Britain Is Becoming a Third World Country

The title may be hyperbolic, and there is no doubt that very few in the UK experience anything like the poverty of developing countries, but its existing governance and political structures present a key form of third worldism: a byzantine, fragmented set of actors and institutions competing against each other and creating self-referential rules and procedures. Modern Britain is an archipelago of disparate bureaucracies and levels. Infrastructure projects and economic planning must now be strained through a variety of organisations, from local enterprise partnerships and council plenaries to planning bodies, representative organisations, lobby groups and charities.

Things like roadworks coordination becomes a blame game between the Highways Authority, local councils and regional authorities who each blame the other for increased traffic delays and road closures. Or take city development, another area replete with special interests and utopic nonsense. In Coventry, two major infrastructure projects, the Coventry City Masterplan’s renovation of the train station and the City Centre South regeneration project, are perfect examples of vast money and little accountability or outcome.

“The Coventry Station Masterplan project has been funded by £39.4 million from the West Midlands Combined Authority Devolution Deal and £27.5 million from the Government’s Local Growth Fund through Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (CWLEP) and funds from Coventry City Council”[1]. Money sourced from a variety of funds for a project that was delayed by months and has delivered very little. There are no shops in the new part of the station, only empty fronts with no sign of them being taken up after a year. The new section is also replete with leaks that soaked through the brickwork, suggesting limited build quality. Full of promise, but short of delivery. Thankfully the contractors made money and local politicians can present a completed job.

Similarly the City Centre South regeneration project involves “an extensive selection of retail, hospitality, leisure, and healthcare facilities. They have pledged it will be designed to attract people back into the city to live, work and play”[2]. This adds to the already underutilised office space and tower blocks surrounding Coventry city station. And it doesn’t actually mean more shops or employment coming into the city, particularly considering the extent of business rates and rental costs, which is probably why a bulk of the retail space was ditched. Talk of new cultural features is also worrying considering the farce that was the City of Culture, with the collapse of the trust now becoming a financial blackhole[3], which considering the money was spent primarily on temporary art installations is no surprise. Residential facilities are another boondoggle, seeing the significant housing shortages across the city. Being based in the city centre, who will police these and prevent anti-social behaviour? Well that will involve another discussion with the Police & Crime Commissioner and the WMP Chief Constable.

Considering the state of the road infrastructure in Coventry, the transport bottlenecks going in and out of the city, the poor quality of University Hospital, the reliance on student income from rentals and spend which create an artificial price floor on rents across the city, as well as various other issues, the priority on pavilion-type infrastructure and cultural aesthetics seems at best misplaced and at worst the malign effect of interest groups and lobbyists capable of using taxpayer money unaccountably.

This goes beyond Coventry of course as the problems I highlight effect all major UK cities and towns. We are an increasingly poor country because we are governed by legislative vagaries that are easily exploited by interest groups. The Town and Country Planning Act is exemplary in this regard, allowing every environmental charity, resident’s association, HSE committee and anyone rich enough to pay for a planning lawyer to block any infrastructural development no matter how innocuous. HS2, a white elephant project anyway, is caught in litigation and red tape from the RSPB and Wildlife Trust, increasing its already substantial costs. On energy, we have a variety of bureaucrats and policymakers fudging figures to meet arbitrary net zero goals[4] so that the UK reduces its negligible global emissions, all the while other environmental disasters brew in agriculture and land use which will inevitably be blocked or kicked into the long grass due to lobbying by another coterie of organisations with opaque funding and righteous messaging.

What this results in is a country with high land and energy costs and degraded transport infrastructure, having some of the most expensive trains in Europe with some of the lowest customer satisfaction levels. It means low productivity and an overt focus on short-term growth opportunities in retail, administrative and logistics sectors. It means lower capital formation and some of the lowest investment rates in the OECD[5]. And it means a class of political administrators and lobbyists that develop closed patronage networks and self-aggrandise their own power. You only need look at the 40 different schemes for cost-of-living support available[6], which covers every group interest there can be. It is pork-barrel spending writ large.

This situation now has some political recognition, though it gets blamed on convenient nonsense like “the war in Ukraine, but also the pandemic”[7], while ignoring the long-term trend of a UK economy over-concentrated in low productivity sectors[8] and with real wage declines for the past 15 years. Even before, during the so-called boom years of the 1990s and 2000s, a regime of privatised Keynesianism[9] replaced wage growth with private debt, particularly credit card and mortgage debt.

Others blame more imaginary bogeymen like the so-called enemies of progress – “an industrial sector in structural decline, a political left that is often skeptical about the virtues of economic growth, and a political right that is organized in part around hating foreigners”[10]. This is a sideshow from the real problem, which is a vast political class fragmented across a spectrum, from planning boards and combined authorities to parliamentary committees and lobbyists. Hating foreigners means nothing in a country that is allowing an invasion year on year. And economic growth has been illusory for over a decade, replaced by gimmicks like cheap credit, low interest and a flexible labour market that requires little skill development. Those are now gone, and the extent of the UK’s third world-ness is coming home to roost as we realise that to build a house, diversify a farm, expand a business or produce energy requires the approval of various patronage networks and donors, none of whom are accountable and none of whom care about the long term. There only concerns are that the categories they produce, whether racial, cultural or egalitarian, are completed no matter the cost. Welcome to the UK, a combination of Zimbabwe[11] and Brazil.


[1] https://www.coventrytelegraph.net/news/coventry-news/gallery/first-look-inside-coventrys-new-23463370

[2] https://www.coventrytelegraph.net/news/coventry-news/coventrys-450m-city-centre-south-24590831

[3] https://www.coventrytelegraph.net/news/coventry-news/inquiry-call-coventry-city-culture-26529263

[4] https://thecritic.co.uk/british-energy-planning-a-horror-story/

[5] https://www.pwc.co.uk/economic-services/ukeo/ukeo-november-2019-productivity-puzzle.pdf

[6] https://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/news/cost-of-living/dwps-full-list-over-40-25231611

[7] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-your-money-65079792

[8] https://www.pwc.co.uk/economic-services/ukeo/ukeo-november-2019-productivity-puzzle.pdf

[9] Colin Crouch, The Strange Non-Death of Neo-Liberalism

[10] https://www.theatlantic.com/newsletters/archive/2022/10/uk-economy-disaster-degrowth-brexit/671847/

[11] https://marhobane.substack.com/p/endgame-zimbabwe

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s