Could 2022 be remembered as a turning point when it comes to deregulation?
The short-lived yet catastrophic free market experiment of the Liz Truss government has severely dented the credibility of claims about the power of deregulated markets. Key ideologues who have played such a central role in shaping public discourse have been left deeply discredited (although not silenced).
At the same time, risks associated with deregulation cut through to the public on a number of issues. Chief among these were the ongoing revelations about the industrial scale sewage pollution which has left UK rivers struggling. Critically, the issue shone a light on the realities of weakened enforcement.
The Retained EU Law Bill has also provided a focal point for campaigners, with the Attack on Nature galvanising one of the most effective environmental campaigns of the year. It is also notable that the Bill has prompted greater cross sectoral collaboration, critical because it highlights the systemic threat posed by deregulation. Importantly, the risk of serious and unnecessary disruption has spurred the private sector to become vocal, with key actors now publicly challenging spurious claims about the economic benefits of deregulation.
It would be foolish to under-estimate the task ahead. Indeed, bar some key exceptions, the policy agenda remains tipped very much in favour of deregulation. From banking to childcare and online safety, deregulatory ideologies continue to undermine sensible and necessary protections which the public support.
Ideas about burdensome rules have penetrated public discourse in the UK. Regulations are still widely portrayed as an assault on fundamental British values, a drag on growth and job creation, a threat to individual liberty, and an insult to ‘common sense’. These narratives exert huge power – they have been established and reinforced over decades, have infiltrated everyday media and public discourse, and have become entrenched in the way that many conceive of regulations today.
But whilst there is no room for complacency, developments this year suggest that there is a growing appetite for a different approach, one which acknowledges that regulations are indeed the protections which enable us to manage the economy in a fairer, greener way.
Our aim in 2023 is to seize on this change of mood. Working with our amazing network of civil society supporters, alongside a wider network of allies from politics, media and business, we want to put forward an alternative vision. In addition to the Protection Pledge, we will be publishing a collection of essays by leading figures from the private sector setting the score straight on the links between strong protection and economic growth. Alongside, plans for a Protection Manifesto are underway – a document we hope will inspire a race to the top on regulations in advance of the next General election.
Phoebe Clay is co-Director of Unchecked UK