Frustration with the election campaign is entirely fair. It’s been exciting, for the sustained closeness of the polls, and for the presence of the “insurgent” parties (Peter Kellner). All the same, while there are many honourable attempts in the manifestos to address Britain’s problems, it is striking how much was not said (cover story). Both the coalition and Labour seem defensive about their record and unambitious about Britain’s future.
Britain certainly has plenty of critics willing to reinforce that lack of confidence. Isabel Hilton describes China’s view that the country “is suitable for tourism, and has a few decent football teams.” Richard Dearlove, former head of MI6, rightly complains of the coalition’s tentative approach to Britain’s place in the world.
But we should remember the capacity that Britain has shown for great change in a short time, much of that positive. David Butler gives us the startling statistics of how Britain has changed since the 1950s. Philip Collins reviews two books that reveal how the levers are pulled. Gus O’Donnell, Cabinet Secretary under Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and then David Cameron—one of those who pulled the levers—argues that national wellbeing has improved markedly in the past three years.
And Paul Collier takes issue with traditional approaches to inequality, which as he says, has become a fashionable lament of dinner party conversations with too little attention to how it is measured or what it means. In his critique, he arrives at more plausible solutions than many theorists manage. Jonathan Derbyshire interviews Anthony Atkinson, whose new book has prompted Collier’s analysis. Ingrained national problems, even that one, are not beyond resolution, Collier argues.
Britain is not the only country suffering from this kind of intractable predicament. James Crabtree asks whether India’s leaders will ever combat corruption. Christine Ockrent relates how Emmanuel Macron, the young economist who has taken the French government by storm, is helping President François Hollande attempt a more market-friendly cure for the country’s problems. Fergal Keane argues that it is time to end the myth of the Irish rebel—and of Islamic State rebels, says Shashank Joshi.
For a much more personal take on issues that have repercussions all the way to the national level, and yet are the fabric of many families’ lives, do read Andy Davis’s immensely moving account of taking on the care of his mother—and her finances—as she faded into dementia.
And if the election campaign and serious, intractable problems seem as if they have been on the front page for too long, turn to Clive James’s account of the anatomy of acting (and to the picture of Marlon Brando before and after make-up for The Godfather. Or to get even further away from 7th May and the polls, try Saul Bellow’s problems with women. Steven Berkoff has had it with the world of humans entirely; save the sharks instead.