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Wednesday, 30 May, 2001, 13:54 GMT 14:54 UK
Is Britain in deep crisis?
A leading German news magazine has condemned Britain as a country in "deep crisis", bedevilled by ill-health, bad education and poor public services.Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.
According to Stern magazine, 20% of the country's population is "practically illiterate" and tuberculosis "is raging" in parts of east London.
Stern's correspondent says travelling on London's creaky public transport is akin to having sado-masochistic sex. And he accuses Tony Blair's government of incompetent handling of the foot-and-mouth epidemic.
Paul Kinsella, England
I find it very odd how a German commentator can slate our country. Although our public services are far from superior, those in the private sector are the best in the world. According to the HDI (Human Development Index) published annually by the UN, the UK is the tenth best place to live in the world, one place behind Japan, and four places ahead of Germany. This article is an opinion formed by a very ignorant and perhaps jealous man.
I read the article in Stern and as I come from the London area I was a bit miffed by it all. I have a friend over here who is originally from India. He studied at a London university and now lives in Germany. The part about the racism is what really got to us. Here in Germany he is forever being controlled by the police. If we are on a train together or even walking down the street he has been approached by the police and asked for his documents. Racism is higher in Germany than any other country I know, so how they could print that the UK is worse is beyond me. It seems that the facts should have been looked at a little harder before printing.
I wonder how many German commentators ever go north of Watford? On my (thankfully) infrequent visits to our capital, I too am disgusted by the filth in the streets, the unfriendliness of the people and the expensiveness of the shops.
I think what we should be most worried about in Britain is that we take ourselves so bloody seriously. We love to make a drama out of a crisis and get ourselves tied in knots of agonised self-analysis. These are the opinions of one man. Who cares? Do you see the Germans getting het up about ludicrous anti-German sentiment in the Sun? I think it's time we learnt to be a lot more relaxed about our country.
Tony Walton, England
Despite all London's deficiencies, the city still seems to attract German people to come and work here instead of Frankfurt.
I have popped back to UK a few times since I left as a university graduate 20 odd years ago, and am constantly amazed/shocked/depressed how little the whole society seems to have moved forward - there's a tolerance of crime, thuggery, and general ugliness (physical and spiritual) a lack of civility, a very inward-looking intellectuality, and no scope of what is possible in life. In fact, no place to bring up a family.
S F, UK
It's the deep-seated admiration of the Brits the world over that the Germans and French dislike so much. Many of our European friends forget we had to fight a war on behalf of the whole of Europe, which bankrupted our country, and which has taken many years to recover from.
I would point out that the 80's and 90's were glorious years. Which is why New Labour have the money they have today to invest in the infrastructure of this country. Let's see what happens in another 20 years, and see who's smiling then.
I would agree that the UK has problems like every other country in the world, but I think the article is a bit over the top to say the least.
I was also startled that at my school, anyone who voiced a reasonable opinion that was critical was severely ostracised by the school staff. I think some people would prefer an illusion of contentment here, rather than face the negative consequences of telling a less than pleasant truth, and as long as people are satisfied with that nothing will improve.
Britain's major problem is that our leaders do not have the courage to properly discipline and manage the country and an increasing number of people in society have no idea of their duty and responsibilities towards others in the community. The consequence is that the UK is becoming a lawless, down trodden-looking, second rate power lacking in moral judgement and the qualities necessary to provide leadership internally and on the world stage.
There are problems here, there are problems in Germany as well! What we have in the UK currently is one of the most diverse and tolerant European countries. This does not come without a price unfortunately! Many people here have written that we cannot expect great public services without a high level of taxation. I feel that I am happy to pay tax if I see benefits for it: at the moment I don't - I pay reasonable levels of income tax, I have to have a parking permit to park on my street, I pay council tax, I pay tax on my petrol, I have to have private medical insurance to ensure quick and effective medical treatment etc. Let's have a clarity in taxation which enables us to see exactly where the money is going to.
I can't help wondering how many of these negative generalisations about Britain are actually inspired by foreign people's experience of London,- dirty, depressing and shambolic - rather than of the rest of the country.
People who have been criticising the UK forget one thing, at least we British can express our opinions freely and without fear of a visit from the FBI, for expressing them, in answer to "D" the reason you believe that you are not so badly off is because none of this gets reported in the USA,
I lived in Houston, you should go to "Deer Park", "Channel View", "Baytown," and Galena Park, and then talk about run down infrastructure, you will see the reason the British public transport system is worse than the USA is, you don't have any, except a small part of downtown, there is no public transport in Houston. Just a few isolated "Park and rides", don't forget that you Americans live in the land of the mushroom theory, you are fed with manure and kept in the dark,
I am always amazed when Brits slag off Britain. Do we not look around?
I go to the supermarket and see people buying hundreds of pounds worth of cheap food which they drive home in nice cars. 98% of homes have videos. Face it. We are a well off country and we are doing fine.
However, what we do have is a in-built guilt which sees us worshipping Americans if they are wealthy, yet hating ourselves if we have the same.
We don't respect our own achievers, yet fawn over foreign achievers. We should be ashamed of ourselves.
The Stern article is exactly right. I've lived in France and Italy and have visited other countries outside Europe. Britain has become a filthy, badly-run, grey little land, betrayed by an intellectual class that cuts itself off from everyday life while making populist claims against anti-elitism and academic rigour.
I've met people throughout my life, who seem to downgrade other people to make themselves feel more worthy, and it seems countries are no different. So, finally Germany and Britain have something in common.
