“In Britain, nothing works anymore”

DIn early August, a British journalist asked a simple question to Jacob Rees-Mogg, then minister for Brexit options and now minister for economic affairs and energy: “What is working well in the UK right now? Can you name a public service that is working well?” In a strange pirouette, he often answered: “Our cricketers have done quite well recently”the English cricket team has just won an important match.

It was an attempt at humor, but the case speaks volumes. Even a man who has been a minister for three years struggles to name anything that works well in Britain. For months, it seems that the country is sinking into vertigo, and problems follow one another at an impressive pace.

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This summer saw the biggest strike movement in thirty years, with walkouts by train workers, postal workers, waste collectors, lawyers and even dock workers… The NHS, the health service, has 6.5 million patients waiting for treatment, three times more than in 2008. Water companies dumped millions of liters of untreated sewage directly into the sea during the summer. On July 20, London came close to a blackout when it had to urgently import electricity from Belgium at fifty times the normal price. Inflation reaches 10 per cent. Against the dollar, the British pound fell to an all-time low on Monday, September 26. The country has been in recession since April, albeit narrowly (recession in GDP of 0.1% in each of the second and third quarters).

The little background music rises, ever louder: “Nothing works properly in Britain. ยป It is a phrase that we say between friends or between colleagues. June 11, The times headline: “Why is nothing working in this broken Britain? On September 5, Keir Starmer, the Labor opposition leader, reiterated that: “People all over the country are struggling to pay their bills, worry about being able to pay for their weekly groceries or fill up their cars. There’s a general sense that nothing really works anymore.”

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Thatcher’s method

The accusation is of course partly unfair. The United Kingdom remains the world’s fifth largest economy. In a large part of London or the south-east of England, the crisis seems remote. But the discomfort is real. It is explained by the connection between two phenomena. The first is old and dates back to the Thatcher period: the United Kingdom has been the most unequal country in Western Europe for forty years. The second is more recent: since 2008 it has seen very weak growth, about 1.2% on average per year. “Together, these two challenges represent a toxic combination”, analyzes the Resolution Foundation, a think tank. In a report published in July, he points out that Britain is gradually falling down the rankings: in 2018, the average income of a British household was 16% below that of the Germans and 9% below that of the French, while it was higher in 2007.

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