"There is a great deal of ruin in a nation"- Adam Smith
Returning to the UK, I see the familiar streets subtly changed by the passing of the seasons. The electoral season is, of course almost with us- the general assumption being- hopefully- that Mr. Brown will go to the Queen to request a dissolution on Tuesday, for a general election on May 6th.
The past week has seem a slew of improving economic numbers: in particular a sharp recovery in manufacturing, exports and GDP growth. Some of these numbers are more in line with what expectations were in November, before a run of truly awful figures caused me- amongst others- to revise down their forecasts. The huge depreciation in the currency does finally seem to be having an effect. Nevertheless the economic outlook is uncertain and unstable at best. Even if we have indeed turned the corner on the last two years of economic recession, the impact of the gigantic increase in debt that we have taken on will be felt for decades. In the markets, UK debt is trading at levels that already imply a ratings downgrade, and the country will need to make cuts of tens of billions of Pounds in annual expenditure over the coming years in order to balance the books.
At the top of most politicians lists will be axing infrastructure projects- such as HS2- which get the books to balance in the short term, but whose absence which will lead to the further erosion of British competitiveness in the long term. When it is quicker to get from Warsaw to, say, Frankfurt by high speed train than from Leeds, then Warsaw will be a more attractive investment destination.
What the crisis may have revealed, though, is not just the weakness of the economic infrastructure of the UK, but the weakness of its political infrastructure. There was much discussion of the decline of British manufacturing and the rise of the City. Generally both trends were welcomed by the political leaders. However it is when we examine the astonishing centralisation of political power in the UK, that we can see inefficiency and bottlenecks. The right of the Prime Minister to call an election at a time that suits him is something that is anti-democratic, yet I wonder whether David Cameron- still less Gordon Brown- is prepared to give it up? The rights and the perquisites of the Royal prerogative that have devolved onto the Prime Minister are handy tools once one is in office- no matter how angry one might have been about them when in opposition. It is only the Liberal Democrats who have argued consistently and as a matter of manifesto commitment for their total abolition, as part of a full programme of constitutional reform.
As we contemplated the blooming of rosettes and Garden Posters over the next few weeks, I suspect that an inconclusive election may finally move the political focus onto the major problems of our constitution.
Like the spring this year, and the election season itself, it seems long overdue.