Bloody population. I know it’s a big deal. I know that kneejerk liberal acceptance of uncontrolled growth is hardly better than kneejerk xenophobic rejection of immigration. I know that Britain’s infrastructure isn’t keeping up with population growth and also that ‘reception communities’ at the sharp-end are suffering (as usual) while the urban elite sips espresso and wonders “immigration? What immigration?” (while purchasing another Romanian au pair off the internet). I know that the rejectionist stance (Migration Watch and UKIP and the rest of the unsavoury crop) is a hopeless, isolationist dead-end. I know all this.
What I wonder, though – what I’d really like to see us discuss – is what we could actually achieve with a population of 80 million. What could an ambitious, productive, well-educated nation achieve with a working-age population of over 50 million? We’re so pessimistic, so resigned to catastrophe and so governed by witless (and irresponsible) lobbyists and their extrapolations that we can’t imagine a positive outcome to any major change.
An 80 million population could and should move Britain up the economic league tables, protect the country’s status in a reordered world economy and create possibilities currently unimaginable. Would a population of 80 million justify greater national ambition: a manned space programme, genuine renewal of the Health Service, fusion power, industrial scale hydrogen, desalination, radical reform of education, fibre-to-the-home, a proper mass transit network: really big, planetary-scale goals that would stretch us as a nation and require every one of those 80 million people.
Should we actually seek a larger population? Or should we assume the worst, give in to the defeatists and misanthropes, shut the gates and wait for the tide of irrelevance and pointlessness to overcome us. Just asking.