West News Wire: The UK will experience rail strikes this week as workers call for much larger wage increases. Workers on London’s amazing metro are threatening to go on strike starting on Sunday. The National Health Service (NHS) doctors took the lead earlier this month, rejecting Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s offer of a 6% pay increase in favour of a 35% demand to keep up with what has been, by developed-world standards, galloping inflation. In May, it was a startling 8.7%, and grocery bill inflation was double digits. Rental prices are 25% more now than they were before the outbreak. 

Regardless of the economic indicator used, the UK appears to be a nation in accelerated terminal decline. It has long been a waning power with a disproportionate presence in the world. But since the Brexit fiasco, even that trajectory has accelerated, like a boulder gaining momentum as it rolls down a slope. The UK’s productivity growth behind other developed countries, which is the root cause of the issue and predates a particularly irresponsible Conservative Party government led by former PM Boris Johnson. 

The US, France, and Germany are “one-sixth more productive than the UK, measured in terms of [gross domestic product] per hour worked,” according to research institute The Resolution Foundation. And over time, this difference has widened. In a paper, the foundation refers to the UK as a “stagnation nation.” Martin Wolf, the top economics columnist for the Financial Times, noted earlier this month that, according to Conference Board data, the GDP per employed person decreased from 81% of US levels in 2007 to 68% of US levels in 2021. Even in France, where workers are known to trade higher pay for more leisure time, its growth in household incomes is below that of France. 

The bet taken by former prime minister David Cameron in permitting a vote on the UK’s exit from the European Union in 2016 was, of course, the Frankenstein’s monster that hovered over this period of modest decline. In negotiations with the EU, Sunak has done well to back down from the brinkmanship and outright animosity his predecessors displayed, but the consequences of cutting these ties to dynamic supply chains with Europe are readily obvious everywhere. The UK has experienced its own version of a non-violent but detrimental trade split, from factory inventory to refilling grocery store shelves. All around, there is a labour shortage. 

For example, Heathrow’s immigration lines frequently have two-hour wait periods, and hotels last summer were forced to cut back on room availability despite high demand during the holiday season because of a lack of staff due to the difficulty in hiring workers from eastern Europe. I would wager that retailers in London would go on strike if its student visa programmes weren’t so frequently used to work in that country by many from the underdeveloped world, including India. The Conservative Party has increased its efforts to appear tough on immigration even as it rationally makes it easier to obtain work permits. With such a poor track record in the economy, nationalist populism might benefit it in polls where it trails the Labour Party. Last month, Sunak even donned a bullet proof vest to join a raid on illegal immigrants in Harrow. 

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There isn’t much that can be done to stop the Tories from losing the next election because Sunak has left such a damaging legacy. Even anniversaries that are meant to be ‘feel good’, like this month’s 75th anniversary of the nation’s renowned NHS, cause people to lament its deterioration. The hugely influential Murdoch media outlets’ typical tone of gloom in their reporting doesn’t help. The Times explained last week that the 7.4 million people on hospital waiting lists a figure that has been frequently cited were largely those awaiting “diagnostic tests and results” rather than patients waiting for procedures. Despite this crucial disparity, the piece started by wistfully, if erroneously, equating the NHS’s current situation with that of Denmark, a nation with a tenth of the UK’s population. The problem is that the UK spends much less on CT scanners and MRI machines than any OECD country. 

It is obvious that there has been a lack of investment in equipment and labour, perhaps with the exception of the elite who indulge in excessive nationalism and nostalgia. The outrageously exaggerated outcry following Jonny Bairstow’s dismissal in an Ashes cricket test this month was Wodehousian in its tragicomic dramatisation. Even the spokesperson for the prime minister felt obligated to comment. When Australian cricket players entered the revered Marylebone Cricket Club’s Long Room, they were assaulted. Wimbledon is typically the model of respectful spectator etiquette, but this year’s event was marred by the booing of defending champion Novak Djokovic in the semifinals and finals and by the lack of enthusiasm shown for world No. 2 Daniil Medvedev and women’s world No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka, who, along with other Russian and Belarusian players, were arbitrarily banned from last year’s tournament. 

London, nicknamed Londongrad for its perennial role as a laundromat for foreign money, is still a vibrant place in summer. But the UK’s cracks are showing. 


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