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  • The UK used to be known, not so long ago, as 'the sick man of Europe.'

  • Then in the '80s and '90s and early 2000s, things improved.

  • But now I find when I travel in Europe and elsewhere, people ask me what's wrong with Britain?

  • And it sounds very familiar to me, it reminds me of my childhood.

  • So this will be my answer.

  • We are facing six interlocking crises simultaneously.

  • The first is economic.

  • We experienced the financial crisis.

  • But we've sort of overcome that.

  • But the big problem is that productivity is stagnant.

  • In fact, we have almost the worst record on productivity among all the rich countries apart from Italy.

  • That makes life very, very difficult because on average, we're not getting better off.

  • The second crisis is over national identity, and in particular the fundamental question about whether national identity is exclusive; one must have absolute sovereignty in the nation one identifies with; or whether it can be complex, can one be European and British at the same time?

  • And this relates, of course, to the way this particular crisis has emerged, which is Brexit, the divisions over Brexit which divide the country evenly and lead one side to conclude that the other side is essentially treacherous because it has betrayed its country for this European cause.

  • The fourth crisis is political or of politics.

  • These divisions over Brexit, these divisions over national identity, in other words, made into a political cause, divide our parties.

  • They have rendered both the Conservative party and the Labour party incapable of performing their functions as governing parties or as the opposition party.

  • And that, of course, makes political life basically impossible.

  • The fifth crisis is constitutional.

  • These are not just narrowly political questions.

  • Membership of the EU was a constitutional settlement for Britain.

  • It resolved, as it were, the rules of the political game for well over 40 years.

  • Undoing it by a referendum was itself a constitutional device.

  • We've had this now for a few decades.

  • But we've never really thought seriously about how you implement constitutional decisions of this kind made by referendum because parliament has to do it.

  • And the referendum's meaning is not obvious.

  • And the final crisis, and possibly the most important of all, is simply one of leadership.

  • Political leadership has been extraordinarily weak now for quite a long time.

  • And it looks likely that the next election will be between Boris Johnson leading the Conservatives and Jeremy Corbyn leading the Labour party.

  • If so none of these issues that I've discussed are likely to be resolved.

  • And the overwhelming likelihood is that the British constitution, political settlement, and political life will continue to be a troubled mess for the indefinite future.

The UK used to be known, not so long ago, as 'the sick man of Europe.'

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What's wrong with Great Britain?

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    Julia Kuo posted on 2019/05/09
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