River Wissey Lovell Fuller


June 2001

What Is Wrong With Britain?

I suppose, what I really mean is; why is Britain as it is?

I can't claim to be well travelled and so I get most of my impressions of foreign parts from the press and from television. Nevertheless the impressions that I do get from these sources do concur with my own experience, especially with regard to western Europe.

We are told, and I have no reason to doubt it, that the academic achievement of our school children is lower than that in many other countries and we are also told that we have the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in western Europe, by all accounts we also have a higher use of narcotics, higher than the Dutch even.

According to reports, we are the fourth richest nation in the world, I don't know how this is determined but I do find it rather surprising. Given that it is true however, why do we have such a low state pension, why do we have such a rotten railway and why do we have such a relatively poor health service, with lower survival rates from cancer and heart attacks? Why do we only have 1.7 Doctors/1,000 of population compared with Germany's 3.0? Similarly we have fewer nurses per 1,000. Why are our hospitals so unhygienic that as many people die as a result of hospital infections as do on our roads?

Why have we lost nearly all of our traditional manufacturing and engineering industries? We are told that this is a sign of the times that we are adjusting to a new world situation. Maybe so, but why has it not happened to the same extent in France, Italy and Germany? Why have they still got their own motor industries and their shipbuilding? We seem to be slowly losing so much of our wealth creating activities and inviting an ever widening trade gap. Is farming to be the next lost industry? Will we be importing all our food in the not too distant future?

Why is it that our farming industry is suffering anyway? Why did BSE start here? Why did the foot and mouth outbreak start here?

Why is every proposal for a new road, a new railway, a new bridge, a new runway, a new building even, opposed by practically every organisation under the sun so that it takes 10years before detailed planning can even start? It is not like that in France.

Why are we renowned for football hooligans and for loutish behaviour, especially when overseas? Why are our towns so much dirtier and more untidy than those of our European neighbours? On my first visit to Germany , back in the 70's, I had business in Bad Harzburg, a small town in the Harz Mountains region. I chose to go by train so my first close up of Germany was the town itself and I was immediately impressed by the cleanliness of the place and I remember thinking to myself, 'What would a local inhabitant from here think if he visited (what was then) the nearest town to my home'. I think I would have been ashamed to take him there.

Why are our pavements studied with discarded chewing gum? An Englishman living in France recently visited King's Lynn and he was driven to write to the WN Council, with a copy to the Lynn News. The following is an extract from that letter: "I found the elaborate and expensive paving in the centre of the town strewn with litter, splattered with chewing gum and stained with sticky drinks....... The contrast with the immaculately kept French towns in the region where I live begs the question, why can't Lynn achieve such standards". He went on to claim that local taxes were no greater in France so there was not the excuse that they had more resources available.

The litter that can be seen all around any fast food outlet in our towns is a disgrace. Apart from the general untidiness the discarded polystyrene boxes with half eaten meals provide a bonanza for rats. There is a law against leaving litter, why isn't it enforced? Even in our own area there is plenty of evidence of untidiness. Why do people put out black plastic sacks for the refuse collectors days before they are due? That makes the place look untidy and also is a potential food for rats, a thin plastic sack is no obstacle for them.

Needless to say I don't know the answers to all of these 'why's'. Maybe we have lost our national pride. This may be evidenced by the fact that the majority of Frenchman would opt to buy a French car, good or bad. Similarly a German tends to buy a German car and an Italian buys an Italian car. In Britain almost the reverse is true. Maybe it is not just national pride we have lost, have we lost pride in ourselves as individuals also?

Perhaps one of the answers is that we are too reluctant to pay for public services. If we had more government vets we might have picked up the diseases sooner. If we had more police we might enforce more of our laws. If we paid more for hospital cleaning we might avoid so many infections. If we had more doctors and nurses we would have a better health service. Why are we so reluctant to pay for public services when our European neighbours apparently are not?

Is social injustice the root cause of loutish behaviour? When a young woman working in the City can say that a £25,000 bonus is an insult, whilst, at the same time, a teacher of 33years service might not earn that much in a year. When a director of a major organisation can get a £500,000 bonus at the end of the year when his company has shown a loss of millions, and at the same time others are forced to accept less than the national minimum wage. Then surely there is a breeding ground for malcontents.

Perhaps these are contributory factors as to why Britain is as it is, but they cannot explain it all.

In conclusion let me make it clear that I have no wish to leave the 'old country', my roots are here , it is my country, I would just like to see it better.

Ron Watts

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