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Britain in decline? (1)

Nick Robinson | 08:39 UK time, Monday, 15 November 2010

The prime minister will use his Guildhall speech tonight to take "head on" the argument that Britain is embarked on an inevitable path of decline. It's an interesting decision - perhaps one Sir Humphrey would have described as "brave" - since it invites people to examine an argument which, so far, has not had a wide airing.

David Cameron

Later, I'll outline the Cameron case for the defence; first, here's the case for the prosecution. This, in other words, is not my view but the combined views of those who say that Britain is in decline:

The economy, stupid

Britain has the biggest deficit in the G20 and now faces a decade of retrenchment.

China's rise cannot be halted. The world is moving East.

The City of London's in decline

For more than 20 years, London has been one of the principal financial centres on the planet - but now it's in decline. Higher taxes, public and political hostility to banking and financial services and the rise of the East are leading people to leave the City of London or, just as seriously, never to choose to come here in the first place.

A coalition government committed to "re-balancing the British economy" will lack the will to maintain the City's pre-eminence.

A declining military

The British army was humiliated in southern Iraq, some claim. They had to rely on the Americans coming to their aid in the "Charge of the Knights".

Despite showing extraordinary bravery British forces in Helmand have been no more successful than they were in Basra and have, once again, needed the Americans to come to the rescue.

British defence cuts are so serious that soon we will have aircraft carriers without aircraft and need to share the one we do have with the French.

After the Iraq war, Britain has lost the will to project its power around the world.

In Europe but not running it

Britain is prepared neither to join the EU fully nor to pull out of it.

The first Eurosceptic prime minister in two decades has, in effect, put Britain's relationship with the EU on hold - able neither to go forward nor go back (see my earlier post on Europe's push-me-pull-you).

David Cameron has felt forced to present a 2.9% rise in the EU's budget as a victory just days after pledging a freeze.

For the next 18 months the PM's energies will be taken up by defending Britain's rebate.

Marginal on the world stage

The era of the dominance of the post-war powers is coming to an end, illustrated by the G20's replacement of the G8. Inevitably the pressure to re-structure the UN threatening our role as one of the Permanent Five on the Security Council will eventually succeed.

America is led by a president who, unlike most of his predecessors, has no affection nor historical attachment for Britain.

David Cameron

Margaret Thatcher was a lover of the military and a cold warrior. Tony Blair was a lover of the military and a neo-con. David Cameron is neither. He's a sceptic about the military and about projecting British power abroad.

Gordon Brown briefly counted on the world stage thanks to Britain being in the chair of the G20 during the banking crisis and his mastery of international financial architecture.

The prime minister's foreign policy focus on the "British national interest" means that Britain is forced to charm the Chinese despite its human rights abuses and to re-set its relationship with Russia despite the murder of a Russian on British soil almost certainly by Russian agents.

In contrast David Cameron was a minor player at the G20 Seoul summit. It is hard to see him being a major player in the EU or the UN.

That, to repeat, was the case for the prosecution. Later, I'll post David Cameron's argument against Britain being in decline.

It's a debate that is, of course, far from new. Ever since the end of World War II, ever since an American secretary of state said the Britain had "lost an empire and had yet to find a role", Britain has worried about its status in the world.

Some politicians - Nick Clegg perhaps - would say that Britain should stop pretending to be what it is not and should accept that our power and status depend on being one of the biggest and richest countries in the EU. That, though, is not the view of most Conservatives. So, even though David Cameron is temperamentally relaxed about his status, he will be feeling the pressure all British prime ministers feel to show that Britain matters.

One intriguing little story emerges from my time in Seoul. President Obama chose not to have a bilateral meeting with David Cameron at the G20 summit. I think we can safely assume that this was not because Downing Street did not ask for one. If the PM had cared as much as Gordon Brown - whose orders to officials to do everything they could to secure a meeting for him with the president at the Pittsburgh G20 summit leaked - we could easily have seen a repeat of the "Obama snubs PM" story.

Update, 10:21: This debate is not only happening here. Look at the words of Robert Kagan, former foreign affairs adviser to Senator John McCain and former department staffer on ABC yesterday:

"Britain has taken itself out as a major player in the international system, at least for a while, with the kind of cuts that they've made in their national security budget.

"The problem is, the United States doesn't have the luxury of doing that. I mean, Britain can become a free-rider in the international system, but that is the price that they've paid."

PS: An earlier version of this post read "Mansion House" instead of "Guildhall"; apologies.


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  • Comment number 1.

    Nothing wrong with a bit of gentle decline. Happens to everyone.

  • Comment number 2.

    Don't you spot that this is being stated in parallel with a new 'happiness' index? There are lots of countries that seem to have a very contented population with a good standard of living - perhaps because they have not put their efforts being a global power. Decline is an emotive word. If you substitute 'changing' you may find that the changes may lead to an increase in the happiness index in a generation.

  • Comment number 3.

    People need to become more realistic and understand the place of the disunited kingdom - it is ridiculous to pretend a failing state like this is in the same league as China or the US.

    Economic power that relies on us all working in factories that no longer exist is laughable. Nor should we rely on military prestige: you can't have gunboat diplomacy once lord snooty has sold all the gunboats.

    Lets set a more realistic objective - five year plan to raise ourselves to parity with Belgium?

    It's a great time to laugh at the tories.

  • Comment number 4.

    I would not dismiss the U.K.'s position in the world so lightly, Nick.

    As someone who lives outside the U.K. in Europe I view British politics from a more positive point of view.

    Regarding the G20 - the U.K. does not have power, but it does have influence. As a country it has many friends and allies around the world.

    Regarding the financial position - Yes, the U.K. is over-reliant on its financial industry in the City of London. This is a mistake and the economy needs to be re-balanced.

    Regarding Europe - David Cameron is in line with many of the European Minsters both in the Eurozone and outside. They too are against the increase in the EU budget this year. Many are struggling with their own debt problems. The 2.9% increase is what most EU finance ministers would accept. David Cameron is acting more like a European than the MEPs in Brussels.

    So don't believe that the U.K. has lost its position in the world.

    I think that this could be its finest hour!

  • Comment number 5.

    I think there is more to the problems of the economy than the size of a deficit that is securely funded. We have a government that is hell bent on spanking the public sector but forgetting that the private sector will also be punished. Who knows with certainty what the prognosis is and no small problem is the size of private debt that in certain circumstances could put the economy in a nose dive -if it has not already.

  • Comment number 6.

    We'll just have to get used to it. After all, having no viable aircraft carrier for 10 years makes you wonder if we need any at all. All the skills needed to operate one will have 'retired' before then so we will have to embrace the new foreign policy of 'trousers down to Johnny Foreigner'.
    Regards, etc.

  • Comment number 7.

    The premise of this article is kind of ironic or paradoxical. It assumes that Britain is actually great enough to decide its own destiny - i.e. whether it will succeed or fail - when in actual fact it's just being sucked along with globalisation like any other Western country. Talk of Britain's debt and/or deficit seems to forget most other Western countries have the same problem, Germany's debt is as big as ours. Personally I see the problem being caused by years of low interest rates causing a bubble in house prices, and most proper jobs being lost to China, India, Korea, etc. Again these are problems that affect most developed countries, in fact interest rates were even lower in the US and Japan.

  • Comment number 8.

    Seems a perfectly reasonable position - without being too introspective we need to concentrate on sorting ourselves out, rather than worrying about our notional position in the world rankings. It could be argued that our obsession with trying to big it up on the world stage has been a contributory cause of our present problems.

    Neither should we be too tied in to the Americans - it probably suits both Cameron and Obama to have some distance in their relationship.

  • Comment number 9.

    This blog entry on 'Britain in Decline' is the most interesting post that I think I have ever read from Nick.

    Meanwhile, despite being paid for by us, the taxpayers of this country, vain Dave's photographer is still under-employed, as I see that the caption of Dave in this blog is credited to the agency AP (Associated Press).

