Last week I went to South Korea for four days on an official Parliamentary delegation. The aim was to make links with the Korean parliament, and to understand the success of this booming country which has transformed itself in the last couple of decades.
But our first stop, and rightly so, was the Korean War Memorial. Our delegation leader, Conservative MP Harriet Baldwin, laid a wreath with the British Ambassador in memory of the 1,100 British servicemen who died in that terrible war.
It is a war that has never officially finished, and the country is still split with a United Nations-controlled demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas. It was clear that the lunatic, kleptocratic regime in North Korea poses a major threat to the regional security and indeed the rest of the world, but it seems that containing North Korea remains the best option. Still, the South hopes for reunification of their country at some point in the future.
One question I asked, was why Korea has become a powerhouse in the creative sectors. It’s clearly something they are proud of: Squid Game the most popular programme on Netflix; Parasite winning the Best Picture Oscar; and BTS the best-selling group in the world.
The UK is a creative giant too, but in Korea, education, investment, and valuing the arts rather than seeing them as a soft option – as we do too often in the UK – has paid dividends.
And it was that investment in the future, and in green technology, that was evident in their manufacturing and tech sectors. Global brands such as Hyundai, LG and Samsung bring in huge revenues for their country. But I was shocked when I saw why.
Our hosts proudly showed us a chart of the top 20 countries investing in research & development, as a proportion of national income. Korea was second only to Israel in that list with almost 5% of national income going to new technology and science research.
But we MPs all noted the UK was not even in the list of the top 20. It was a sobering moment.
I am clear the UK has brilliant and clever people in science, engineering and technology. We have great universities: look what Chester University is doing on energy technology at its Thornton site. But as a country we are too short-term in our thinking. Because the City of London demands a return on investment every quarter, a commitment to long-term growth is absent. A belief in sharing growth across society is absent.
We can either cut taxes to benefit the richest 1%, or invest in the brilliance of our people long-term. I know which I prefer.