A Nation in Decline: The Uncertain Future of Great Britain

America's ally, Britain, is at a crossroads ahead of King Charles III's ascension to the throne

In just two days, King Charles III will be officially crowned as the new monarch of Great Britain, succeeding his mother Queen Elizabeth II. The coronation is set to be a grand spectacle, complete with all the traditional pomp and circumstance that British royal ceremonies are known for. However, beneath the glitz and glamour of the coronation lies a harsh reality—Great Britain's economic stagnation and declining influence in the world.

Since the 2008 financial crisis, Great Britain has struggled to regain its economic footing. While the country did manage to avoid a full-blown recession, growth has been sluggish and uneven. GDP per capita has only recently recovered to pre-crisis levels, and productivity growth has been stagnant for years. A piece in the Financial Times highlights this, with a stark graph showcasing a complete leveling in productivity growth since the financial crisis.

A moral reckoning, too, continues in the U.K. An influx of migrants from around the world since the 1970s, the spread of wokeness across the pond, and the country’s exit from the EU have left the country at a crossroads. Most tragically, it has joined the rest of the Western World in tearing down traditional institutions and values in the name of equality and democracy.

Economic Stagnation

It was a popular notion, once upon a time, that "the sun never sets on the British Empire," as the vast reach of the Imperial British throne spread throughout the world. However, since World War II, the country has faced economic stagnation and declining influence across the globe. The late Queen Elizabeth II presided over this period of decline and stagnation, leaving behind a country struggling to redefine its place as it prepares to coronate her successor…

Great Britain's economic stagnation has been underscored by a decline in productivity growth. Productivity, the amount of output produced per unit of input, is a key driver of economic growth and prosperity. However, productivity growth in Great Britain has been stagnant for years, lagging behind other developed countries such as Germany and the United States. One reason for this has been a lack of investment in technology and innovation. Britain is known for its financial services and consulting sector, which, while lucrative, isn't offering the nation much in terms of “manufacturing, research, and production.” British elites, as Samuel Mcilhagga writes in Palladium Magazine, are “content to live on the rents of bygone ages…underwritten by London financial brokers, and serviced by a shrinking middle class.”

The British people have also become poorer. Mcilhagga continues, “Reporting from the Financial Times has claimed that at current levels, the UK will be poorer than Poland in a decade, and will have a lower median real income than Slovenia by 2024. Many provincial areas already have lower GDPs than Eastern Europe.”

Conservative Backlash

In 2016, months before Donald Trump was elected to the presidency, the United Kingdom shocked the world when its people voted to leave the European Union. The Brexit referendum was seen by many a desire among Britons to reclaim their sovereignty. It was a common notion among British conservatives that the European Union was exerting too much control over British affairs, particularly in areas such as immigration and trade. They believed that leaving the EU would allow the country to regain control over its laws, borders, and economy.

Seven years later, though, economic numbers look just as glib — as well as immigration reduction efforts. Just four years ago, the Tory campaign manifesto said that they would move to reduce immigration and that “overall numbers would come down” to “ensure that the British people are always in control.” During that year, net migration was at 271,000. Yet, in 2021, it hit half a million, and in 2022, that number was up to 700,000. A former Tory party official admitted that they were “losing control” of the system as everyday Britons continue to struggle financially.

Uncontrolled migration can strain public services and lower wages for all. In a country dealing with lower wages all around, this is a disaster in the making. In the years leading up to the Brexit referendum, many British voters cited concerns over immigration as a key reason for their desire to leave the European Union. Brexit clearly has not solved the underlying problems facing the nation. While the government has promised to "take back control" of immigration, it has yet to come up with a clear plan for doing so. The result has been uncertainty and confusion for businesses and individuals alike, making it harder for the country to attract the best and brightest from around the world. Instead, they've attracted a toxic culture similar to that of the U.S., where the United Kingdom's traditions and culture are being litigated publicly for its colonial past.

A Moral Reckoning

The British, like Americans, have undergone decades of moral reckonings — guilt over their past, and nudges from the left wing to give up their sacred traditions and institutions in the name of equality, justice, and democracy.

In 1999, the Labour government led by Tony Blair launched a bold initiative aimed at reducing the power and influence of the House of Lords. The House of Lords, sort of like the Senate in the United States (emphasis on ‘sort of’), served as a key conservative check on the power of the House of Commons. It had a long and storied history, dating back to medieval times, with “peer” un-elected members that represented the old British aristocracy. The move, which stripped the automatic birthright of most hereditary peers to sit and vote in the upper chamber of Parliament, was heralded as a major step towards greater political reform. However, some have argued that this trend of tearing down traditional institutions and values in the name of equality and democracy has been destructive, leading to a decline in social cohesion and a sense of national identity.

Similarly, this kind of effort has continued across British society today. Calls for an end to the British monarchy are regularly given airtime on British television and claims that Britain’s institutions are irredeemably racist, out-of-date, and neocolonialist are just as pervasive there as American culture wars are at home. The Coronation itself has become a topic of debate and scorn. The Guardian, a top British paper, has published an editor's letter calling the event “dated,” former countries colonized by Britain have publicly called on the King to “apologize” for past wrongs, and the appropriateness of such an event in a democracy questioned.

The King’s Dilemma

Despite all of this, “British institutions exert impressive amounts of soft power for a tiny island nation,” continues Mcilhagga in Palladium. “One can think of the country as playing the role of an Italian city-state in the fourteenth century: it capitalizes on historic cultural prestige, educates the children of elites from its former empire, and serves as a playground for wealth and status games while not really producing anything of hard value.”

In other words, once a global superpower, Britain has seen its influence wane in recent years. Its role in the European Union has diminished since Brexit, and its standing as an economic leader has been eclipsed by others. Its status as a former imperial power is, in many ways, keeping it afloat.

As King Charles III takes the throne, he will inherit a country that is at a crossroads. Great Britain may never retain its position as a global leader, but it will require a concerted effort from both the government and the private sector to address the underlying issues financial and cultural issues its faces.

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