The real truth about Britain’s second Elizabethan age? It’s been 70 years of dismal decline — Analysis
The primary Queen Elizabeth reworked her nation right into a world energy. The second, via no fault of her personal, has overseen the reverse
There’s little doubt that Queen Elizabeth II is a superb monarch, maybe one of many biggest Britain has ever seen.
To place her lengthy reign in perspective, she ascended to the throne solely seven years after the top of the Second World Conflict, and Winston Churchill was her first prime minister. Her dedication to obligation and to her individuals are past reproach, and, in consequence, her jubilee shall be met with a swathe of celebratory tv documentaries and information articles.
However let’s not idiot ourselves. Though she has been an impressive monarch, her time on the throne has been considered one of steep British decline, and a far cry from the wonderful first Elizabethan age within the sixteenth century.
This reign of Elizabeth I, from 1558 to 1603, is considered a ‘golden age’ for Britain, considered one of financial prosperity, technological development, and world exploration. She inherited an unstable kingdom, one divided by faith, rising poverty, and beset with highly effective overseas enemies.
Underneath the steering of its shrewd ‘Virgin Queen’, nevertheless, England emerged as a world energy capable of deal with its outward and inside foes. Her achievements included the restoration of England to Protestantism, the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Royal Navy’s defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, which laid the foundations for Britain to go on to ‘rule the waves’. Certainly, in the case of the navy, it could possibly be argued that the second Elizabethan interval represents the undoing of the primary.
When her namesake turned Queen in February 1952, Britain was probably the most highly effective nations on the planet; alongside america and the Soviet Union, it was thought of one of many ‘Massive Three’. Britain’s power was augmented later that very same yr, when it turned a nuclear energy.
On the time, Britain was spending 11.2 p.c of GDP on its armed forces, but this determine as we speak has shrunk to a mere 2.3 p.c. In 1952, Britain had a standing military of 871,000. This now stands at 82,000 and is because of be decreased to 72,500 by 2025. This isn’t actually a military, however a corps.
It’s the identical with the Royal Navy. Within the Fifties, Britain had a navy worthy of policing the oceans. There have been 280 lively ships in 1950 and 12 plane carriers. By 2020, nevertheless, the Royal Navy solely had seventy lively vessels, with solely two plane carriers. Certainly, if coastal patrol vessels are excluded, the variety of ships within the Royal Navy has declined by round 74 p.c for the reason that Falklands Conflict of 1982. By any measure, this may solely be construed as navy decline.
One of many causes the navy was so sturdy was that Britain had an empire that stretched the size and breadth of the globe. India, referred to as the ‘Jewel within the Crown’ of the British Empire, had been misplaced in 1947, however there have been nonetheless massive swathes of Africa and the Caribbean underneath British rule. But, inside a decade, these colonies had disappeared, and Britain shrunk on the worldwide stage.
I’m not making an argument in favour of colonialism, however the truth that Britain was ready to desert – or “scuttle” as Churchill put it – her empire in such a rush solely serves to spotlight the nation’s quickly diminishing standing. Certainly, as Dean Acheson, the previous US secretary of state, stated in 1962, “Nice Britain has misplaced an empire however not but discovered a job.”
Instead, British politicians in that interval appeared to the continent to search out that new position. Within the Nineteen Seventies, Britain was mockingly known as “the sick man of Europe,” with justification. Unemployment was operating at greater than one million for the primary time for the reason that Nice Melancholy, and the nation was torn asunder by industrial motion, leading to common energy outages and the introduction of a three-day working week. It was from this place of weak point that Britain joined the European Financial Neighborhood (EEC) in 1973, a meek acceptance of its decreased standing.
The decline of Britain is finest highlighted by the collapse of its manufacturing. It was as soon as referred to as “the workshop of the world,” however not. For the reason that Nineteen Sixties, British manufacturing has been decimated by industrial motion, inept authorities insurance policies, and world competitors. Britain has posted a commerce deficit in items yearly since 1983, and we’re hardly making something anymore. The market in items has lengthy since been ceded to Asia. Because of this, complete communities in northern England and Wales have been blighted with excessive unemployment and the social issues that circulate from that.
One of many penalties of de-industrialisation and the break-up of communities has been a steep rise in crime. Within the Fifties, there have been solely round 500,000 recorded crimes a yr, but by 2003, this determine had reached an eye-watering six million. The homicide price has additionally exploded, with 600 homicides recorded in 2021, in comparison with a mere twenty-seven in 1952.
One thing has clearly gone improper with British society, and it’s tough to pinpoint the precise causes, though de-industrialisation, the collapse of faith, and the breakdown of the household have all contributed. Britain in 2022 is a far much less protected, and a far much less good, place to reside than the Britain of 1952.
Elizabeth II could have been an iconic monarch and represents every little thing that’s left that’s good about Britain. Nonetheless, the second Elizabethan interval has not been a ‘golden age’ like the primary. Removed from it. That is by no means her fault: she is a constitutional monarch with no actual energy, in contrast to her namesake. The fault as a substitute lies with politicians – notably the 14 prime ministers who’ve served throughout her time – who’ve let each the Queen and her individuals down for many years.
Though we shall be inundated with articles within the coming weeks and months about Queen Elizabeth’s superb 70-year interval on the throne, I assure that future historians is not going to be so form after they write about Britain’s ‘Age of Decline’ that occurred on her watch.
The statements, views and opinions expressed on this column are solely these of the writer and don’t essentially symbolize these of RT.