Saturday, December 10, 2011
Welcome to the year - 2030
As King William V prepares for his coronation, it seems an appropriate time to reflect on a couple of tumultuous decades in the history, not only of England, but also of the former United Kingdom. Following the difficulties the country has had, politically, socially, economically, and, of course, with our football, the coronation presents a rare opportunity for the English to let their hair down and forget their troubles for a few days.
The happiest amongst us are, of course, the Conservative party and its supporters having won yet another general election. Removing the seats of Wales and Scotland from parliament hit the opposition parties hard, and, despite a scarcity of Tory MPs in the north, political commentators conclude that, by retaining first-past-the-post, and a plentiful supply of safe seats, it is hard to imagine anything other than a Conservative majority government in England for decades to come.
It is well over a decade since England and the European Union parted company, and remains a hotly debated topic ever since. While the EU struggled in the 2010s, England’s self-imposed isolation saw her miss out on the subsequent economic recovery and boom that the European countries continue to enjoy. Reminders from the media about Churchill and who-won-the-war-anyway seem to grow more hollow each year.
It is of course a different story for Scotland – now celebrating ten years of independence followed by a timely re-entry into the EU. Access to the wider markets, without tariffs, and considerable goodwill from the major EU states, meant Scottish industries soon boomed and the loss of trade with England was soon replaced.
Edinburgh continues to enjoy a cultural revival, its universities overflowing with students from all over Europe enjoying subsidised fees (except those from England, of course) and the wealth generated has ensured the Scots continue to enjoy a first class health and education system.. The Prime Minister of Scotland is looking forward to welcoming the new King to its opening of parliament at the Salmond Hall.
Once Scotland got independence, that of the other nations was inevitable but so far not as successful. Northern Ireland remains mostly dependent on their cousins south of the border, while Wales continues to struggle. (After changing to first-past-the-post, Wales is now permanently Labour-run much as England is permanently Conservative-run). However, it is still early days for Wales, having only recently re-entered the EU and adopted the Euro.
Having left the EU, the then-UK continued to trade with Europe but of course there now existed extra expenses across the EU-boundary. This meant the price of imports went up which was passed to the customer and hence fuelled inflation. Increases in fuel prices were a bitter blow. And the export market reduced as European countries found alternative sources within the EU. Trade continues of course but at a fraction of the rate that we saw in the 2000s.
Economic experts continue to question the wisdom of breaking off from the EU at a time of economic difficulties – and point to the fact that the unemployment figure has never gone below three million ever since. Cynics point out, however, that while the bulk of this unemployment is in areas which do not tend to vote Tory, there should be no danger to the Conservative majority.
On the more basic level, many people bemoan the loss of skilled help and relatively cheap labour from eastern Europe. Once the government imposed work permit requirements on all non-UK citizens, the exodus began but left the country critically short of skilled labour in agriculture and the NHS. Complaints about builders and plumbers have soared to record levels, and, despite the high level of unemployment, many employers say they struggle to get willing applicants to do the most basic of jobs.
(You may recall the scandal of the northern MP who smuggled a Polish plumber across the border from Scotland – using the excuse that he felt British plumbers did not provide sufficient skills and customer service. The Sun’s constant accusation of being ‘quisling’ and reminding him of Poland’s war record forced him to step down).
While the countries of the former UK continue to have different fortunes, mass apathy continues to remain. Political party membership is at all all-time low, turnouts for general elections are down to 40% with others in the 20s. And the restrictions on party funding make it virtually impossible for anyone, other than the Tories, to mount any sort of campaign.
Some would argue that football is more important, and we well remember the rejoicing in 2022 as Scotland qualified for their first world cup in 24 years. On the other hand, having left FIFA at the demands of the government and the media, England are, of course, ineligible for such events.
As for the continent, there were very difficult times in the 2010s, the Eurozone crises, the constant relaunches of the Euro - but they got there at last. The continent may be dominated by the larger powers, but all 35 states within the EU are enjoying continued growth and prosperity, the Euro continues to hold its own against the dollar, the yen and others, and the social unrest is just a memory.
Because of the waiting list, there are even suggestions of renaming the European Union to incorporate those countries from western Asia and north Africa who wish to have some sort of associate membership.
So King William may reflect on the contrasting fortunes of his commonwealth. Canada, Australia, Scotland, and, above all, India, continue to soar. England and Wales continue to struggle with seemingly permanent recession.
But the new King will no doubt hope that his reign will be far more peaceful than that of his father – so let us rejoice in his coronation, let us look forward to the new age, and let us pray for a new beginning and a break from the mistakes of the past.