Some people — usually right-wingers — have a pejorative name for people like me. We are called “Little Englanders” which implies that we like to run down our country. When we say, for example, that we cannot possibly afford to operate two aircraft carriers when they’re finally built, or to be able to recruit enough sailors to man them, or afford enough fighter-planes to fully use their flight decks and interior hangers (or even to make our own fighter-planes any longer), then we are somehow being disloyal. But we are only talking reality. Top politicians haven’t got used to the idea that Great Britain, formerly the Head of the British Empire, is still running down.
If, however, we are historical as well as philosophical and think back to previous massive empires such as Spain’s in the 18th century, we know that it takes a long while to fully adjust to normality. How long do cultures take to change? Three or four or five generations typically. Since the end of the Second World War, when any ruminant knew that the British Empire was dead, it’s only been barely over two generations since then. We might have a more realistic idea of ourselves in 2050.
The one feature of this country that vastly interests me, though, is London. While the rest of the country continues to run downhill economically — including the one big industry that we were formerly proud about — Rolls Royce Aero engines — London is holding its own so far. As a major world financial centre, its earnings subsidises the remainder of the country. But how long will London’s prosperity last? Our Chancellor, George Osborne, has chickens whenever a large bank, such as HSBC, talks about moving its headquarters elsewhere, say to Hong Kong or New York. Others — a lot of others — could easily follow
The only big advantage London has — and it could be a very big one in the decades to come –are four world-class universities with two more, Oxford and Cambridge, not far away. A significant proportion of the world’s leading edge research is to be found in that triangle, particularly in digital and genetic research — two of the growth areas of tomorrow’s world when DNA-based algorithms and biological work stations will be making a new genre of carbon-based materials with advanced properties.
. . . and when, one hopes we’ll have lost our grandiose ideas about building aircraft carriers and suchlike and trying to remain a major military power in the world.