UK News

Insights from the UK and beyond

from Nicholas Wapshott:

No, austerity did not work

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There have been a lot of sighs of relief in Europe lately, where countries like Britain and Spain, long in recession, have finally started to grow. Not by much, nor for long. But such is the political imperative to suggest that all the misery of fiscally tight economic policies was worth the pain that there are tentative claims the worst is now over and, ipso facto, austerity worked.

Hold on a minute. Growth is good. Growth is what allows countries to pay down their national debt by increasing economic activity, putting the unemployed to work and making people prosperous enough to pay taxes. But gross domestic product growth alone is not enough to provide adequate sustained prosperity if it does not also lead to significant job growth.

Take Spain, which has just emerged from two years of recession by posting a third quarter growth rate of 0.1 percent. Technically the Spanish slump is over. But a glance at their job figures shows the country has a long way to go before it can genuinely say it has escaped the diminishing effects of austerity -- in the form of tight fiscal policies, public spending cuts and labor and entitlement reforms -- imposed indirectly by Germany through the European Union.

In Spain, unemployment remains stubbornly high at 26 percent; half of those age 25 and under are still without jobs. More than half those age 25 and under in Greece and Croatia are also unemployed. In Europe, only in Germany and Austria is youth unemployment under 10 percent. Greece and Spain lead the sorry list of European countries with more than 25 percent unemployed, and 13 more are enduring joblessness at more than 10 percent.

from The Great Debate UK:

UK recovery, but not on the high street

It was only a few days ago that George Osborne declared victory on economic malaise saying that the UK economy has turned a corner. The economic data has improved dramatically in the last six months, which gave Osborne a battering ram to launch a political attack on the Labour Party. Osborne used his moment in the sun to prove Ed Balls and all on the other side of the political bench wrong, saying that his austerity programme is right for Britain.

However, a little over 24 hours after Osborne’s speech a report from the Local Data Company made for uncomfortable reading as it detailed grim conditions on the UK’s high streets. High Street vacancy rates remain stubbornly high; out of 650 town centres in the UK the average vacancy rate is 14.1 percent, which is basically unchanged since February.

from John Lloyd:

In Britain, a summer of quiet revolution

The British Isles are sentries in a turning world. The monarchy, pageantry, the mediaeval House of Lords, titles, accents, the established Church of England with the Queen at its head -- they all give the adroit illusion of continuity and the primacy of tradition over change.

But this summer there are diverse changes modernizing the Isles. These revolutions, small and large, will not be reversed, and will contribute significantly to a redefinition of what it is to be British (and Irish). The illusions of tradition will remain, as diligently served as ever. The core is hollowing out.

from John Lloyd:

The nuance behind the iron

There’s no time more apt for murmuring the ending of Brutus’s speech in Julius Caesar than the week of Margaret Thatcher’s funeral: “The evil men do lives after them/the good is oft interred with their bones.” No time better, either, to add that the “evil” that, in this case one woman, did is little examined by her detractors, who prefer to stick to a diabolical version of her 12-year rule.

Margaret Thatcher (narrowly) won the 1979 election because the Labour government of the 1970s, under Prime Ministers Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, had unsuccessfully tried to make a contract with the trade unions. In such a contract, pay would have been calibrated to productivity, and increases would be low in order to bring down high rates of inflation and to keep up investment in the socialized education, health and welfare institutions that disproportionately benefited the lower classes. It was the kind of social deal that the Germans and the Scandinavians had and still – in part – have: one that produces economies that, not by chance, have escaped the worst of the economic buffeting of the past five years.

from The Great Debate:

Thatcher: Master of the ‘unexpecteds’

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The passing of Margaret Thatcher comes at a time when the great theme that shaped her years as Britain’s prime minister – the frontier between government and the private sector – is again the focus of serious public debate. Her historic achievement was to widen the frontiers of the “market” and, as she said, to have “rolled back the frontiers of the state.”

There is, however, a pendulum in this relationship between government and private sector. The role of government in the economy has expanded greatly since the 2008 financial collapse, along with government debt. So we will likely again see a struggle to rebalance the respective realms of state and market. And it will again be a battle.

from John Lloyd:

A free press without total freedom

Journalism gyrates dizzily between the dolorous grind of falling revenue and the Internet’s vast opportunities of a limitless knowledge and creation engine. On the revenue front, no news is good. The just-published Pew Center’s “State of the US News Media” opens with the bleak statement that “a continued erosion of news reporting resources converged with growing opportunities for those in politics, government agencies, companies and others to take their messages directly to the public.” Not only, that is, is the trade shrinking, but those who once depended on its gatekeepers have found their own ways to visibility.

Journalists’ task, as large as any they have collectively faced in 400 years of their trade’s existence, is to find a way to continue the journalism that societies most need and citizens are least willing to pay for: detailed, skeptical, truthful, fair, investigatory writing and broadcasting. It’s a big ask. The British are in the process of not answering it. They are staging a sideshow: not an unimportant one, but in a minor key all the same.

from John Lloyd:

A yacht not fit for a queen

Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of Her other Realms and Territories, Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith … is in want of a yacht.

She had one, the Royal Yacht Britannia, which she loved very much. When the Labour government of Tony Blair said it was too expensive and decommissioned it soon after assuming office in 1997, she was seen to weep at the ceremony. Last year, Blair was reported as saying he regretted the decision, pressed upon him by the then-chancellor, Gordon Brown, and inherited from the previous, Conservative administration. It cost £11 million a year to run, and a necessary refit would have cost some £50 million. So it was put out to the nautical equivalent of pasture. It’s now on show at a dock in Leith, the port of Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh, where it’s in much demand as a venue for “occasions."

Constitution in crisis as tyrannical journalists devour cowed politicians

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A sordid tale of excess and brutality, of a world dominated by journalists with their ears to the keyhole, of tyrannical newspapers wielding remarkable power and of a political class not only cowed, but consumed, by that power.

Sound familiar? With two of Britain’s most senior policemen out of a job, the prime minister under pressure for his serenading of News Corp and one of the world’s most powerful press barons, in the form of Rupert Murdoch, summoned to testify to parliament, it would be one way of describing the current state of affairs.

from FaithWorld:

Heaven is a fairy tale, says British physicist Stephen Hawking

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(Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking speaks at Perimeter Institute For Theoretical Physics in Kitchener, Canada, June 20, 2010/Sheryl Nadler)

Heaven is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark, the eminent British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking said in an interview published on Monday. Hawking, 69, was expected to die within a few years of being diagnosed with degenerative motor neurone disease at the age of 21, but became one of the world's most famous scientists with the publication of his 1988 book "A Brief History of Time".

from FaithWorld:

UK Catholics urged to shun meat on Fridays

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(Fish and chips in London, 31 July 2010/Javier Vte Rejas)

Britain's Catholics have been urged to make more effort to follow religious custom and abstain from eating meat on Fridays, potentially boosting sales of fish.

Church law required Catholics over the centuries to comply with this abstinence as part of Friday penance, the day set aside for special prayer and fasting to mark the day Jesus died. Traditionally Catholics have opted to eat fish instead, though a combination of new church guidance and changing eating habits has eroded this habit.

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