Letter: Decline of a once great Britain

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The Independent Online
REALITY has indeed finally caught up with the middle classes ('Middle class, high anxiety', 3 July). In 1953 Britain was the fifth richest country in the world; in 1979 it was 11th richest, and in 1994, following 15 years of Tory government, it is the 19th richest and still declining.

The evidence has been clear for all to see and yet so many have been so quick to accept the soothing nostrums of successive Tory Chancellors without question. Complacency is yielding its bitter harvest.

The establishment which controls Westminster, Whitehall and the City has failed, signally and dismally, to invest. And where it has invested, it has failed to manage that investment. The vast revenues from North Sea oil and privatisations have been squandered; the Government's inner-cities project was pounds 10bn down the drain; the banks have manifested an almost pathological urge to throw billions into one reckless scheme after another, then to compound the felony by dismissing senior executives with obscenely generous golden handshakes. When it attempts to join the vanguard of information technology, we are treated to the Stock Exchange's pounds 275m Taurus fiasco. Yet that same establishment continues to disguise its failure through deceit and obfuscation.

The cause of Britain's decline is simple: we have retreated from wealth creation. During the past 20 years Britain's manufacturing output has increased by barely one-tenth of 1 per cent per annum. Our economy, far from being a glowing success, as Kenneth Clarke would have us believe, is an unmitigated disaster.

In recent months the Government has focused on the declining unemployment figures; but if one looks at the more significant figure, those actually in employment, this is falling even more dramatically. The Government cites lack of skills as a root cause of our economic malaise, yet the dole queue contains legions of architects, engineers, draughtsmen, solicitors. Training schemes offered by the Government are cosmetic efforts to disguise the politically embarrassing truth about the British economy, that it can accommodate little other than part-time, poorly paid hamburger-flippers.

Whichever party comes to power after this present Government must have the courage to admit that a solution to Britain's social and economic ills will need 15-20 years to work through. Its beneficiaries will be the generation that is being born now.

Chris Waller