    Broadly, one could argue that that, in microcosm, represents one cardinal reason for the countries decline - politicians who are more-or-less disconnected from the people.


  • Comment number 10.

    Is it decline, are we worse off and have a lower stand of living than we did say 10 years ago, we have lots of new military toys could these things not blow to bits the old ones we used to have in a second, is this not more of a case of not a decline but the fact that other countries are growing faster than we are, as far as our political power on the world stage this has not changed since Suez that was a decline since then we have had no real power except to assist the USA.

  • Comment number 11.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 12.

    Britain, as a political entity, is in my view, a zombie State.

    It plods on, devoid of any coherent political life, sustained only by the inertia of its 300 years or so of history and those infamous 'forces of conservatism'.

    Nothing meaningful, in the political sense, can occur until the English people, who comprise the vast majority of the population of the Island of Britain, finally decide that they have had enough.

    Or alternatively, and at this juncture, more likely, the Scots and the Welsh decide that they have had enough and depart thus leaving England in the political place it needs to be to move forward.


  • Comment number 13.

    Some of the happiest countries in the world, scandinavian countries, some europeans, australia, new zealand and canada amongst others do not seem to feel the need to be constantly in the forefront of foreign policy. I am sure the majority of us are quite happy Cameron does not constantly seek out bilateral meetings with Obama who has done nothing of any use to USA which is rapidly turning into a third world country. I want our prime minister to concentrate on our economy, sort out the situation in Europe so we do not give them any more money although I still think we should remain in EU for trade reasons. As for aircraft carriers I think that is well and truly buried.

    Get our economy moving again, get people into jobs, sort out our health, education and crime and I will be happy. Who cares about who chairs the G20 which is probably just a jolly for world leaders trying to make themselves look important.

  • Comment number 14.

    jon112dk wrote @ 3:
    "it is ridiculous to pretend a failing state like this is in the same league as China or the US" and "Lets set a more realistic objective - five year plan to raise ourselves to parity with Belgium?" and " It's a great time to laugh at the tories."

    Jon, the current situation as described by NR above and commented on by you can only realistically be in main the result of the last 13 years of labour government, so I don't understand why you are laughing at the tories, or do you think its funny that they have to mop up the mess of the past government?

  • Comment number 15.

    I guess it depends on what your view of a decline is. I'm sure I'll be called naive or a socialist, but I think it's a good thing to rebalance the economy away from a few thousand very wealthy bankers, and towards a few million struggling workers. So I have no problem with shrinking the financial sector. It's been far too dominent for far too long, and has drawn investment and prospects away from the rest of the population.

    The economy is in a ruinous state, but we can't honestly blame Labour (or any other political party). We - the people of Britain - bought into a credit boom and we all built up huge debts. Well, I say we ALL did it, about 40% of us - myself included - borrowed nothing, but are still expected to pay it back. I didn't hear much about us "all being in it together" when bankers were making billions and the rest of us were unable to pay our gas bill. Not much sharing then, was there?

    With the exception of WWII I can't think of a single war I can call justifiable - that is, the only possible solution. In the case of Iraq and Afhganistan we would have had more success if we'd simply given them $2 trillion for infrastructure. It would certainly have had a better result in terms of lives lost, and in terms of undermining Al Queda. So I have no problem with a smaller military. If we had no military, like Costa Rica, nobody would invade us. Really, they wouldn't. We'd have protection from Europe and America. We don't need a single soldier.

    What we do need is serious retrenchment. We need more manufacturing and skills-based jobs. We need to invest more in creativity - new products, green energy, engineering, things we can export. At the moment we have few major export centres, and that's a key problem.

    We also need to build. The UK has some of the worse, most expensive, most overcrowded, and least green housing in the developed world. Part of the reason the UK has so much debt is that we all have to borrow an enormous amount just to get a roof over our heads. Build more, and we create jobs. We also inject into the supply end, bringing down homes and mortgages for all of us. Lower housing costs mean more disposable income, helping the rest of the economy to function. The bankers won't like it - they make money from debt - but we've already decided the bankers are no longer in charge.

    There are solutions that work for the vast majority of us. But those who have a vested interest in the status quo will deny it.

  • Comment number 16.

    The US appears to have many more problems comparatively than the UK.
    The UK is still widely regarded as the standard barer for democratic principles albeit that the last government did much to damage that by its insistence on brain dead alignment with US foreign policy.
    Our country is far from perfect and I can only hope, for my kids sake, that the knock on effect of the turbulence currently occurring throughout the world, will eventually lead to a redressing of the (financial) class divide that has been allowed to accelerate unchecked for so long.

  • Comment number 17.

    You’re perhaps wondering what I’m getting at (#1) by saying a degree of national decline isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Even if you weren’t, I’m going to tell you anyway. What I mean is that as the erstwhile “developing” countries duly develop into economic powerhouses to rival the West, it’s perfectly natural – indeed inevitable – that the gap between them and us as regards standard of living, and as regards power/influence in the world, narrows. Being British (and a fervent patriot who goes nowhere without first slipping on a pair of “Bulldog” boxers), I stop short of welcoming this but I do recognise that in the grand scheme it’s a Good Thing. I can say this because however big a patriot I am – and “Bulldog” boxers rather speak for themselves in this respect – I’m an ever bigger egalitarian. Provided our absolute standard of living increases (and over the long term it will), I’m more than happy with a relative decline against the likes of the BRICs. I’d like to see the same thing happen within the country, actually ... a relative, but not absolute, decline in the living standards of the wealthy as compared to the rest, particularly the poorest. Trouble is, the engine of globalisation which will tend over time to equalise things between the developed and the developing world - this same phenomenon, within a mature Western European economy run in laissez faire fashion such as Britain, acts to produce the opposite; a widening of the gap between rich and poor. This is a conundrum. Or is it a paradox? Whatever, it’s a problem.

  • Comment number 18.

    Righto I admit it this is a very intersesting blog.

    Britain may be in some sort "decline" (i.e. it is changing) but I am not entirely pessimistic. Obviously there has been a "decline" in our position as a global power since say 1850. But we live in a happier and healthier society. Does that equate with decline?

    Britan will continue to be one of the world's big economies for the foreseeable future. Our society encourages (indeed breeds) individualism and innovation (we just need to do a little bit more outside the financial sector). We also have a genuinely international outlook and have welcomed immigrants from all over the world. We are a more "globalised" society than almost any other. And we have done all of this without the rise of movements like the tea party.

    With America consumed by internal politics I can even see an opportunity for Britain to take a leading role in redesigning the global finaancial and political architecture to fit the realities of the 21st century. Mind you I susepct Mr Sarkozy has that role marked out for himself.

  • Comment number 19.

    Now that we have a government comprising of 'Old Etonian Clowns' and Lib/Dem Tory stooges, it seems that we are perfectly positioned for the decline to continue. Mummy and Daddy will not be able to help in this situation.

  • Comment number 20.

    Russell @ 15

    I agree with more or less all of your post there. And I wouldn't call you "naive" in the slightest - quite the opposite. Wouldn't call you a Socialist either. Clear Thinking Progressive is more the term and if you'd like a badge with that on it, give me a bell.

  • Comment number 21.

    14. At 10:38am on 15 Nov 2010, Justforsighs
    Jon, the current situation as described by NR above and commented on by you can only realistically be in main the result of the last 13 years of labour government, so I don't understand why you are laughing at the tories, or do you think its funny that they have to mop up the mess of the past government?

    Staying specifically to the topic of the blog - decline of the disunited kingdom.

    Tories are now the government - like the captain of a ship they are responsible for what happens now, endless moaning about the disastrous conduct of the last captain is running out steam.

    Looking at issues like military status I think it's very clear how the decline relates to the tories as they decommission key ships and whole classes of combat aircraft.

    The tories have turned themselves into a single issue party: cuts. They want to destroy 'big government' but are now getting defensive about being dismissed as a small government by functioning, serious nations.

