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The shambles, England's or Britain's?

2 January 2008

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): The Daily Mail's editorial today contained two interesting aspects, one original and one, well, not unusual. It says that in the verbiage of most new year accounts "Britain's three greatest problems have been all but ignored". These are: "the effects on Britain of mass immigration; the demolition of our constitution; and the absence of any serious energy policy to secure the nation's future prosperity. It is no exaggeration to say that the implications of these three problems are awesome". And it is true that none of the serious papers except perhaps the Independent, feel able to identify the crash of the UK constitution with the force and authority of the Mail. In this section of the editorial argues,

For ten years, Mr Blair conducted a series of catastrophic experiments, leaving the country worse equipped to solve its own problems than at any time in our history.

And in its conclusion it describes what is left of the constitution as a "shambles".

Of course it sees as the "destruction" of "the constitutional relationship between England and Scotland" as part of this. But how deeply does the Mail itself grasp the national question?

In the days news and views it dedicates a lot of space to new official figures which show, as the editorial says, that "England is poised to become the most overcrowded nation in Europe". Then it continues,

The long-term problems caused by this massive influx are not merely a question of numbers - although there are some areas in which public services are already being strained to breaking point. They are also cultural, striking at the very roots of Britain's identity as a nation.

The slip from England to Britain is seamless. But it is not Britain which includes the wide open glens and spaces of Scotland that is becoming as densely populated as Holland. This is classic metropolitan use of 'England' to mean how 'we live' and 'Britain' to mean how 'we rule'. And a classic metropolitan blindness to the way that this slippage is one of the prime causes of the UK's constitutional shambles.

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