Four futures for the UK, 2025-2050
Scenario planning is the strategy tool most favoured by blue chip companies.
If you’re a senior leader you too should be using scenarios to complement your existing business planning methods. Why? Because the environment in which we all operate is so turbulent that we can’t afford to rely on statistical data trends.
Management teams must creatively and collaboratively use their informed imaginations to create new insights about how the future might be, and to develop business strategies accordingly.
To show you how illuminating scenario planning can be I’ve outlined four future narratives stemming from the 2015 UK general elections. So that we can also have a bit of fun with it, I’m willing to wager that socialism could once again become a force to be reckoned with in the UK, which would have profound implications for the economy and business growth.
A return to socialism?
In 2013 Ed Miliband promised to bring back socialism to the UK; in 2015, he most decidedly did not. But just what if Ed was not in fact hopelessly out-dated, but rather ahead of his time? In 1945, 15 years after the onset of the global Great Depression, Labour won a landslide victory with a socialist mandate and created the welfare state in Britain. Seven years ago, a global credit crisis rocked Britain and the world, creating a recession from which most European economies have not fully recovered. Isn’t it possible that in another few years’ history might repeat itself?
I’ve contextualised the scenarios as follows:
To understand the methods I used to arrive at these scenarios, or if you have any thoughts or questions, I’d love to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let’s take a closer look at the scenarios.
Scenario 1 – Darwinism defeated
This scenario posits that the UK will make a hard swing to the Left, and the electorate will consistently vote for a party with a strong libertarian-socialist agenda. Here’s how it could happen.
The UK’s path towards a neo-socialist revival began with David Cameron and the Conservative Party’s unexpected victory in the 2015 general election. Cameron delivered a referendum on the UK’s place in the EU in early 2017, eighteen months after Greece left the Eurozone. Leaving the referendum so late backfired. Once the Grexit hysteria died down, the ruling Syriza Party began the arduous task of rebuilding Greece. Freed from the shackles of the bureaucratic and demanding Troika, and forced down a path of quasi-austerity due to its inability to borrow favourably, Greece began to make a difficult but measurably impressive recovery during 2016. With European economies still weak, UK polls showed that the once unthinkable Brexit would very likely happen.
It did. In 2018, the UK officially left the EU and so began a torrid five years of untangling the nation’s political, economic and legal ties with the EU. During this time, the UK’s fabled ‘special relationship’ with the United States broke down as Washington’s focus continued to move away from Europe towards Asia and the ever-turbulent Middle East. So began a period of anxious national soul-searching, in which the UK became more isolationist, inward-looking and nationalistic. An expected repeat referendum on Scotland’s place in the UK never came.
Progress was made in the diversification of the UK economy, as a generation of young people took advantage of the technology coding and engineering skills they’d been mandatorily taught at school, and opened their own businesses. The dramatic increase in the number of companies being founded, hiring staff and going public captured a zeitgeist of ‘Entrepreneurial Britain’. Despite this, as in the rest of the world, the gap between the rich and poor continued to widen.
In the 2025 general election, an aspirational young MP from the Labour-Liberals capitalised on the public mood. He ran a simple but powerful campaign that heralded the power of a nation of e-shopkeepers generating wealth for society but not the individual. He won a landslide victory on a platform of libertarian-socialist reform. An ailing Tony Blair was apocryphally claimed to have said, ‘it’s a triumph of the human spirit over the Darwinian pull of the free market. He reminds me of me’.
Scenario 2 – French flip flops
This scenario posits that the UK will oscillate around the political centre ground, with varying degrees of tension between political parties, and the voters and vested interests they represent.
In the aftermath of the 2015 general election, Labour MPs called on Ed Miliband’s successor to ‘go to the dark places’ and fundamentally review the purpose of the party. Andy Burnham, the new leader, did just that, distancing himself from the trade unions and the legacy of New Labour. ‘Both approaches are wrong’, Burnham said. ‘There will be no more Labour faux pas’. He pledged to take a pragmatic approach to the redistribution of wealth, and made education reform a manifesto priority. It was a masterstroke that helped Labour regain its footing as the party of the aspirational but squeezed middle classes right across Britain.