    Lord snooty needs to start accepting a more realistic assessment of the postion of the disunited kingdom as they steadily dismantle it as a nation - their position is not going to be at the top table.

    If that's uncomfortable for them, excuse me whilst I laugh.

  • Comment number 22.

    Comparison with the USA or China is invidious, like comparing us with Europe rather than, say, France. I have just returned from the USA where they are preparing for the end of "Vietnam 2" by building new CITIES to house the returning troops, who possibly face large-scale redundancy. It's not just the UK that is changing. I believe that a less aggressive role for "the west" is to everybody's benefit and long overdue. We just have to get used to the post-nuclear world we created. It's not decline, it's maturity.

  • Comment number 23.

    Comment 15 above contains a lot of sense. All our governments in the last 30 years have pursued the totally false aim of pretending we are a world power, committing troops to wars and places they had no business to be involved in, being America's poodle as if that in some way ensured superpower status would rub off on us, propping up a failed banking system and failing to look ahead and be bold on the environment, global economy and sustainable trade policies. We now pay the price.

    I have no interest in world power status. I think we should commit wholeheartedly to Europe and to the idea that Europe as a whole can be a force for good in the world. We have to pursue long term aims of a sustainable economy, a sustainable global trade system (which means fair not free) and the protection of the global environment.

    No politician, certainly not this coalition, certainly not New Labour, will dare to tell the stark reality behind all this, namely that we will all pay more for food, utilities, travel etc. But we could make progress if a) we cut down on military spending (by which I mean we defend the British Isles but never commit troops overseas except as part of international peace-keeping) and b) invest in environmentally sustainable industry and transport.

  • Comment number 24.

    I'm for one delighted that, in some ways, Britain is in international decline, e.g.:

    1) mind our own business - we are not a world policeman
    2) stop punching above our weight - we can't afford it
    3) let others share the international burden
    4) Britain has mixed weather and is not a holiday camp for those on benefits (a message for certain people overseas)
    5) we can't afford bail outs for bankcrupt countries and Eurocrat expense claims

    The problem is that the real decline is in our short medium and long term economic sustainability particularly in terms of free trade, balance of payments and tariffs ... so much so that in July this year a bunch of eurocrats published a sustainability index showing Britian as a middle ranking EU country against a range of criteria including 'spam sandwich' (GDP).

    So what is meant by 'decline' here ... and more importantly how is a 'decline', 'impasse' or 'improvement' to be measured when the UK does not yet have a 'national sustainability index' for our UK economy ... to tell us what is really happening and the real damage done to the UK's domestic economy and the forgotten tribe of real ordinary British people; from 13 years of Labour's economic mess.

    'Decline' .. easily said but no one can explain/or define it properly ... yet.

  • Comment number 25.

    Britain would be better suited to fully integrating into the EU, rather than pursuing 'great power' military operations around the globe, under the false pretence that we are still a great power.

    The EU is the biggest trading area in the world, something that would give us real benefit. Plus, the EU's stance as a 'normative power' would make us less likely to be involved in costly military conflicts, both financially and morally, and help to create a genuine hegemon to rival that of the US - just with the emphasis instead on peacekeeping and conflict prevention.

    The EU (former EC) was formed because its member states realised that they could no longer compete in the world political system individually, and Britain should be no different, it's only a small island with a relatively small population after all.

  • Comment number 26.

    This country is a mess. The problems facing Britain are huge and whilst front line policies like those listed above are headlines the bigger problems don't get as much attention.

    Why is Britain opening its doors to thousands of foreigners to fill the skilled jobs shortage?

    Why doesn't Britain get all the benefits cheats off the governments books and in to the low paid jobs demanded by industry?

    And why does Britain take decisions to destroy its future by tripling tuition fees when quite clearly the country is already screaming out to fill jobs its own citizens cant.

    But thats ok because we can just pay them benefits.

    Perhaps if the government got a grip on its domestic policies first and built a sustainable economy then world leaders might actually take this country seriously.

    This country has tried capitalism and failed. What we seem to have done is made an absolute hash of the country and a fair majority of its citizens.

    Is this a regressive or progressive state?

    The road back is long and under the guise of this leadership is unachievable.

  • Comment number 27.

    Yes we are in decline because we have become less competitive as a nation, facing internally rather than externally and no longer sure in our identity (what identity?). Children no longer compete in school sports nor, truly, at school as the explicit comepetitive element has been removed- as is trying to be done in society with political correctness and equality at work. Laudable in principle, perhpas, but very inward looking. Surely evolution rewards those most successful competitively?

  • Comment number 28.

    "Part of the reason the UK has so much debt is that we all have to borrow an enormous amount just to get a roof over our heads." - 15

    This is a good and very important point. Most Western European countries have greater rent regulation than we do (Germany was featured on a TV documentary on this subject recently) and the % of income cost of housing is much lower in these places. The flip side is they don’t get the personal wealth kicker which our ownership and multiple BTL scene can generate, but this seems to be becoming more and more the preserve of the already affluent so not the liberating force it once was. Maybe time for us to look at other models. If we are going to stick with our property culture – and let’s face it, we are – then we MUST develop a viable sub-prime lending offering; one which opens up ownership to all who can afford it but without the excesses and fraud. At present we’ve swung too far the other way, become too risk averse. Both minimum deposits and interest charges (as spread to base rate) are way too high. Always happens after a crisis, a knee-jerk the other way. Sarbanes Oxley after Enron was another good example. A National Mortgage Bank is probably the way to go, with good quality social housing to accommodate all those who truly can’t afford to buy (even on NMB “goldilocks” terms). Yes I think so.

  • Comment number 29.

    'Later, I'll post David Cameron's argument against Britain being in decline.'
    I thought he told us that Britain was 'broken'. Now he's going to tell us that rather than being broken our star is actually rising.
    He has the consistence of a puff of smoke.

  • Comment number 30.

    "The first Eurosceptic prime minister in two decades..."
    Which wally told you that, Nick?

  • Comment number 31.

    David Cameron is more of a realist than people give him credit for . Britain has been constanly trying punch above its wait for some time . Perhaps we need accept the rise of the new order in the globe in the same way some famous regated teams have done in sport . We are now a second division player who needs to restructure and the hopefully build a stronger base

  • Comment number 32.

    Never in human history has so much guff been written about so many non-stories.

    Firstly, the non-bilateral meeting was more likely to have been a PM snubs Obama moment after the rubbish performance of his crypto-communist democratic party in the mid-terms.

    Secondly as the whole developed world swings to the right of centre.. the US, France, Germany and the UK are all now run by centre right administrations, the argument is about how to fixed the touchy-feely, holier than thou, post second world war social democratic/mixed economy consensus. This consensus has been slowly bankrupting the West with unrestrained levels of public spending and little financial discipline.

    The shocking naivety of the socialists who believe debts can carry on accumulating at a time when part of the world is growing at break neck pace has landed us in a fine pickle. Similarly, arguments about the rebalancing of the economy away from financial services are totally misguided - look at the pace of growth of financial services in the developing world... they are buying savings products like never before. The real rebalancing that should be taking place is away from public sector spending and into incentives for private sector investment.

    No developing economy - not India, Brazil, Russia, China, wants our NHS structure as a model for their healthcare. There is a reason for this; it's a millstone around our necks.

    The only 'decline' I can see is the decline of any relevance whatsoever of the post second world war social democratic consensus. It has given us an unaffordable and unaccountable, cash guzzling super tanker ploughing its way through the national finances.

    It's a great time to be a tory...

  • Comment number 33.

    One paradox is that the undoubted professional ability and high morale of our armed forces (especially the army), compared to practically everyone else, has led governments to overreach themselves in their use.
    This is understandable because Aircraft Carriers, Airportable Battle Groups and the like cost a great deal of treasure to maintain - so no bean-counter would want them standing idle. We are therefore, sadly, better off without an expeditionary option as the politicians can't be trusted not to misuse it and get the country into one humiliating fix after another.

  • Comment number 34.

