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The Queen's Decaying Throne
It is possible, on the Welsh borders where I spent the Queen's jubilee, to believe that something of the old England remains.
Only the advantages, not the depredations, of the 20th century are evident there: the food, for example, that would have been unutterably vile at the beginning of the reign has improved out of all recognition.
There are practically no modern buildings for miles around, constructed by those staggeringly brutal and incompetent British architects of the second half of the 20th century who have left little else in the country untouched, and touched nothing that they did not ruin.
In the 60 years of the Queen's reign they have sown nothing but ugliness through the land; and only in this benighted reign would it have occurred to anyone to demolish 18th-century Bath, as it occurred to the city's council, to replace it with Novosibirsk-on-Avon.
Fortunately, the council was stopped by public protest after "only" 4000 18th-century buildings had been pulled down.
The physical ugliness perpetrated almost everywhere has been fully matched by an ugliness of soul and society that is so obvious to visitors to our shores.
At the start of the reign whose 60th anniversary we "celebrate", Britain was one of the best-ordered societies in western Europe. Now, 60 years later, it is easily the most crime-ridden.
Unpleasant social disorder is everywhere; in many places, a virtual dusk-to-dawn curfew has been imposed on old people by the drunken disorder that appals and disgusts foreigners.
Our police, once a model to the world, increasingly resemble an alien occupying army, or fascist militia, festooned with all the apparatus of repression, who inspire fear mainly in the innocent, and who are bullying yet ineffectual.
The state of the country is parlous in more ways than one. Large areas, once industrial, resemble the Soviet Union with takeaway pizza. The only "private" enterprise consists of retail chains that recycle government subventions to the unemployed. The middle class in such areas is composed almost entirely of public employees and professionals who cater to the social problems created by mass unemployment.
Even at the height of the so-called boom, in 2006, there were 2.9 million people claiming to be so ill that they could not work at all. And thus the British benefit system performed the miracle of causing more invalids than World War I. For years British social and economic policy has been to suck in large amounts of unskilled foreign labour while maintaining high levels of indigenous unemployment.
Thanks to the state-funded and encouraged destruction of the family, at least a fifth of children in Britain eat a meal with another member of their household less often than once a week.
This elementary but important form of socialisation is therefore lost to them; and it is hardly surprising that many grow up into profoundly unsocial beings of whom others are afraid. A population has emerged that is the most charmless in the world.
Britain is economically on a knife edge. Its per-capita private debt is among the highest, if not the highest, in the world. It has a huge commercial deficit. Its budget deficit is among the highest in the world. Its government faces an insoluble dilemma: public spending is so large a part of the economy that if it is cut back, demand in the whole economy contracts severely; but if it is not, there is a debt crisis.
Any cuts, of course, will be certain to fall on those most in need: the state, after all, has its nomenklatura to protect. For the moment, only the crisis in Europe keeps Britain out of the headlights of the financial markets.
At the start of the Queen's reign, Britain led in more than one field. It invented the nuclear energy industry, for example; but now, if it wants to build nuclear power stations, it has to apply for assistance from foreign countries. This is despite the fact it spends five times as much per capita on education as it did at the beginning of the reign. Spend more, achieve less: that has been the motto that has guided successive British governments.
The country has become deeply corrupt, but in a typically British way -- that is to say, hypocritical and underhand, rather than worldly and cynical, Pecksniff rather than Talleyrand.
Corruption and irresponsibility, indeed, have been legalised: pound stg. 12 billion, for example, has disappeared without trace (except for some very rich consultants) on a supposedly beneficial scheme to provide centralised and uniform medical records for the entire population. No crime has been committed, but the money has gone. This is typical.
During the reign of Elizabeth II the standard of living of the population has undoubtedly risen enormously -- not even British political incompetence could prevent the effects of technical progress. But the odour of unstoppable decay at a deeper level is everywhere evident.
None of this is the Queen's fault: her self-mastery and devotion to duty have been exemplary. She deserved a better country; but orgies of celebration are certainly not in order.
First published at RealClearWorld and The Australian.