It was soon to be a Britain without Scotland. In 2020, the Scottish National Party held a second referendum on Scotland’s place in the UK, and secured a narrow vote in favour of secession. A smaller, more vulnerable Britain turned increasingly inward-looking at the quarter mark of the 21st Century. A worrying long-term trend of UK-born Muslims heading to Iraq, Syria and Yemen to fight as militants, and a similar influx of refugees continuing to flee these countries gave Labour and the Conservatives an opportunity to agree on a highly restrictive immigration cap. This coincided with the increased political engagement of third and fourth generation immigrants to the UK, many of whom adhered to a moderate Islam but who held deep convictions about tackling social problems in a highly diverse but unequal Britain. Britain had been restored to a two-party state, with a greater-than-ever polyphony of political voices. It was a paradigm that both Labour and the Conservatives struggled to take advantage of. For the next twenty years, neither party would hold office for more than one term at a time.
Looking back on her divisive political legacy, Nicola Sturgeon, the elder stateswoman of the SNP remarked of the UK, ‘it’s frozen in time, stuck in the past like France was 50 years ago. Westminster flip flops between centre-Left and centre-Right without achieving anything for the British people’.
Scenario 3 – Same sh*t, different day
This scenario posits that the UK electorate will continue to show a preference for centre-Right politics. Social media innovation, however, will dramatically change how democracy is done.
The threat to replace David Cameron with an empty chair during a televised debate between party leaders in 2015 set the stage for the agitprop political theatre of the mid 21st Century. The consumerisation of UK politics began with the advent of mobile phone voting in 2020, which rapidly reversed the downward trend of voter turnout that had characterised the ‘noughties’. Ballot box convenience marked the user tipping point for Votr, the ‘Linked In of politics’, that allowed voters to create a profile, rate party policies, and engage directly with their MPs. The rise of Votr made political transparency the number one priority for the ruling party, and 24/7 political thought leadership an essential activity for opposition parties.
The big issues of the day remained consistently similar. As technological progress continued unabated, concerns about online privacy and the uses of personal data became more heated. A conundrum that has never been convincingly answered was why immigration to the UK stayed high during these years, despite strong rhetoric to tackle it and the interminable sluggishness of the economy. Nevertheless, the UK has become something of a paragon of a multicultural society, despite the strain a large increase in urban populations across the UK placed on public infrastructure, the NHS and schools. Perhaps most worryingly, no government has yet been able to adequately stimulate job creation in response to the increasing automation of skilled labour, resulting in a large increase in short-term work and reliance on the welfare system.
Writing on her Votr profile, ‘Gal Fawkes’, an unemployed accountant currently retraining, pithily captured mainstream public sentiment when she wrote: ‘The one thing that’ll never change is that our individual aspirations are always tempered by that British sense of justice and fairness. Same sh*t, different day!’
Scenario 4 – Greed is good
This scenario posits that the UK will make a hard swing to the Right, in which time we’ll see a large reduction in the scope of free healthcare and unemployment benefits.
The Conservative government that presided over the Brexit were remarkably successful in keeping Britain competitive. Few multinationals followed HSBC’s lead and moved their headquarters elsewhere. London’s geographic positioning kept the financial and professional services sector strong. However, the most striking progress was made in Britain’s technology sector, which grew outwards from the ‘creative corridor’ established between east London and Cambridge. This fertile ecosystem, long breeding remarkable innovation as a result of collaborations between scientists, artists, technologists and the media, was given a steroid-like injection of capital from all corners of the City of London, when banks began acquiring in anger venture capital knowledge.
A strong economy bolstered confidence in the UK, and prompted successive governments to further emphasise Britain’s departure from the EU. A number of prime ministers were at pains to rekindle the UK’s ‘special relationship’ with the US, which was increasingly open to a strengthening of ties due to the decline of its own global hegemonic dominance. As in the past, the special relationship found most common ground in the willingness of both nations to invest heavily in military spending, and embark on a new series of serious and costly interventions in the Middle East and Asia. Nationalism across the UK, from the shipyards of Scotland to the farmlands of Wales and the knowledge industries of England, took a jingoistic turn.
Despite an ongoing housing crisis, exacerbated by the skewed ownership of capital assets amongst an affluent and aging ‘golden’ post-war generation, and a rising employment crisis stemming from the automation of skilled labour, a culture of extreme wealth celebration developed. Technology leaders were the new bankers, hording and flaunting wealth, avoiding taxes, denigrating a growing class of workers who subsist on low-paid, short-term project work for which they are overqualified. Academics theorised that this culture was the result of globalised ‘hyper-competition’ between countries and markets, fostering anxiety in people and a need to identify with something symbolic of aspiration and a relative sense of stability.
Rajan Paramoorthy, an analyst at RBS-Barclays, said: ‘The sense that we’re at the peak of the tech bubble is making a few investors nervous, but for now greed is most certainly still good’.