    "He's a sceptic about the military and about projecting British power abroad."

    Sounds like progress not decline.

  • Comment number 35.

    Thatcher a 'lover of the military?' When it suited her. The John Nott Defence review was a far more brutal cost cutting measure than anything Cameron has considered and without question cost hundreds of lives in the Falklands.

    The problem isn't that our military is incapable... quite the opposite. We have one of the best equipped and most professional forces in the world. The problem is that we're (more or less) a democracy and a great deal of our population either hates the military, has no idea what it does and believes what it reads in the red-tops (even if those red tops are fabricating war crimes stories to sell papers).

    The comment above "If we had no military, like Costa Rica, nobody would invade us. Really, they wouldn't. We'd have protection from Europe and America. We don't need a single soldier." is spectacularly naive.

    The UK is never going to be invaded again. This isn't 1940. The same cannot be said of Brits abroad. If the Falklands were invaded again, or British aid workers taken hostage in Liberia or (highly relevant today) Brits taken by Somali pirates we'll just expect the French or the Americans to step in? HAHAHAHA. Even the 'old enemy' Russia sends potentially nuclear armed bombers into our airspace weekly :
    The royal navy intercepts 1/3rd of the worlds supply of cocaine & the British army in Afghanistan is trying to reduce the flow of heroin (which kills more Brits than Al Qu'eda ever have)

    I'm reminded of a Simpson episode where Lisa wishes for world peace..... the world is promptly invaded by aliens with baseball bats.

  • Comment number 36.

    we've been in decline for a while, politically, financially and culturally, it is not neccesarily a bad thing we need to confront the issues and re-emerge as a different stronger more modern nation, however I think the tories with their constant harping to the past are incapable of doing this and as an island nation we lack the ability to see whats going on around us and take inspiration.
    I feel the decline will continue for many years until we have a forward thinking government which has a true desire to change the status quo and create something new. It WILL be more european as they are becoming our natural trade and political allies, we have little in common with the americans and as we are no longer any use as a stationary aircraft carrier for their missiles they will have little interest in us.
    We need to embrace europe, I've spent a lot of time there and they have a far superior lifestyle, healthier, happier, less tax, less hours at work, its only our status as a blinkered island that prevents us taking heed and moving forward.

  • Comment number 37.

    The UK is in decline due to a long period of poor policy and lousy management.

    The last government took the prize for stupidity in both policy and management. They committed British troops into Iraq on the basis of two fanatasies: WMD and that the Iraqi people would support us. They committed British troops into Helmand on the lie that it was just for reconstruction.

    All the members of the former Labour Cabinet under Blair and Brown should be expected to resign their offices, give up their careers, sell all their worldy goods and spend the remainder of their lives helping the poor and the sick for the shame that they have brought to our country. They are a disgrace and need to be reminded of this at every possible moment.

    However, decline can be reversed by proper policy and management.

    No sign of either yet but one remains hopeful.

    It is time to reform the banks.

    It is time to rebalance the economy.

    It is time to eliminate the culture of entitlement that persists across the country.

    It is time to get the country back to work adding value rather than chasing faerie gold at the end of a rainbow.

  • Comment number 38.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 39.

    Obama has done us a huge favour. He has given us an opportunity to finally move away from our 19th century role.

    As for the future...

    We have one of the finest civil service machines in the world.

    We are the original home of today's lingua franca.

    We still have some good universities.

    I would think that the most obvious new role for UK, would be to become the first choice facilitator for common sense around the world.

    Thing is though - that would require some common sense...

  • Comment number 40.

    Oh dear, one endeavouring to impose one's views on the readers, while hiding behind "This, in other words, is not my view but the combined views of those who say that Britain is in decline"?
    The comments about Britain's military, and their "failures" in Iraq and Afghanistan is absolute tosh.
    Please answer this honest question: why can't the BBC stick to reporting (or at least make this their primary role) rather than foisting their staff's personal (and often poor) opinions on us all?

  • Comment number 41.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 42.

    Britain has nothing to prove to the rest of the World. Over the last few centuries we've had it all and done it all. What other country can claim this ?

  • Comment number 43.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 44.

    I'm more hopeful of Britain's future than I have been for years. The economic realities force us as a nation to look inward at our own issues rather than taking on the problems of others. If that means not getting involved in another Iraq/Afghanistan that's great. If it means we reassess the value of our relationship with the EU that's also a positive ~ as our economy shrinks so should our contribution to the EU budget. The UN is a spineless, ineffective talking shop and the US is bankrupt and would quickly find itself isolated without key allies like Britain.

    Britain has to change. No more handout culture, unrealistic union militancy and pretensions of empire. Focusing on innovation and building our way out of the economic mess will carry it's own international muscle. Hopefully the coalition has the guts to drag the country kicking and screaming to that end.

  • Comment number 45.

    If by decline we mean our influence on world events is reducing steadily, then this is no more than the continuation of a process that took hold in 1943 when the US was first able to force it's strategic world view on us (with somewhat disastrous consequences, but that is another story). Life in many European countries with less influence than us seems to me more relaxed and of a higher standard so I cannot see what benefit aspiring to world leadership brings us. After all, there are plenty of domestic problems that require our intellect and resources. Apart perhaps from military prowess (due more to bravery and tradition than any decent leadership and equipment) and casino banking, we are well behind other developed countries in many other measures of national achievement.
    We do have some world interests that need defending and promoting with a small but sensible military presence and we have a diplomatic tradition important to restrain our gung ho neighbour across the ocean. The Commonwealth is an unrivalled asset worth preserving. But otherwise we should focus more to home. My favourite foreign country is Austria and if that is an example of what you can become after losing an empire and world status, then lets hurry up and emulate them.

  • Comment number 46.

    As a naturalised citizen I sometimes get surprised by over the top cynicism of indigenous Brits, especially English. I don't think UK has 'lost it' or anything like that. If Cameron is focusing more on domestic policy then nothing wrong with it, it's high time he did it. Let US, Russia, China, India be obsessed with global position, remember that being 'global power' does not necessarily translate into happy lives for their citizens. Our main objective should be to provide quality of life equivalent to Scandinavian countries, not to try to match US in military. We can play an effective part in EU and express our global influence through EU. Against initial skepticism, EU has proved that concerted effort to bury hostilities and prosper together can succeed.If UK becomes a strong and effective EU member and achieve her main objective then definitely it is not a decline.

  • Comment number 47.

    This is a retread of the 1970s, isn't it?

    Labour put us into a hole and the Conservatives got us out.

    The only saving grace of the economic disaster that was the 1970s was the 'invisibles', the financial services performed by the City. It is therefore ironic that this time round it was the invisibles that did us in. And we discover that with the invisibles gone, there is not much else that our 60 million people do.

    This may explain why the economy needs to be rebalanced.

    Also Gordon Brown (remember him?) ramped up the state's share of GDP. Previous Labour governments could nationalise, but this was politically unacceptable. So Gordon did the next best thing and just put more people directly onto the state's payroll.

    This is why the cuts appears so acute. The growth of the state was so dramatic. And that needs serious pruning.

    So we need to do something else apart from financial services. The question is, what? And do we have the people to do whatever it is that will allow us to pay our way in the world?

    The last time there was this level of economic upheaval, it ended in global war. This time round, we are cutting our armed forces. We must believe that it won't happen this time or that we have lost before a shot has been fired.

  • Comment number 48.

    Of course Britain is in decline - economically, militarily and culturally!

    The public sector has, for years, been bleeding the country dry at the expense of entrepreneurial activity and wealth creation - and especially over the last decade (thanks New Labour / Old Labour!!)

    Take a look at the Channel 4 documentary. This puts it in very simplistic terms:

    BUT it hits the nail on the head… Too many people in this country doing nothing productive (or worse still, getting in the way of wealth creation!) – and the rest struggling to pay for it!

    Taxes are too high, and provide a disincentive for investment and entrepreneurial activity - and National Insurance (at 13.8% for employers) is a direct tax on jobs.

