lördag 4 augusti 2007

The state of Britain

One of the people on the course is a 25 year old Croatian who is studying Swedish so that he can do a Masters degree in International Relations in Helsinki. He has been in Britain for about half his life.

I had a long conversation with him on the bus on the way to Stockholm. His analysis is worrying, as it roughly coincides with my own. His generation has just switched off from public affairs. He finds hardly any of his own British contemporaries that he can talk to about anything serious.

In my own experience this isn't entirely true - I get to talk to young people at my old college when I go there, and things are not quite that bad. But they will mostly go into high-powered well paid jobs which is fine but it does nothing for the public realm as such.

I thought it was just me being a miserable old fogey but seemingly it is not. I wish it was. If we have no insight into our problems, how are we going to get out of them?

Of interest in this connection is the view of Sweden held by both people on the course and others I have spoken to. A common misconception here is the importance of the country, which is exaggerated. It is easy to get the idea that it is bigger than it is, despite the fact that Ken Livingstone's realm is larger. They do not seem to recognise that this is is a little backwater on the edge of the planet where the news is mostly about the weather and a blocked train toilet will make the news. Almost nothing happens. And there are problems, which mirror Britain's - failure to integrate immigrants, bureaucracy, a loopy housing market and rising house prices, and disguised unemployment. There is also significant homelessness, a drug problem and crime levels not much lower, proportionately, than Britain's.

The difference, which is not related to the size of the country, seems to be the way these problems are perceived - this is evident from talking to people, and from comments in the newspapers, which I can now read and at least get the gist of. There seems to be more awareness of the issues and criticism goes beyond mere grumbling and complaining. Which leads to hope that here at least, these problems might, just, be addressed in a sensible and effective way.

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