Britain (and I suppose Canada) will soon celebrate a brand new king. Charles III will bring another new face to eleven centuries of English royalty. The nation, however, needs much more than a new face. It needs a new government. At least.
Over two centuries this small nation built an empire and gave birth to modern economy. Now, things fall apart.
The people have suffered their biggest fall in living standards since the 1950s. Real wages decline and British productivity declines possibly the fastest since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
Following a wave of strikes in recent months across both the public and private sectors, this week up to half a million British teachers, civil servants, and train drivers walked out over pay in the largest coordinated strike action for a decade. The mass walkouts closed schools, halted most rail services, and forced the military to be put on standby to help with border checks. Firefighters have voted to back a nationwide strike.
Health care is in crisis. Up to 500 patients a week are dying because of emergency room waits, according to the Royal College of Emergency Medicine. Meanwhile, nurses, ambulance staff, paramedics, emergency call handlers and other healthcare workers are staging walkouts.
Housing, too, is in crisis. The demand for housing so outstrips supply that young people can no longer afford to buy. In 2022, over two thousand people died while waiting for social housing, which, when achieved, is often grim.
Politics hardly fares better with five prime ministers in just over a decade. One, Liz Truss, lasted only 50 days. A columnist in The Economist had predicted that Truss would have the “shelf life of a lettuce” and he wasn’t seriously wrong.
Now the country has a brand new prime minister to match its brand new king. He promises to save the country. In a speech early this year, Conservative PM Rishi Sunak promised, “We will halve inflation, grow the economy, reduce debt, cut waiting lists and stop the boats.”
He has demonstrated little reason for optimism. He has, for instance, announced major spending cuts but most won’t be implemented until 2025. And austerity is one of the major causes of the malaise in the first place. After the 2008 financial crisis, the Conservative government cut public spending from 46 percent to 39 percent of GDP, by far the largest of most of Britain’s peers. Spending on health fell sharply.
Sunak refuses to negotiate deals with public sector unions and has instead launched an assault on the right to strike even though public support for the striking workers is high.
All is not lost, of course. While Britain has become a poster boy for political and economic dysfunction, it remains nonetheless a wealthy country. It is, after all, the world’s sixth largest economy.
It simply needs rescuing and restoring. I would place my hopes in a change of government. A vigorous rejuvenated Labour Party waits in the wings. This, as we have seen so dramatically in the U.S, is frequently the answer when a democratic country loses its way.
I am rather saddened by the state of Britain and sincerely hope it can pull out of its doldrums. I think fondly of the place. It is, after all, my ancestral homeland. But much more importantly, I wish it well because it’s the land that bequeathed us our free and democratic country, the greatest inheritance one could have and one for which I am deeply grateful.