I've had a bit of a rant building for a while and this week has topped it all...
Here's a summary of what I see happening with the UK, both internally and externally:
- We've badly annoyed the US over Syria. This was an already skeptical US government who didn't really like us anyway but trusted us as a reliable ally. The Republicans aren't much more favourable at the moment as Cameron openly touted for Democrat sympathies. Ed Miliband is about as welcome there as herpes. So, there's a soured relationship. I've seen more than a few articles and opinions today and yesterday full of bluff and bluster that we should really be loosening the bond anyway. Expanding that point, Russia, Iran, N Korea and other nations are rattling their sabres more and more, the US is getting fed up and there's a broad feeling in the political elite there of wanting to retrench back to isolationism, especially if their allies seem to be doing the same.
- We regularly state how much we want to get out of the EU. We regularly deliberately annoy the French and Germans, the Spanish don't like us. The Eastern European EU countries detest us for the loss of a not inconsiderable portion of their working youth, with a high proportion of them being the type of people no nation can really afford to lose. We're proud of the international investment in the UK over the last decade or two but most people just don't understand that the biggest reason for that investment is that the UK is a nice cheap place to build things to sell to Europe without duties then send the profits abroad untaxed, leave the EU and where's the incentive for the companies to stay?
- But for Australia, Canada and NZ not treating us with contempt, the Commonwealth isn't exactly a good source of friends. Even then those three nations are more like friendly acquaintances rather than friends.
- Our core international strength these days is our financial sector. The US and EU would dearly love to see that broken. If we keep pushing the EU away then we'll have no say at all when they bring in the taxes that will force international trade to make a choice between high cost international transactions based in London or cheaper in NY or one of the EU hubs. The international financial industry isn't known for its loyalty and would happily sit anywhere in their world and direct their computers at NY rather than UK if it saved them a fraction of a percent in cost.
- We've now shown that when it comes to being one of the Permanent Seats on the Security Council that our threats are backed up with only a willingness to make more threats while our allies hold the stick. Good luck next time we really want something done to protect our own interests. International diplomacy at this level just doesn't work if you publicly say "not our problem". It's OK if you're, say, Belgium who doesn't really want to be at the top table all the time and are content to let the EU lead, it's not OK for the UK who want to express independence. The only reason we won't have the Seat removed from us by the UN is that it'd take 15 years of UN debate to make the decision then the US would just veto it anyway as not in their interests.
- Three decades of cowardly internal investment in terms of energy self-sufficiency has left us very vulnerable to being exploited by the less friendly states out there. A minimal bit of investment spread over three decades could have had us in a far better place but no government wanted to broach the subject of new nuclear power stations.
- Our armed forces have been treated like a kid's plaything since the end of the cold war. Cut, cut, cut, degrade pay and conditions, cut again, skimp a bit on investment, cut yet again, mess around with pensions, cut again. All while pretending we've still got a willy to waggle. Do one or the other, cut your military or be world military statesmen, you can't do both. The biggest hint that the politicians just didn't get it was culling our admittedly lightweight aircraft carriers many years away from replacement then commissioning ego pieces of WW3 capable navy ships while treating nimble smaller warships capable of dealing with current threats, e.g. piracy, as if they're not needed.
- Our national morals are so shot that we genuinely look at genocides going on around the world and think "not our problem". The BBC Panorama crew were in Syria and saw a Syrian jet drop napalm or thermite onto a school, 20 kids killed along with a good number of adults and plenty more seriously injured. The overwhelming response of Britain was "not our problem". To be fair, the rest of the world has slipped along the same way. We still turn blind eyes to UK based arms companies selling weaponry to nutjob regimes around the world, after all it's tax revenue and what they do with them isn't our problem. Anyone who thinks we have any international morals should read the work of General Dallaire on the Rwandan genocides and how he was ignored by everyone while nations still sold more and more arms and munitions to the government forces. In the 1990s, governments genuinely avoided using the word genocide as it was such a taboo that we'd have to intervene if we knew one was going on, in the 2010s, it's so routine that government ministers talk about genocide as if they found a hair in their soup. Maybe it'll be the same in the 2020s about chemical weapons. No wonder the Israelis don't believe us when we say "never again" in response to the Holocaust.
- Another one on our national morals. Pay day loans are so acceptable these days that no-one bats an eye at 2000-5000% APRs any more. I saw one advert this morning inbetween overs in the cricket for a new one, Sunny, that has a USP (unique selling point) of having no late fees or charges if you're late paying, you "just" pay the 1971% APR interest on what's late. No wonder a judge had sympathy and didn't jail an unregistered loan shark working a council estate who only charged 40% APR. If we had any sense of financial responsibility as a country then we'd ban these things that are solely there to exploit the lowest paid people in the country. As an aside on this, I have a friend who works at a debt management company, he told me last week about a young woman who had just taken an IVA through them less than a month ago but came to him asking his help in getting a loan to help her through "a short term issue"; on investigation, she wanted new carpets for her house and she couldn't understand why he got so frustrated and told her to think about saving up and paying cash rather than taking a loan at the usurious rates offered to those in an IVA for something that she really didn't need.
- We have a culture in companies where they deliberately pay minimum wage and grudge it so much that it's clear that they are only paying that because they're legally obliged to do so. Unfortunately, many of these people are in caring career jobs. Profit is everything.
I could go on but I'm off out to watch some sport...
So... that leaves us with Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands who think we're wonderful. I wonder how many Wonga loans we can get them to take.
My impression of the UK now is like a narcissistic aging man who likes to tell everyone about how important we are and genuinely believing it when we're really all fur coat and no knickers. Not the "sick man of Europe" we were in the 1970s but we do seem to have a worryingly persistent cough that's not going away.
I genuinely don't know how we'd fix it. Our current generation of politicians are lightweights at best. Sadly, Cameron is the best of the leaders there now, unfortunately he's still fairly naff and his heart is quite firmly set on keeping the Conservative traditions going of helping the wealthy and corporations while pretending anyone north or west of the midlands doesn't exist. I wouldn't believe Miliband if he told me tomorrow was Sunday, I'd have to go check my calendar. Clegg is a middle-manager out of his depth but I'd still have him as PM over Miliband. It's a pathetic state of affairs that probably the most credible party leader in Britain is Alex Salmond.