Returning to the UK after a prolonged spell overseas has been a deeply dispiriting experience- so depressing, in fact that any blog comments of mine seem somehow inadequate. It is not just the chaos that has engulfed our airports, though the fact that we are not members of the Schengen area and our politicians have embraced intrusive but futile border checks now means that it can take more than two hours to enter your own country. The Libyan flight that landed at the same time as my flight from Copenhagen seemed to get through far more rapidly. I hear that the immigration officers intend to go on strike in protest at these conditions, and for once I can't say I blame them. Even when one has negotiated the squalid airport terminals, emerging frustrated and fuming, worse is yet to come. Despite a dramatic fall against the Euro, the fact is that London is still no bargain- the Heathrow Express is, mile-for-mile, one of the most expensive train rides in the world.
The air of defeat is palpable: so many of my friends from overseas are now making plans to leave London- some because they have lost their lucrative City careers, but more and more simply cite the idea that "London has lost its fun". The bitter shrillness of recrimination is turning the British into introverts. The newspapers fail to show a single spark of intelligence, preferring instead to play the pointless blame game: Politicians, Bankers, Bloggers all have been subject to intense fire. Yet at the end of the day the newspapers themselves will not accept that they themselves, with hypocritical cant and salacious tittle-tattle, have corroded much of Society. When newspapers raise a moral panic about sex crimes, it would be as well for them not to advertise premium sex phone lines and obvious links to prostitution. The former broadsheets now carry content that would have disgraced a tabloid not 20 years ago.
Britain has become coarse-a society once renowned for politeness is now drowned by a chorus of four letter words and drunken abuse. The long time squalor of much of the public sector is now matched by the collapse of the banking and financial sector and with it the permanent diminution of British Power. Instead of talking about how the labour force might use its own enterprise to build up small business, the talk is of state support and benefits- benefits that we can no longer afford. Unless there is a change of tack, it is quite clear that the UK is facing a drift towards further decline and even eclipse.
Of course much of this curmudgeonly spells reflects the profound dissatisfaction with the current government- only remove Labour from power, goes the argument, and the national mood will recover. Of course the end of Labour is certainly now quite necessary, but it is not sufficient.
Margaret Thatcher once looked around her cabinet table and said that if ministers understood industry, then more of them would be working in it. However, the current bunch of special pleaders for the public sector seem set to be replaced not with business people but with a bunch of PR merchants- and they, with no executive experience are likely to have no more basic competence that the current incumbents.
It will not be enough to change the party of government, but the system of government will need root and branch reform- and in particular the size and costs of public administration, across the board, will need to be reduced dramatically.
Apart from Vince Cable, it is hard to see which politician will have the courage to explain this to the electorate- in short to have the courage to lead.
As I return through the squalor of London Airport to the bright, modern and brand new facilities of Estonia, I feel a sense of relief and also foreboding for my own country.