For the incurable optimist — of which there are no doubt several in the Downing Street bunker — there are signs that Britain is starting to recover. The stock market is booming once more, confidence is returning to the housing market and the recession may soon be over. Is it possible Gordon Brown really has saved the world — even if it is too late to save himself? Or, as Labour used to warble, might things only get better?
If only. The bleak truth for UK plc is that after 12 years of stupefying Labour incompetence, the worst is yet to come. Britain is once again on the slide towards the margins of economic influence and military clout. We have the worst public finances of any comparable western economy. The British Chambers of Commerce warned this week that the UK faces a ‘grim’ economic future, with a high risk of a relapse. Unemployment is not just spreading but setting like concrete for years to come. And our shabbily treated troops, once a match for the world’s best, will soon be driven humiliatingly out of Afghanistan.
This is not the slow, managed decline of an empire looking for a role. It is a sudden, embarrassing discovery that we don’t count on the world stage any more. Thanks to our lumbering Prime Minister, we have been given the unwelcome gift to see ourselves as others see us. And it ain’t pretty.
I am writing this from New York, whose citizens once saw Britain as a staunch economic, diplomatic and military ally. It is only a few short years since they hailed Tony Blair as a 9/11 hero and awarded him the Congressional Medal he was so embarrassed to collect. That was the high-water mark for New Labour.
Today, thanks to the Oil-for-Megrahi fiasco, we are a bitter disappointment to America. Newspapers from the Wall Street Journal to the New York Daily News are still running every fresh turn in this tawdry story.
It was perfectly summed up by a devastatingly editorial in the News: ‘Gordon Brown has given grounds to believe today’s British are a cowardly, unprincipled, amoral and duplicitous lot. Because he is all of those.’ Those are cruelly exaggerated words, but they put the finger on a single identifiable cause of Britain’s collapse. The new decline in Britain’s standing on the world stage is not just about Lockerbie. Nor is it even the decision to trade a convicted mass murderer for Libya’s vast oil reserves. It is about the shifty, furtive and ultimately disastrous management of a country which, in 1997, had every conceivable chance of becoming great again.
Labour strode to power with a huge Commons majority, the goodwill of the British people and the prospect of at least two terms in office. For the first time, Labour could ride an economy which had just taken off on a long and sustainable boom.
Tony Blair could have done one or two truly great things. His government had the cash and clout to transform a welfare state in which almost three million were on incapacity benefit. Instead, it left them to rot while importing migrants to fill almost all of the three million new jobs created. It could have performed drastic but urgently needed surgery on the lumbering National Health Service. Instead, it poured truckloads of taxpayers’ money into a giant bureaucracy, entrenching inefficiencies that will cost us up to £40 billion a year, every year.
And so it goes on. Read it!
If I'd known how to say it, that's exactly what I would have said - and many others besides me, I strongly suspect.