Britain embraces trivia because it clings to the big issues

To Southeast Asia, with its vast population, its aspirations beyond middle-income, its influence as a hinge region in the US-China tussle. How to explain to someone here the almost subatomic smallness of the main story in Britain?

Look, we have this sports anchor. And he tweeted something classy but over the top. And the response was even less measured. And the excitement consumed MPs and the national broadcaster. yes for a week No, we don’t have 5 percent growth and no industrial peace. We don’t delve into the little things because the big things are going too well.

In fact, perhaps the opposite is the case. It just takes a bit of geographic distance to appreciate. Britain, I suggest, is a nation lost in foam and frivolity because it is stuck in serious business.

Let’s enumerate the different types of blockades in the kingdom. Britain knows Brexit was a mistake. She also knows that revising the decision would open the gates to domestic hell. And so the ruling class prefers a conspiracy of if not tacit then clumsy scarcity on the subject.

Britain knows what can boost economic growth: house building, a shift in taxation from the young to the wealthy old. She also knows that Nimbies and retirees slap anyone who tinkers with the existing settlement. And so the opposition Labor Party will do little more than the ruling Conservatives to displease them.

Britain knows its public services could use more money. It also knows that its tax burden is nearing a multi-year high. Even the state of the Union is kind of a dead end. Scotland’s place in it is contested enough to create ongoing stress, but not contested enough to force a clarifying referendum in the medium term.

This is a stuck society. All the energy that would normally be put into debating and making meaningful changes now finds an outlet in proxy wars over small things. The Gary Lineker affair (though not the refugee crisis he tweeted about) is such a trifle. Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex’s rolling melodrama is another.

To put it bluntly, there are worse things than a stalemate. Britain is not a disaster area. It could avoid a recession. It broke a series of inadequate prime ministers. A result of the constant avoidance of difficult issues is a relative civil peace. (Britain is easier to live in now than it was when Brexit was a big issue.) Nor does the annual net immigration of more than half a million point to a country that has given up on the world. Bangkok, Singapore and Ho Chi Minh City are steeped in some of Britain’s enduring assets: the English language, the inevitable Premier League, the elites who choose Britain for some of their education (or property).

But a plateau at high altitude is still a plateau. With no movement on the big issues, no projects to move forward, expect Britain to indulge in more and more sagas about nothing. Consider these low-stakes simulations of the debates it should be waging. At least France goes directly. At least it tears itself apart for something important. Emmanuel Macron’s pension reforms involve huge public spending and the contract between the citizen and the state. I had to remind myself of that in the age of on-demand goals highlights game of the day still exists.

The problem is not, or not only, a dubious political class. Or an electorate in love with circuses. It is the insolvency of Britain’s problems. Brexit is as bleak as its reopening would be. The fraying of public services upsets millions, but so would a net increase in taxation. The underlying problem, low growth, has remedies that are as politically inflammatory as the disease itself. For Britain, issue by issue, there are no moves that would not harm its position elsewhere on the board.

A new prime minister wasn’t so defeatist. She defined herself against the stalemate culture. She detested the polite ducking before hard decisions. But Liz Truss will spend the rest of her life as a punchline. No wonder Britain doesn’t think avoidance is so bad after all. If the price is diverting national energies into small potatoes like Lineker-Gate, well, worse fates can befall a people.

A sentence from another drama in another country over a decade ago sticks in your mind. “We don’t have time for this stupidity,” Barack Obama said when he released the papers confirming his American birth. Well, Britain has all the time in the world for silliness. What else is there to do? Britain embraces trivia because it clings to the big issues

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