Declining gracefully

17 Feb

When this country was at its greatest, in Victorian times, we had a virtually open border. There were waves of immigrants who flooded in to areas like the East End of London. Almost all the major ports had large numbers of immigrants. They almost all started at the bottom and worked hard to create a better life for themselves, and the culture and economy of the country was much enriched by their presence.

Political agitators, like Karl Marx found a home here, whereas he could have been imprisoned in France or executed in his home state of Prussia. I’m sure that he was watched, but he was allowed to work and live in safety. Would a modern government let him in?

Whatever else you might think about the Victorians it cannot be denied that they had a breadth of vision entirely lacking in modern Britain. These days many little Englanders whinge about foreigners taking our jobs and houses. This is a distraction from our real problems. We have started to become a pessimistic, inwards looking and repressive society.

If we really want to become a great country again it will not be done by battening down the hatches, but by looking outwards and taking our responsibilities to the world seriously.

Times have certainly changed, and we no longer have an empire to rule, thank heavens. We still punch above our weight economically and militarily, but we are too dependent on the financial services sector and on London. The rest of the country is starved of resources and has huge untapped potential.

One of the greatest issues to address is the non-payment of tax by multinational corporations. Currently most European countries compete to offer the best deals for companies by offering tax dodges, especially Luxemburg and Ireland. A new initiative in the European Union would force these companies to pay their taxes where they earn their profits, and Europe as a whole is too large a market to ignore. If we pull out of the EU we can kiss good bye to this tax windfall.

Europe is a large enough block to resist outside forces. Currently the decline in Chinese financial growth is causing panic in trading rooms worldwide.  And when the US sneezes Britain catches cold. There is far less instability if we belong to a larger grouping.

We cannot return to some mythologized golden age, but we can regain the sort of attitudes that made us great as a nation. Burying your head in the sand will not do it.

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