Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Britain needs an ideology

In the face of the repeated shattering blows to the old order: the Royal divorces, the Parliamentary expenses scandal, the Police failures in the NoTW scandal, and indeed the Murdoch scandal itself, it is easy to pronounce that Britain is a country in an inevitable decline. There is even the prospect of the dissolution of the UK in the near future, if the separatist agenda of the SNP gets its way in Scotland.

The national debate is incoherent, with much evidence of retrenchment in hard power: our armed forces; soft power: our foreign ministry and overseas broadcasting; and financial power: the decline in the power and role of global finance, where London remains a global centre.

Yet Britain remains a highly significant power, albeit that we only acknowledge our strengths in a rather sideways kind of way: "Britain can still...". This, of course, still suggests decline, because the implication is that once upon a time, Britain could do so much more. Yet fifty years after the real end of the British Empire, it must surely be time to establish a new role - to understand what we really have. It is time for the country to review itself and to set out an agenda for the future.

As we carry out even the most cursory national audit we may notice that British demographics are very strong. The combination of a relatively higher growth rate and the generally successful way that Britain has integrated immigrant communities (notwithstanding the hysteria of the Daily Mail) could make the UK the biggest member of the European union within only a couple of decades, and furthermore that larger country could well have the largest GDP in Europe too. Within Europe, Britain is certainly not a second ranking country: it is all set to become the largest and the richest in the continent.

Neither can it be said that our business or cultural lives are anything but globally powerful. The English common law has become the most used for international contracts, and the success of our professions, not just law, but accounting and others too has created millions of high quality, well paid jobs. More to the point, it has allowed the country to be, quite literally the ultimate arbitrator in the world of business. Then of course there is the English language. To be a native speaker of the global language is a huge advantage in a world where a modern citizen must be able to drive, use a computer and speak English. The richness and power of English- a language that adds hundreds of words and millions of speakers every year- is a formidable benefit.

In the political world, despite- or even because- of the recent scandals, Britain remains a free society. The point being that the scandals have unveiled public challenges to all of our political institutions and yet those institutions have proven capable of reform and restructuring. Pragmatism and flexibility are much lauded British virtues, yet they are founded on the deep roots of a free society and democratic government. Britain is of course capable of become more open and more democratic, but compared to the current regimes in Syria, Libya, Russia or even Italy, our institutions are enviable as the protectors of freedom.

It must surely be in the field of universal political rights that Britain can find its raison d'etre. Tolerant, free and rich, the UK has its enemies: not least in Russia, where there is much support for the SNP and therefore the potential break-up of a strategic rival. The Kleptocracy in the Kremlin is indeed a threat to the values that Britain makes its own, yet they can not succeed if we can develop more self confidence. The greatest strength of a free society is social trust- and as the thieves in Moscow gain fabulous riches at the expense of the rest of their country, social trust in Russia continues to decline- as indeed does Russia itself.

The idea that Britain should possess power for power's sake, to "punch above its weight" is rooted in a culture of decline. The point is that the military power of the UK should serve some purpose. I would argue that the military intervention in Libya is indeed part of that wider purpose: the struggle for democracy in the Arab world is absolutely one where a free society should take a supportive role. Of course there must be limits to where and when British forces are committed: foreign policy may be a matter of idealism, but it should also be fully rooted in the realism of picking the battles in the ideological war against tyranny. A national principle for Britain can still be founded on a universal ideal.

So, as the joyful spectacle of the Murdochs' before the House of Commons reminds us that no one can ultimately be above the law, we should also remind ourselves that despite the political and constitutional failures of the past few years, we continue to live in a democratic and open political culture, and to be all the more determined to nurture and protect it.

4 comments:

Bolivia Newton-John said...

A large part of Britain's decline is delusion about the "glory of the empire". Britain probably did more harm around the world than any other nation during the days of empire, even in the context of the ethical race to the bottom that emanated from Western Europe. There is still a reluctance to acknowledge that in the national consciousness.

I'm not necessarily saying we should punish ourselves materially, but some recognition of this fact is in order, and any process of reforming our bilateral relationships and place in the world needs to be carried out in cognisance of the idea that maybe some countries remember the last time we tried to assert ourselves, and may tell us to fuck off.

Domestically also, we require leaders who will tell it like it is, to quell the reactionary fringe who are being allowed to despoil this country.

jorb said...

Are you crazy? Successful integration of migrants? It's clear you have been in Tallin for quite a while. Take a visit to Bradford, or Wapping north of the Highway. The country is littered with self imposed ghettos.

The prevalence of the English Language and Common Law are after effects of the Empire that is so decried by your other commentor on this article.

Democracy in britain is a joke. 60+% of our laws coming from an unelected european commission. There is no real difference between the major parties, all of which are completely divorced from the real world. The country that spawned the modern age of democracy and freedom is again leading, but this time in a direction that proves Orwell was not stupid. I'll grant you that we're nowhere near as poorly off in this regard as Russia and the middle east, but those places have NEVER had democracy.

If social trust is so high, why is voter turnout so low? Simply because the voters realise it wont make any difference. Very few of the people I know have any trust at all in the state or it's various organs.

Ironically, the best thing Britain could do to assure it's future prosperity and position as the biggest country in Europe would be to leave the EU.

The decline in Britain that you refer to is being driven from the top - everything from labour laws that prevent competitiveness to the ineffective and cripplingly expensive obsession with wind power.

Newmania said...

Wealth per capita however is far less impressive and actual disposable income desperate over much of the country after housing costs that is
Life is actually quite miserable ,hard work and insecure, with immigration providing nothing positive,( well no net Economic gain) and much dislocation and atomisation

It is hard for people to understand why we are the largest International AID giver in the G8 spending so much more of our GDP on the military than out neighbours and with our real rights as British subjects under threat

jorb said...

Christ, you've read 1984 and brave new world. what are you playing at?