Britain’s wasted years
Letter to The Economist
SIR – Reading The Economist’s conclusions on the British economy is always breathtaking (“Little England or Great Britain?”, November 9th). It is true that Britain has somehow muddled through the financial crisis as it has muddled through much else. But Britain is in a mess, despite your assurances. Foreign interest in Britain comes from its membership of the European market. Workers are relatively cheap and easy to get rid of. Important personnel are simply shipped in to run things.
To repeat the metaphor used by John Rose when he was chief executive of Rolls-Royce, Britain is like an aircraft-carrier: companies can easily land and leave. Their roots are not here, nor their senior management. Most of their R&D is overseas. Only a few settle, such as Nissan (which will leave if Britain pulls out of Europe) and BMW.
Over the decades Britain’s management elites have abandoned our industries one by one. The political justification was that Britain must be the first to embrace the post-industrial world. The result is that the British people continue to pay the price of being ever more dependent upon inward investment to support their declining wealth. You make a virtue of this dire necessity.
Moreover, the statist model that you so readily dismiss has in fact created mighty global companies, such as Électricité de France, which distributes a large chunk of Britain’s energy and is the lead developer in the new Hinkley Point nuclear power station. One asks why is this, given that Britain built the world’s first big nuclear power station in the 1950s?
Britain is a wasteland of lost opportunities and failed policies. It is socially and economically dysfunctional. A measure of the depth of our failure is exemplified by George Osborne’s trip to China to drum up support for both the funding and the construction of Hinkley Point and doubtless other power stations to follow. Reviled on the one hand as a totalitarian state, China is welcomed on the other to bail out Britain.
The Centre for International Economics