    And then there is red tape.. and workers "rights" (maternity, paternity, flexible working, working hours, rights to holidays etc...). Entrepreneurs have fewer rights than the people they are providing jobs for!

    Even China and most of the old communist countries are doing better than we are because most understand how to create wealth. Most have lower taxes and greater wealth creation.

    The Chinese state accounts for just over a quarter of Chinese GDP and has a vast pile of cash. In the UK, the state accounts for just over a half of GDP and has debts of over three times GDP (including pension liabilities, other liabilities and off-balance sheet debt of over three times GDP).

    We are unlikely to see any economic growth over the next 3-4 years, whereas the Chinese economy is expected to grow by over 50% over this period.

    We need a capitalist revolution in this country!!

    Cut taxes to a 20% flat rate – and slash the public sector. Getting rid of 50% of NON-FRONT LINE public sector workers (2.5 million of them) would be a good start. Much of the public sector has been on a gravy train for the last decade - and if they have to starve for a few months, it won't do them any harm. And they will soon learn to be productive!


  • Comment number 49.

    If the UK is in fact in decline, the likely reason is that the state has been gradually taking over more and more of the econony, leaving no space for the productive sector to make things to sell abroad. (Our only source of real wealth).
    I wonder if anyone in UK politics has ever come across W J H Boetcker's "Ten Cannots". It may stop us loading our grandchildren with more and more debt. It's worth a Google.
    Alan Greaves

  • Comment number 50.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 51.

    We just have to accept change is happening. We have to accept the rise of China, India and Brazil, just as we've had to accept the rise of Japan as an economic power. Grow up, accept the empire is dead and gone and accept the new world order. Britian is and can still be a great country to lvie in without being a super power. Look at how well New Zealand, Norway and Canada do in quality of life ratings!

  • Comment number 52.

    If we are to be the "biggest and richest" nation in the EU, perhaps we could flex some of the legendary muscle and finance we supposedly possess and make the trains run on time?

    If we can't accomplish the basics - you know, trains that work, clean hospitals, roads that aren't constantly jammed etc - just what kind of power are we hoping to project abroad?

  • Comment number 53.

    'We need a capitalist revolution in this country!!'
    Who'd pay for it?

  • Comment number 54.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 55.

    I'm not sure we are more in decline than we were in the 1970's. Sick Man of Europe, 3 day working week, IMF bail out, power cuts, strikes, etc.

    Perhaps a bit of perspective is needed.

  • Comment number 56.

    #38, unfortunately it does seem that the very people who should receive disability related benefits are the most likely to have them withdrawn by people trying to look tough, only to have them reinstated presumably so people can wring their hands and say how there's nothing that can be done to reduce the benefits bill.

    In the meantime the people who can only be described as scumbags continue to live in nice houses paid for like the rest of us. People like the family who used to live a few houses away from me who never worked, who could always find the time to play loud music, who had visitors stopping by for 5 minutes at all hours (it doesn't take a genius to figure there are few legitimate reasons for a 5-minute visit at 3am) and so on. When they finally moved on the house needed to be completely gutted as they hadn't paid any bills for months.

    Daily Mail propaganda? No, my own observations from being disturbed by the noise they made, seeing the visitors at such odd hours and for such short times before reporting them as suspected drug dealers, and talking to the workmen drafted to fix all the problems they caused. Why we harass the genuinely disabled while dutifully handing people like this their dole money is beyond me.

  • Comment number 57.

    Nick what happened in Basra was entirely down to Blair lacking the stomach for the sort of tough action the Americans carried out in Fallujah after he'd seen how the original invasion had slashed his previous sky high ratings.

    What has happened in Helmand is a consequence of years of defence cuts because we thought we would never been in a major war again, ever since the end of the Cold War the MoD has been a branch office of the Treasury with a series of lightweights in charge. Apparently in 2009 we spent £10 billion on procurement that was overseen by 27,000 people in the MoD Procurement Executive, in the same year Israel apparently spent £9 billion on procurement, a budget overseen by just 400 people! The money is there but it's tied up in administration.

    The current round of cuts are entirely Labour's responsibility for allowing a £38 billion overspend in the defence budget. The service chiefs who lined up to attack the government last week in post when many of those decisions were taken but they obviously didn't object. I've yet to hear anyone say how they would have closed the overspend and yet managed to keep all the capabilites that are in line for the axe. I disagreem strongly with axing the Harriers. The only reason why the Tornado squadrons were retained while Joint Force Harrier and Nimrod were axed was because the recently departed Chief of the Defence Staff is a former Tornado pilot. The Tornado is an excellent aircraft but it's not cost effective to operate in the CLose Air Support role that the Harriers do. This is another problem with our defence, service chiefs who push their own pet projects and try to put one over the other services rather than act in the national interest.

    Nearly 100 years later we still have lions led by donkeys!!

  • Comment number 58.

    The decline of our manufacturing industry almost to the point of extinction appalls and frightens me. I remember when I was a young apprentice in the early 60’s, literally thousands of workers “clocking on” first thing in the morning at factories all over the country. These factories and workers were the wealth creators for the these islands. Where are the equivalent workers employed today and where is the countries wealth being created? According to the CIA fact book, in 2006 a staggering 80.4% of the British workforce was employed in the service industries with only 18.2% in manufacturing. I am not an economist and I hope somebody will tell me I am wrong but, assuming that 20% of those employed in the service industries are employed in the wealth creating financial and other sectors (i.e. tourism, etc.), it still means that the whole of the UK is being supported by less than 40% of its population. This percentage is even less if it is considered that wealth is only created from the goods and services we export beyond these shores. Am I wrong in believing that the standard of living and services we enjoy in this country are directly related and proportional too the wealth we earn from our overseas exports AND (because we don’t create enough) the amount we borrow from foreign investors? If I am correct, this is a fact that always seems to be forgotten in debates about cuts in public services. I am not one who believes that anybody on the “shop floor” of our public services is on fantastic salaries or pensions. It is simply that we can just not afford to maintain the level of these services we have enjoyed (because we have to borrow to pay for them) over the past years. Given this rather depressing scenario, the further decline of the UK in terms of our standard of living and our standing in the world, is inevitable unless we can collectively create more wealth that we can export abroad. (PS I am rather hoping that part 2 of NR’s blog gives me some hope!)

  • Comment number 59.

    Nick - it doesn't really matter that we "decline". As others have said we have "been there & done that".
    China is rapidly polluting itself to death as is India - the Yellow river is almost dead, the rest will inevitably follow. Both will implode, it is simply inevitable - there just ain't enough resources for "emerging nations" to live like the USA
    We have a chance now to learn from our colonial past, reflect and perhaps learn.
    1) Grow more of our own food - government led initiative.
    2) Educate just 10% of the population to degree level & educate the rest appropriately
    3) We have to be the first to leave the EU and say No to corruption, No to crass inefficiency etc. & the YES to the EEC - that's what we all thought we were getting anyway!
    4) Keep the SAS, marines, SBS and RAF and fund them very, very well.
    5) Realise that the USA was never really our 'special' friend.
    6) Stand up for Britain and remove religious views from the legislature
    7) Invest in energy self sufficiency - nuclear first (sad but we need it ASAP).
    That's about it - now where is the government to do all that!?

  • Comment number 60.

    If you had half a Brain cell you knew this years ago, everything started to go the eastern Europe countries, now just going a little further east.

  • Comment number 61.

    'The economy, stupid' - self-evidently Governments can carry on 'forever' providing the people are satisfied with the State of the economy - which does not augur particularly well for the Coalition at present, but maybe by 2015, our fiscal situation might be improving but it is not really something anybody can predict.

    'The City of London's in decline' - if the Nazis had'nt driven S.G. Warburg out of pre-war Germany, then Berlin would probably be the financial capital of Europe now. As it is is, Frankfurt and/or Zurich will probably become very significant players if the EU gets its economic act together.

