by John McCormick, Palgrave macmillan, 2007

Decline of Britain?

Yes, certainly, it looks like that! I was surprised and saddened  to read this book. Surprised to see that Britain as most Indians know it for all these years, the Britain of the great empire is now shrunken into a small nation of just 6o million people, even there you find a high percentage, as much as  7.9 per cent, on-native Britons, most of them from India, Pakistan, Bangladeshis and from West Indies.

There is now a huge racial issue, the immigration of the Asians and the migration of the EU citizens have changed the very face of the old Britain as I knew of it. In fact, I was also interested to see new books, learned treatises, a new book on the UK, Seeking a role: The UK 1951-1970,the latest in the very established series of the New Oxford History of England  series up to the present.

In fact, this volume also coincides my own time in UK in the late Fifties and the early Sixties, one of the defining period in the changed face of the Britain.

Now more than any other, I was shocked also to read just now the latest statistics, that in the last 51 years of its existence, only now comes the news that for the first  time there is a decline in the GDP of the country by as much as 2.1 per cent!  This surely shows the declining economic fortunes of the country that was once the centre of the world.

This book brings me up to date  with the fast changing economic, political and social scenario. There is a gripping sense of nostalgia everywhere in Britain and the tone of the very book here is very sobering and even apologetic.

The British were a highly disciplined people, their class structure is very strong and sustaining but now one sees the old families are disappearing, the Queen herself looks forlorn. Another piece of latest news is that the Queen’s household expenses are running into deficit and she has to seek the government’s help as otherwise, she is dipping into her savings for her expenses. She no more enjoys the privileges of  exclusive air force or navy at her disposal. She doesn’t travel by her own ship nor does she have her own planes for use. She has to charter a commercial aircraft and that too at short notice and that costs money.

Now, the class system once gave Britain its unique leadership of societies ,in all liberal societies of the world. Now, there is a growing middle class and the middle class rise means the decline in old fashioned class system, where there were huge land-owning classes, the old aristocracy gave Britain its unique party system and democracy. Now, the New Labour is very middle and even we can say lower-middle class and there are too many scandals of too silly nature like the MPs claiming false expenses items from the government treasury.

Britain is also becoming a mobile society, too many people are moving into the Southern England and so the population density is also more in the South while Scotland is sparsely populated.

London continues to dominate national life and London defines still the British culture and lifestyle. London is still the home for tennis, in Wimble, football at Wimbley in north London, BBC, cricket in Lords and also home for the world’s best theatres and, opera and ballet and the best centre for the world media. World’ famous newspapers and magazines are still printed and published only from London.

Thus, the glow of London shines yet and still we find the British life is becoming more dull and pedestrian compared with cities elsewhere. New York and  Paris are more vibrant, French culture and style,  fashion and literature is much admired and so too other countries and their growth prospects. Certainly, India and China are the promising nations, Bangalore is the Silicon Valley. The average standard of living in Bangalore seems higher than what we see in the visiting Britons and other Europeans. At any rate, the way Indians do their IT business, outsourcing and their software skills, the way  the average Bangalore IT entrepreneurs do business gives the impression that Indians feel more comfortable to do business with Americans is very smart and very satisfying. To order a book published in London through eBay seems more comfortable and easy than through any  London stores!

So too the comforts of google, twitter and facebook and what have you.

Britons seem to have fallen back in international standards of doing business. The Brits have also become more embedded in their prejudices and what the Brits write about India is unreliable and this would further reduce their standing in the eyes of the world. Now, the social scene in current Britain certainly gives  some discomfort.

The book itself seems

very hesitant to talk openly about the changing and changed class structure in Britain today. Yes, it is noted here that in 1914, there were upper classes, mainly landed aristocracy and perhaps those who served as high ranking army personnel and also civil servants serving in India, like governor generals and viceroys etc. and peasantry, today it is noted that 60-65 per cent of Britons consider themselves as middle class, some non-manual job holders and the working class, that is those who consider themselves as working class is still a high of 30  per cent, bus drivers and laundry men etc and various unskilled men and women doing harsh jobs.

Class differences and distinctions are very high in Britain, because it is said Britain never experienced revolutions and wars as it was in France and Germany and other countries. But still Britain remains an acutely conscious class country, where you would be discerned subtly and unmistakably as to which class you belong. Thus, landownership, residences in the rural countryside is a sign of great social prestige and distinction in Britain.

The Queen seeking 4 million “par rise” is a shrieking headline in the daily newspapers!

And also the education whether you had been to a public school and Oxford matters a great deal in Britain!

But what galled me  beyond belief is  the persistence of large scale poverty in Britain even now. Some harsh social realities also hit hard on your face.
Briefly, there is  a vast poor, single parent family are poor, there is a wide and widening gap between the rich and the poor. Children born outside the marriage is huge, one-sixth of the population,40 per cent of the children are born outside marriage, divorces are so high, and a decline in social stigma attached to divorcees, the Queen’s family itself is now a big source of family breakdowns!
2.5 million children are living in families that are below poverty line, really a very highly unacceptable proportion for  a country of Britain’s  affluence.

So too a high homeless population, officialy 1,50,000 families and unofficially double the size, says the book.

Even in life expectancy, Britain comes eighth, after Japan, Spain, Australia, Canada, Italy and France.

There are also political developments inside Britain, Wales and Scotland has now separate Asssemblies, the Ireland division is still a simmering issue.
What will be the future of Britain from now onwards?

Britain  still entertains many illusions of grandeyes, it is a grand delusion now!
USA doesn’t care much for the so-called Atlantic  special relationship, Commonwelath is as good as gone for ever, and Britian faces the prospect of adjusting its vision to the hard realities of the contemporary world.
The lessons for outsiders, more so Indians who still seem to be taken in by the hang-ups of the past.

Britain is a middle level Third World type country, with little prospects to compete with the emerging big nations like China and India and even countries like Iran and other Gulf nations.

May be Britain  can win friends and influence the peoples of the world if it concentrates on its inherent strengths.

It is a country of very high quality education, it has some of the venerated institutions of learning and learned societies like the royal Society and British Academy. Its media is still unmatched. The quality newspapers and magazines dominate the civilised world. It is good in sports and also finance.

So, the average level of its human resources, its book publishing  capabilities is very high and above all its English language would give Britain a head start in so many ways.

Its  research and science studies  are still high. But unfortunately, the current world is dominated by  new technologies, IT and biotech and these two industries have much impact on the lives of the planet’s people.

So, Britain must be only too aware about what is good for it and what to look forward to in the world ahead of us.

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