded from the manufacturing process. The lack of investment and a coherent industrial strategy is a deliberate deficit, as the elite sees no need for a working class beyond mere consumers and subscribers.

The opportunity to redefine our role from mere users and subscribers to creators and producers lies within reach. A comprehensive industrial strategy, rooted in education, training, and government support for research and development, can propel the UK into a 21st-century powerhouse of robotics and technology.

The Labour manifesto illuminates a path forward through social and economic change, advocating for a complete rebalancing of industry and economic growth. From Scotland to Cornwall, Scarborough to Wales, restructuring disenfranchised areas is paramount. The ghosts of the first industrial revolution, symbolized by figures like George Stephenson and Richard Arkwright, echo in the disused industrial wastelands now overshadowed by retail parks.

The time for change is now, marked by a plan that includes the many. The impending departure from the EU, as forecasted by government economic impact assessments, need not adhere to the bleak outlook. The current economic model, tilted heavily towards services, is unsustainable and risks another financial collapse. The choice is clear: maintain the status quo with the zombie model or embark on a 15-year journey of building and industrial transformation that not only propels economic progress but instigates meaningful social and socialist change for all of society. The junction of change demands a comprehensive and inclusive plan for the future.

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