    'A declining military' - as somebody who spent around 23 years working with the military, finishing in the early 1990's, I cannot say this is a surprise. Poor suppliers, a wildly dysfunctional MoD and clueless politicians (including the current shower) have severely reduced 'our' capability in this area. Maybe not such a bad thing overall - better to become a willing member of a bolstered EUDF and to also get some of the other EU members to share the costs. The USA should not be expected to shoulder the burden of being the worlds policeman on its own and the EU must play its part.

    'In Europe but not running it' - true, which is what you must expect if you are a half-hearted member of the club. 'Our' politicians in England are really cowardly in this respect, they simply will not make a positive case for Europe.

    'Marginal on the world stage' - true, and we (England) would now gain more leverage by being more whole-hearted members of the EU and boosting our Commonwealth connections.

    'David Cameron' - we English are stuck with 'Dave' and the other posh boys who believe in 'political Britain' for the time being but maybe at the next General Election, the English worm will finally begin to turn and the English people find themselves electing politicians whose aspirations for England match those of its people.

  • Comment number 62.

    No47 Paul T Horgan,
    If I remember right the highest proportion of GDP, in recent memory, taken as 'the states share' was under Thatcher. It was 44% and used to pay for mass unemployment which is always a feature of Tory regimes.It has risen over the last few years as a result of massive reductions in revenue and a strong desire to avoid a depression, and other mistakes made in the 1930's.

  • Comment number 63.

    Somewhere along the way we adopted the misguided notion that we did not want British people doing manual or menial tasks, we were too good for that – leave it to Jonny Foreigner to do the jobs we would not do.

    We sat back as profitable UK facilities were closed down and the work was exported to Asian/East European countries where marginally higher profit margins could be achieved. - great for the shareholders but not so great for UK PLC.

    Those top brands that shone brightly on the world stage soon became targets for takeovers and more of the profitable work was taken back to the parent countries leaving us with predominantly niche industries, which did not require huge amounts of labour.

    Our economy is increasingly tied in with that of the US so when America sneezes we all catch the cold. This uncertainty in the US economy restricts our ability to control our own economy and large scale industrial demand can only be influenced to a small degree by government decisions.

    We have sleep walked our economy into this situation over several decades – a healthy, successful economy needs to be a mixed economy not just dependent on finance, service or retail sectors but with a real industrial powerhouse.

    The end result leaves us with a big problem in terms of employment opportunities for the many people not suited to the white collar, more technical functions who used to take refuge in our industrial activities – how now to keep them gainfully employed?

  • Comment number 64.

    re the military. I think it should be remembered we were never really a military power, unlike France or Germany, just up to the task - we fought very few wars on our own, mostly in coalitions - eg the Napoleonic wars. The British were always suspicious of the army( useful at home to put down unrest ) and invested the minimum. Our strength, where the money was spent, was the Royal Navy; even that was cut back during times of peace in the past to be resurrected when needed. We are now in the envious position that we have no real enemies that require a (massive) global presence.

  • Comment number 65.

    Ruinous expenses of maintaining the facade of being a military "big hitter"
    could only end in tears. Trident will prove to much of a burden even with French input. Arm forces that we can afford, military commitments we can sustain, and though Montgomery does not carry the same charisma as it did, he did say not to put Western armies in Asia. Twenty years from now people will be saying why this Afghanistan war was fought, I see no merit to this madness, the shame of Iraq we will have to live with.

  • Comment number 66.

    53. At 12:15pm on 15 Nov 2010, Poprishchin wrote:


    'We need a capitalist revolution in this country!!'
    Who'd pay for it?"


    If you stop bleeding entrepreneurs dry, they would pay for it themselves!

    It's so simple!!

    Allow people to make money and they will. And they will invest their profits to make more money...

    Why is it that people in this country just don't get it?

    Oh, sorry! Forgot! Commie pinko teachers, commie pinko media (BBC is a great example), commie pinko public sector workers, commie pinko unions, commie pinko welfare scroungers, and an economically ignorant ruling class. Most of the above have never had proper wealth-creating jobs!


  • Comment number 67.

    this is what you get after 13 years of labour trashing the economy with inflated tax take (from profits in the future) from the city and then wasting it on benifits and the NHS.

    DC should have sorted out the millstone that the NHS is. A small cut by sacking all the managers and handgers on wouldhave left the Defence budget ok. Brown/Blair were not keen on supporting the military with funds but like being at the top table.

    new elections next october after libs get dumped in the may elections and the tories elect David Davies as the new leader

  • Comment number 68.

    21. At 11:11am on 15 Nov 2010, jon112dk wrote:

    Staying specifically to the topic of the blog - decline of the disunited kingdom.

    Tories are now the government - like the captain of a ship they are responsible for what happens now, endless moaning about the disastrous conduct of the last captain is running out steam.
    I see no moaning - only a recognition that it takes time for a ship to change course. In the terms of the UK's status, it is nonsense to proclaim that the current position is down to the current government.

    Looking at issues like military status I think it's very clear how the decline relates to the tories as they decommission key ships and whole classes of combat aircraft.
    If only life was that simple. When discussing the current UK status, you need to take into account the resources available to the current government. It's not the 'what' that we need to focus on, it's the 'why'

    The tories have turned themselves into a single issue party: cuts. They want to destroy 'big government' but are now getting defensive about being dismissed as a small government by functioning, serious nations.
    There is no basis of fact to any of this.

    Lord snooty needs to start accepting a more realistic assessment of the postion of the disunited kingdom as they steadily dismantle it as a nation - their position is not going to be at the top table.
    There is no evidence available to lead to any conculsion on what the current government currently accepts here, so we can claim this as you do, or the opposite if we chose.

    If that's uncomfortable for them, excuse me whilst I laugh.
    I have seen no sign that they find things unconfortable at the moment - if you think you have then I would suggest you are likely to be clutching at straws

    Anyway, enough said.

  • Comment number 69.

    Justforsighs_SFB @ #14 - Using arguments based on the premise that my dad is (pick one: bigger; harder; wealthier; cleverer; more tory) than your dad gets us nowhere. Try obtaining some grey matter and learn how to exercise it, and thus discover how to put a cogent argument together instead of the usual simplistic nonsense that is your trademark.

  • Comment number 70.

    I believe that we, along with most Western countries, are indeed in for a period of prolonged economic decline. As a nation, the amount we take from the world’s economy is vastly more than we contribute to it. At present we balance our books by selling capital assets (e.g. the high speed South East rail link) and, of course, borrowing on a vast scale. Both of these strategies are running out of legs and we will be a country who has sold all the silver and is mortgaged up to the eyeballs and beyond. In addition, the non-Western world will be looking to bring their wages up to our levels on the not unreasonable basis that they are at least as competent and efficient was we are. Take our high-rollers in the City – are Beijing and Bombay going to allow these bozos to cream off all best salaries for ever? Of course not – financial activity will move to where the economic power is. The UK’s ‘service economy’, characterised by bureaucrats, consultants, and lawyers who spend their either working lives suing each other, will be a busted flush.

    I believe that this process is already underway, visible in the reduced life prospect of the younger generation. The level of aspiration with regard to becoming owner-occupier is much reduced compared twenty years ago and pensions funds are often not even a distant dream. Such wealth as remains is safely stashed away and marked ‘for baby-boomers only’. Never mind – there is still time to look for enhanced life quality rather than the endless battle for standard of living.

  • Comment number 71.

    Britain has been in decline pretty well constantly since the end of WW2.

    The first big mistake was not to be in at the beginning of the EU, so as not the be able to stamp any sort of "Britishness" into the organisation from the start, then we have consistently been fighting wars which by and large have had nothing whatsoever to do with the UK - acting at the USA's "community support officer" rather than concentrating on building a role for the country in the post colonial era.

    The British people have become more and more resistent to change, witness the negative attitudes displayed towards decimalsation of the currency in the late sixties / early seventies, metrication of weights and measures, taking part in European institutions such as Schengen or the Euro. The list can go on and on.

