UK. A Failing State?

It is now nearly six months since my last posting. I have been taking a break from writing, concentrating instead on family, keeping fit, exploring nature and taking stock. I have learned a lot. I have also been watching in writer’s silence as my country, of which I am increasingly embarrassed, even ashamed, has blundered forward from one self inflicted harm to the next. The post Thatcher era of Tory government is becoming a calamity.

Government is in the hands of a political ego class unmatched for incompetence since patience snapped and Cromwell raised his sword, sustained by a greedy, self-centred and self-serving mainly southern elite, who feel good about themselves because they go to church and give to charity.

State institutions, including the NHS, education, social care, immigration and much else has become dysfunctional due to underfunding over many years. They are functioning at all only because those who work in them do so beyond the call, since they feel it their moral duty as  citizens and human beings not to let those in need down. If money is not the issue but wise choices are required, successive governments make the wrong calls.

There is at the top a misplaced concept of Global Britain, wasting resources and energy on some bombastic crusade to be noticed, when all the world can see that year by year England (more than Scotland or Wales) is falling into an accelerating spiral of decline. For example Germany has 1000 miles of high speed rail, France 1740 and the UK 71. But the plan is, note a plan not a fact, is for 250, of which only 170 is under construction.  But do we hear the southern establishment cheer for this modest effort? No, mostly. What we hear is that it would be cheaper to ‘upgrade existing lines.’

It is not a choice of one or the other. We have to have both. In China, which the same people tell us we have to ‘stand up to’ and ‘confront’, there are 26,100 miles. These countries are adding more miles each year than we are so the gap will grow. They know you cannot build a modern economy if goods and people spend hours of every day in traffic queues on an inadequate motorway system  with too few miles and too much traffic. Neither can either travel by cancelled trains.

Inflation is still not under control. Massive flaws in expectations and forecasting, by the Treasury and the Bank of England, made worse by a failing financial model, have left them floundering in a morass of wishful thinking, buffeted by markets which now dominate rather than serve. Meanwhile ordinary people, working hard to keep afloat in unprecedented living cost hikes, are struggling to keep the nation going. Because it is not the markets who enable A&E to respond, the lights to come on, the toilets to flush, the water to be drinkable, the groceries to be on the shelves, the rubbish to be collected, the children to be taught and all the processes of modern life to take place unhindered. It is the people.

The Tories have now been in power for thirteen years of austerity and underinvestment, driven by an ideology which demonizes the state upon which, as Covid taught us, modern civilisation ultimately depends. As our detached leaders tinker with legislation at the margin with little positive impact, then indulge in back stabbings and rows, churning ministers and governments on a scale never before seen, our international reputation for political stability is comprehensively trashed. Global Britain invokes not admiration but a snigger.

The people are becoming increasingly angry. Anger which will grow. They know they have been misled over and over and lied to again and again. The time will come when their anger boils over. That will indeed be a time to remember. It will also be when Labour will have to show it can step up to the plate. It will be the biggest political ask for many generations.

Labour already has the best brains of the current generation of politicians (how on earth could a thinking person support the modern conservative party?) and it knows that things are not right. But if it for one moment thinks that a new law here and a tax hike there will do the job, it will fail. A Labour government, maybe including Lib Dems and Greens, will have to lead the full rethink and reboot of the economic model, the structure of society and the role of the state. The only foundations upon which a modern enlightened and civilised nation can prosper are not those which place the individual above the many. Civilisations have always been defined by their ability to create individual prosperity by collective effort, not the other way around.

Labour and its allies, who will be  almost everyone save for the remnants of the conservative party and the DUP, will have to lead the charge into the  green industrial revolution. It will have to give priority to the re-structuring of traditional industry, now mostly exported to China, to make at home a very high proportion of what we consume. Almost all we buy today is made outside this country.

When we exported manufacturing to reduce costs, we also exported the jobs. Nothing was done by the Thatcherite tendency, which began the trend now taking us to the edge, to find meaningful alternative employment for so many skilled workers. Not only did this bring a generation of despair, it killed off the ambition to acquire a skill.

Change must come to almost everything we think of as our rocks and foundations. The extent to which these will have to change, upgrade and enlighten, is way above anything now on the agenda from any political discourse or media commentary. The constitution, parliament, the monarchy, the education system, the NHS, the Union, money itself, will all require a major and significant makeover. But the reward, if we have the collective courage to rise to the challenge, will be that they and we will all survive.

By so doing we will contribute to the management of multiple problems building up in the world, of which climate change is front left and centre.  We will have the opportunity to offer sight of a future that is less about bad and more about good. A world of fairer shares and less greed.

That could be a moment to talk big about Global Britain.

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