February 21, 2014 11:16 am

How to save the UK

‘Plonking the government in central Glasgow, where life expectancy is the lowest in the UK, could transform British social policy’
Illustration by Luis Grañena of mixer tap©Luis Grañena

After I wrote a column making eight suggestions to “save France” (February 8/9), many French readers accused me of “France-bashing”. Today I’m offering eight suggestions to save the UK. The French can dismiss this as Britain-bashing but, again, I’m only trying to help. I’ve incorporated ideas sent in mostly by French readers.

Consultants like to save time by giving every client the same advice. Luckily, three of my suggestions for France also work for the UK, namely:

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Simon Kuper

1. Accept that you are a small country. Britain needs to grasp that it’s just an ordinary sort of place, conveniently near Belgium, with a population about three-quarters that of Ethiopia. Once Britain accepts this, as I said about France, “its role in the world will suddenly make sense and feelings of lost grandeur will go away”. This acceptance may come more easily if the Scots vote for independence in September and the top bit of the country vanishes.

2. Move the capital. “You all seem to live in London,” comments Julian Rochat, a French reader. Not yet, but if present trends continue, then by 2025 the entire British population will live in Hackney, where a two-bedroom flat will cost more than the whole north of England put together. There’s another problem: because ministers live in the UK’s richest bit, they struggle to grasp how hard-up most Britons are.

For similar reasons, I recommended moving the French capital to Provence. A reader named Phil Corbishley suggested moving London there too. However, most readers thought the UK’s capital should go north. Plonking the government in inner-city Glasgow, where life expectancy is the lowest in the UK, could transform British social policy. It would also stop Scots complaining that they are ruled from abroad.

3. Donate the British army to the United Nations, to serve as the UN’s permanent peacekeeping force. True, I made the same suggestion for the French army, but then the same arguments apply. This year’s British “defence” budget is £46.6bn, nearly 10 times the UN’s peacekeeping budget. That’s because the UK (like France) likes to meddle in foreign conflicts in the name of grandeur. As I said about the French: “Meddling while wearing blue UN helmets would scratch that national itch, but would raise the chances of doing something useful.”

Not all Britain’s problems are exactly the same as France’s. Here are some UK-specific recommendations:

4. Declare a “special relationship” with the Caribbean islands of St Kitts and Nevis. Let the prime minister of St Kitts and Nevis come to Glasgow to pontificate about our shared history, common language, cricket, etc. This special relationship would replace the one with the US, with the bonus that St Kitts is unlikely to drag us into random foreign wars.

5. Keep the UK in the European Union by creating a ludicrous front movement advocating British exit, or “Brexit”. If the Conservatives win next year’s election, they will have to call a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. How to get Britons to vote to stay in? The establishment plans to go around warning of disaster if the UK leaves. But hardly anyone believes the British establishment any more.

Much better to create a pressure group of obvious nutcases who will agitate for Brexit. Godfrey Bloom, the Europhobe British MEP, could be tapped to lead the group. Bloom is the chap who said that no small businessman with a brain “would ever employ a lady of childbearing age”. He shouted a Nazi slogan at a German MEP, hit a journalist, referred to African countries as “Bongo-Bongo Land”, insulted women, the unemployed, the disabled, etc. The UK Independence party finally sacked him as its MEP last year, though he remains a party member. He would leap at the chance to lead a Brexit movement. David Silvester, the former Ukip local councillor who blamed bad weather on legalised gay marriage, could be his number two.

This group would be jointly funded by Brussels and British business. It would rapidly attract a noisy crackpot following, especially among elderly white men, and would equally rapidly discredit Brexit.

6. Return the public schools to their original purpose. These schools sustain the UK’s startling inequality from birth. Yet Harrow, Winchester and several others were created to educate “poor boys”. Indeed, that’s why they are called “public schools”. Schooling the poor was a big part of Eton’s initial function, too, as per Henry VI’s royal charter of 1440.

Ever since the first Baron de Kuper, we Kupers have been great believers in public school traditions. Let’s bring the poor back to Eton.

7. Sanction bad bankers like we sanction dictatorships. When a dictatorship starts destroying its own country, we can freeze its elite’s foreign assets. The same rule should apply to bankers: when a bank collapses, impound the bankers’ Kensington houses, bank accounts, nannies, suits etc. That would change their incentive structure.

8. Ban separate hot and cold taps. The UK is “the only country in the world” still using separate taps, complains French-American reader Gilonne d’Origny. Make mixer taps compulsory. Then more people might wash their hands.

simon.kuper@ft.com; Twitter @KuperSimon

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