    The UK hasn't really got to grips with being a small country, on the periferary of Europe, which, through carelessness has lost it's manufacturing base, and now has a fairly insignificant currency on the world stage.

    We cannot work out whether we want to be a full member of the European club or a State of the USA - we've got to become one or the other. Straddling the two and trying to cut a lone furrow won't work long term. Its difficult however to know when the politicians and the media that drive them will wake up to this reality.

  • Comment number 72.

    Britain in decline as the result of a Labour government? Gosh, I've never heard of that before!

  • Comment number 73.

    Commie pinko? OMG that is, like, sooo 70s!

  • Comment number 74.

    "64. At 12:31pm on 15 Nov 2010, JoeBloggs_snr wrote:
    re the military. I think it should be remembered we were never really a military power, unlike France or Germany, just up to the task - we fought very few wars on our own, mostly in coalitions - eg the Napoleonic wars"

    Complete guff. At the start of the Napoleonic wars France was allied with Spain (it was a combined fleet we sank at Trafalgar) and the French armies used many Swiss and Polish troops, especially Polish lancers. Germany didn't even exist as a nation at the time of the Napoleonic wars. Prussia brought an Army to Waterloo, Hanover provided troops under British command etc. The difference between the British and 'French' armies were simple. Ours was a professional army where people signed up (often after being given the choice of the army or the gallows) for 20 or 30 years. The French used conscription. In the 1800's the British were the only army in the world who drilled with live ammo. We won because our 'thin red lines' of convicted murderers and drunks had fought on every continent on earth and could fire 4 rounds a minute. Conscripted french farm boys who could only fire 2 didn't stand a chance.

    As for wars we fought alone: we defeated the French in Canada & the US in the 1700's, lost the American war of independence, conquered the Indian sub continent, lost the war of 1812 (but did burn down the White House) and won the Penninsula campaign. After that we engaged in relatively few major wars between Napoleon and WW2.... the Crimea was the biggest by far and that was small war by modern standards.

  • Comment number 75.

    Isnt China's ecconomic rise mostly based on the slave labour enforced by the ruling state on its Citizens, most of whom are overworked & underpaid and are living in abject poverty ????

  • Comment number 76.

    There was a time that Britannia ruled the waves. Thanks to the previous government's waste and financial mismanagement, it now seems all we can afford now is a couple of pedalos without the pedals.

    But military decline is not the only issue. We are also faced with a decline in public services for vulnerable people. There is also a sense of moral decline.

    Consider Woolas being de-seated for making false statements in his election campaign. Yes, of course that's serious - but why isn't Clegg also being challenged for making false statements about tuition fees? We now read that Clegg intended to scrap the policy even before the election. If that's true, then it was a fraudulent campaign designed to grab students' votes. (Clegg has a track record on making false promises - eg on the EU referendum).

    If our MPs do not have moral integrity, it drags society down as a whole.

  • Comment number 77.

    The UK no longer a significant military power on the world stage? Thank goodness.

    Let's get the lads (and lassies) back home and out of uniform right away - before someone dreams up another harebrained and pointless overseas military adventure.


  • Comment number 78.


    I'd rather live here than China, regardless of their rate of growth.

    'Decline' is subjective. I'd say we would be truly in decline if we got rid of many things that you describe as 'red tape'such as - maternity, paternity, flexible working, working hours, rights to holidays etc.

    These are the kind of things that makes working life bearable and family life possible in our time-poor modern age.

    I'd say that there's plenty of wealth creation going on in this country. It's just a pity that so much of the revenue it generates and the jobs that it creates are being offshored by the serially greedy.

    I find it highly amusing when the ill-informed trumpet their usual 'get rid of half of all public sector jobs without affecting frontline services' yarn. You don't know what you're talking about. Many services might not be 'frontline' to you, but they are to many others.

    Yes, the public sector needs trimming, but don't blame it for the ills, incompetence and greed of the private sector.

    Returning to the original post - yes we may be in relative decline economically and militarily but the latter is no bad thing and the former should be fixed with a rebalancing of the economy.

  • Comment number 79.

    Some politicians - Nick Clegg perhaps - would say that Britain should stop pretending to be what it is not and should accept that our power and status depend on being one of the biggest and richest countries in the EU.

    That's the silliest thing I have heard in years! We are skint, we owe 4 trillion pounds plus, Romania is richer than us, in fact Zimbabwe is richer than us. I'm sat here trying to think of a country more skint and in debt than the UK and I have to say I'm struggling.

  • Comment number 80.

    Wonder how long before we gtet the other half of the blog?

    Meantime, in order that you posted these points, here's a rebuttal or counterargument:
    The economy - I think we can safely leave the blame for that on El Gordo's doorstep. Notwithstanding the fact that the 3 year old financial crisis was precipitated by US based loans going sour, our banks were under-regulated (Brown's fault) and we were in no state to withstand the problems. Now we have a government getting on with resolving the problem.

    The City of London's decline - it can't be stopped IF we believe that the way in which finance is conducted needs to be better regulated. It is the hedge funds (quais-investment companies) who do not leave a big employment footprint but do have a large salary and bonus footprint, who have moved elsewhere to conduct their business. perversely, or conversely if you wish, they still depend on a thriving market place to place their bets, I mean ply their trade. Therefore London will survive.

    Declining military - its been going on for years, but I think we cqn park this firmly on Blair and Brown, under whom we increaesd our militray activity whilst simultaneously reducing the funding. Only now do we stand any chance of rebalancing the structure. Withdrawing from Afghanistan would be the next logical step, and not a moment too soon.

    In Europe - you are right. We would be better off leaving. We'd save money. We could still trade. We could get our lawmaking back. We could be more independent than we currently are. The coalition is taking a toll on healthy tory scepticism. That may be a good thing, in some people's opinion.

    We are marginal - Yes. Move on.

    Is our leader an international giant? No, we fundamentally need him to be making this country better. Currently we cannot afford anything more. Don't make the mistake of confusing pragmatism with a desire to withdraw from the global stage.

  • Comment number 81.

    We have to accept countries in Asia like China and India will grow even beyond the US economy and become more powerful in the world forums. However we shouldn't accept decline, we need to be a open, dynamic medium sized country with high quality standards and services. This needs everyone to drive standards higher and not accept poor service or standards in NHS and other public services. Looks like coalition is going in right direction of reform of wealth-fare system, cut our debt and deficit

  • Comment number 82.

    Andy wrote:
    Isnt China's ecconomic rise mostly based on the slave labour enforced by the ruling state on its Citizens, most of whom are overworked & underpaid and are living in abject poverty ????

    So What Andy who cares. I loose no sleep over them and give no money to help foreign people.
    If we kept all our money and cared just about us we would not be in such a bad state now.

  • Comment number 83.

    We are in decline because 13 yrs of totally ignorant fiscal polices (based upon a money tree in chequers) has left us doing nothing except prop up the NHS and busted on everything else ...

    Our true national debt is close to £4.3 trillion (£77,000 per person in the UK), with a public sector larger than our private sector by value (which incidentally is unsustainable; robbing Peter to pay Paul), and no hope of creating the wealth required to pay this off, and no will to change this around.

    Incidentally, the so called financial 'cuts' are we are undergoing are not actual cuts i.e. we are not reducing budgets (which is what we should be doing), but merely curbing extent in which public sector borrowing will rise each year (so the debt will still go up in actual value).

    If we were to really cut the budget deficits, we would have to cut the public sector budget back by 10% pa each year, for around 5 yrs, whilst decreasing taxes to let private spending and saving drive the economy. We would be healthier as an economy in the long run, with the private sector at about twice the public one by value, but like the Greeks, we don't want to face up to the real world.

    .... so yes we are in decline.

  • Comment number 84.

    We are after all only a small country. Perhaps it is that we are settling into our natural place in world. We should look back at the days of Empire as the anomaly and our current position as far more realistic relative to massive countries/economies like China, India and the USA.

  • Comment number 85.

    67 IR35_SURVIVOR

    DC should have sorted out the millstone that the NHS is. A small cut by sacking all the managers and handgers on wouldhave left the Defence budget ok.


    He should have privatised the entire healthcare system and reduced tax. People could then make their own provision for healthcare via insurance, with the state paying the premiums of the genuinely poor.

    We need the state to get its hand out of peoples pockets and get back to doing what it is good at, i.e. as little as possible.

  • Comment number 86.

    Will be interesting to see how the PM will PR out of this one?

  • Comment number 87.

    sagamix 17

    The reason the developing countries are catching up is their rapid adoption of free market capitalism as the engine of economic growth. Interesting that you welcome this move because another inevitable consequence is increased levels of inequality. Witness the growing number of billionaires in China and India. This is not unwelcome because poverty levels in these countries are reducing at the same time.

    A perfect example I would say of how encouraging free enterprise and abandonning an idealogiocal committment to equality leaves nearly everyone better off.

  • Comment number 88.

    Re comments about the Napoleonic wars we were in coalitions and Spain was an occupied country. At Trafalgar there were Americans, Ex slaves and even a Swede. Waterloo was a coalition which also included the Dutch under the Prince of Orange and even some French royalists

  • Comment number 89.

    What we need is true leadership & a long term vision for the UK, but I see neither.
    With Cameron seeming to cave in to everybody at the first hint of a punch up, I’m afraid that your apocalyptic visions seem almost inevitable.
    Still, Snooty & his gang will be OK whatever happens, so I guess that’s all right then.

  • Comment number 90.

    Snubbed! By Obama, who cares? I have many friends in the States and worked there and with many Americams for a long time. I have yet to hear from 1 who thinks Obama is worth thinking about.
    As far as our place in the World is concerned its high time we stopped thinking we are world powers. We are an Island and surely ought to be able to "properly" protect our own borders, if we do that surely thats job done. Incidentally which major power will have a Nuclear pop at us as long as we have armed subs "Somewhere" on earth.

  • Comment number 91.

    What units are we measuring international prestige in?

    Clearly the US still uses Military Divisions as historically that's where their leverage has lain and that's how they've stimulated their economy, but I think that the rest of the world has moved beyond that. China is well aware that the exchange rate is mightier than the sword.

    These kind of arguments come from people who's formative years were the 60s, 70s or 80s and they still see the world in the same black and white as it was then. Aging Tory back-benchers fit the bill quite neatly.

    It may be a cliche left over from WWI but the world really has changed in the last 20 years, demographics has seen to that and will continue to see that power moves east, regardless of what anyone here thinks. Military power is far from paramount and Kagan's comments come across as the sour grapes of a country which knows that as the the self proclaimed pre-emininent miltary power it can't be seen to be cutting it's armed forces, yet must watch as others make easy monetary savings that way.

    The basic axiom now needs to be that if you can't compete with the big boys (China, US, Russia) then why compete at all? Free ride it may be but it's also the rational course of action for anyone who isn't one of those three.

    The whole concept of international prestige is somewhat outdated really. The age of empires is long since gone and government these days is more about improving the lot of one's own citizens than projecting your will on to foreigners (as it should be).

  • Comment number 92.

    This is a good blog and an interesting topic. The thing that strikes me reading through the comments is what a divided nation we are. On the one side you have people who appear to believe that business and money are the only factors worth considering and on the other the people who believe that a caring society is our crown jewel. This kind of thinking polarises the labour/conservative split of our concensus politics and we seem to be permanently in decline from one or other point of view depending who is in power and which way we are heading.

  • Comment number 93.

    Whilst we all accept that the BBC has a somewhat left wing bias; it would be quite refreshing for Nick Brown and others to occasionally support a governemnt with difficult tasks, in some of its decisions; if you rubbish every position and this is becoming one of your hallmarks, then fewer people will listen to what, in the past, has been a fairly rational view.

  • Comment number 94.

    I find these military arguments very amusing. America spends more money on its armed forces than anyone else, yet they can't beat a poorly equipped bunch of farmers who have nothing more than sticks and a home chemistry set. So I don't see how throwing even more money at our armed forces will make any difference. Conventional wars are becoming increasingly less likely and certainly won't be ont he scale of what has come before.

    Remember, Britain will always be great, because it's the people that make it great.

  • Comment number 95.

    Yes, that's right, Barack Obama has no ties with Britain...

    Save for the roughly 48% of his bloodline that can be traced back to these isles.

    Did you know one of his ancestors was on the Mayflower? Or that another fought with the Patriots in the War of Independence

  • Comment number 96.

    Decline is a relative term so beloved of politicians and commentators alike because you can always make a case for it depending on where you choose to place your reference point or by selective referencing.

    Mr Cameron has just had the opportunity to discuss national decline with a country that knows all about decline (and how to reverse it) and no doubt was already aware or informed precisely of the reasons (not least when poppies were being discussed) during this visit.

  • Comment number 97.

    Does this mean that the next Labour government is now going to start setting "happiness targets"?

    And will expense-fiddling politicians, benefit tourists and bailed-out bankers appear high up or low down this particular league table?

  • Comment number 98.

    Finland does alright for itself without maintaining pretensions of empire. We can be the same.

    I like the idea of a foreign policy that seeks to advance British interests. That goes a long way to explain why William Hague sat down with Palestinians. Unconditional support for Israel has never been in our interests so it's time to make up for a very big mistake we made by helping to create it. That would leave the US as the only country remaining which puts Israeli interests ahead of its own.

  • Comment number 99.

    Russell 15

    'I'm sure I'll be called naive or a socialist'

    I would only one of these words seeing as they amount to the same thing.

    That being said I agree with some of what you say it's just a question of how we achieve it. If we want to encourage business to invest more and create more jobs we need to make it easier and more rewarding to do so. Amongst other things this means lower taxes on business which the coaltion are introducing.

    If we want more companies to be created in the first place we need to encourage people to be entreprenuers and we need to retain and attract to these shores the brightest and best talents. Amongst other things means lowering the penal rates of tax on high earners.

  • Comment number 100.

    Robinson dares not mention the National Debt. Channel 4’s excellent airing of that minefield the other evening has pipped the BBC to the post. All the other issues mentioned stem from that total debt. The annual deficit for example is just a small part of the whole picture as it is the sum of the annual deficits since 1915 that have left us crippled today.

    I hate the phrase, but the recorded figures show a sad tale of mismanagement, vote buying and shortsighted political aims.

    Britain has been in decline since about 1905 when the US overtook us to become the largest trading nation.

    We then suffered by paying for two world wars in which we lost our trading Empire and then the stored wealth we had collected over the industrial revolution, whilst the US made vast profits by selling and leasing war material to us.

    Following WW1 we had started to run up a serious national debt and this has now ballooned to some £4.5 trillion today (£75,000+ per person) which is haemorrhaging interest payments, weakening our ability to compete globally and pushing major problems onto future generations ensuring that they will not be able to compete either.

    Britain’s economic position (from which all else flows) has been eroded by successive governments siphoning wealth from private to public sector like a mad doctor still practising bloodletting.

    Before WW1 the public sector was about 10% of spending but now accounts for more than 50% hobbling our global competitiveness. In 1900 we were 1st on most economic scales but now hover between 6th and 12th on various scales as a result of being unable to invest, gamble, innovate and compete. All anathema to left wing politicians of course.

    In trying to spread a short-term political defined equality across Britain I am afraid governments have only achieved the downfall of the entire nation rather like a ship’s captain down in the hold sorting out better food for steerage passengers whilst allowing the ship to hit an iceberg.

    Of course everyone would like to see an end to poverty, lots of free education and healthcare and all the other goodies a profitable country can afford, but in our poor nation that is only being achieved by robbing from 3 generations ahead.

    Future Britains may well find they are back to pre-Victorian levels of starvation and poverty as a result of the stupidity of today’s politicians and their equally short sighted, unthinking and careless voters.


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