Suzanne McMillan, Japan (UK)
Stern needs to do more up-to-date research.
As far as I can see - the chrome rails and leather straps are only left on the carriages of the Northern line....
This report is amusing as it brings home how often our perception of foreign places and events as portrayed in the media is inaccurate.
The Germans are completely bewildered as to how a country like the UK can have such an influence on world affairs. German cars are better, German software runs a third of the planet's business empires, German drug and chemical companies have few equals, German military equipment in the last wars was superior from boots to aeroplanes and still nobody has managed to convince the Poms they are finished. I don't think a rambling newspaper article is going to either.
After more than five
years without setting
foot outside Taiwan,
I returned to my
native England for a
visit last summer.
I was completely
Everything seemed too
good to be true. I
marvelled at the
superb selection of
goods in the shops,
the unbelievably low
prices (often just
one third of what I
have to pay for
equivalent but poorer
quality items in
Taiwan), the general
atmosphere of politeness,
clean air, the pleasant
facilities, the smooth
could go on and on.
Compared with Taiwan
and most other countries
around the world,
England is a bloody
Jason Hooper, Wales, UK (living in Munich)
Unfortunately this is the picture seen by people living outside the country. But then Stern magazine needs to look at its own country. The Christian Democratic Party is rolling from one financial scandal to the next, with the possibility of three top members about to face trial. We see the shouting in parliament about the Euro. Most Germans will admit that the Euro was forced on them. Chancellor Kohl sold them out, with a promise that unification would not cost them, an unfortunate error by the then government. The only thing he was interested in was making a name for himself. Unemployment in Germany is a joke compared to UK, but it is something that the Germans brought upon themselves. The Germans have very big mouths and nothing to back them up.
As a Britisher who has moved out, I think that morally the Brits are bankrupt. The concept of family is unknown. No one has the intelligence to react to a non-standard situation. Whatever you say about 3rd world countries, we get there, whether it is an earthquake etc, we recover and move on, not moan about it for years to come. Third world countries are called uncivilised etc. You Brits converted your cows, hens etc to cannibals and see what you landed up with.
Attitudes are mid 19th century; English people think everything that doesn't come from this island must be bad. Infrastructure is hugely neglected (yes, it's a lot talked about, but nothing actually happens); public transport is much, much more expensive than elsewhere. Recycling - common elsewhere in Europe since the 80s - is still regarded as something that is too much effort. The list goes on. Instead of developing and cracking on, England sits back, does nothing and then recalls 'old values' which are, frankly, values no more in today's world.
I wonder if the Germans are agonising as much about some article in 'The Sun' (plenty to choose from, I should think) which is critical of them.
I don't think so.
Alexander Crawford, USA
I was born in the U.K. and emigrated to Australia in the days of Mrs Thatcher. At the time I was very much a supporter of her, as the country really needed a good kick up the backside! I think things have changed dramatically since then, and Britain seems to be an altogether better place to live in. But why is it so very expensive compared to say, France? The French earn more than the English , but have lower prices for many more goods! Just who is making the money here? As an I.T. person, I am often urged to go to the U.K. for work, but in the same breath, warned about sky-high prices, no flats to live in etc. My mum tells me not come back and she should know! By the way, Germany has 11% employment rate and the U.K. about 4%, nothing more to be said on that point.
Lack of pride in appearance, sloth and obesity are a few of the other things the British have copied from the Americans (along with Coca-Cola, McDs, Burger King and Pizza ). I live in the 'Great North West' of the USA which must contain the greatest population of uglies in the world. The women look like they've just come from a grizzly bear hunt and have shapes that suggest a lifelong diet of whale blubber. From what I've seen on telly, you Brits are heading in the same direction.
I often wonder what's behind some journalism that hangs rubbish on other countries. It's not the first German print to slag off other countries. In the last 12 months an article from a German authority and a report from an American magazine sold world wide actually rubbished New Zealand for having Foot and Mouth! Nothing could be further from the truth. The New Zealand Government moved so fast that the German and the American printer / publishers apologised within days.
Asim Kazancigil, Istanbul, Turkey
Britain is the best country in the world - no question. However, it's the governments that have managed to overcharge the populace, over-indulge themselves, and generally ignore whatever the voters wish. I'm sure that, eventually, the Brits will be cowed into joining the Euro.
How soon we forget that we used to be able to shop the world for the best-value products - now we have to buy super-subsidised rubbish made in the EU. Pride in being Brit has long gone. I'm glad I don't live there - I feel sad that people listened to Ted Heath and not to Enoch Powell.
If anything, the German report is an understatement. I lived in the UK for almost a decade, and never ceased to be amazed by what a decrepit, run-down, dingy place it has become. It seems to want to have a European-style welfare state and public services with US-level taxes. Net result is what the economist John Kenneth Galbraith called "private wealth, public squalor". As consumers, the hapless Brits are gouged by the greediest retailers on the planet. I'm just grateful I'm not there any more.
Why worry about that article? If we in Germany took our image in some of the British press THAT seriously, we would really have an identity crisis!
Yes, the Stern is an influential paper, but known for strong words about everything. Some weeks ago, it had a long article complaining about, guess what, German public transport, i.e. German Railways.
Sue, Surrey, England
The rot started with Thatcher. Now we have a culture of
lowest possible public funding (to keep taxes low) -
precisely the kind of thing
that would address the problems mentioned.
I lived in Germany from 1992 to 1994 and was amazed
at just how safe, law abiding and clean and tidy everything was.
Britain was shabby in comparison back in 92.
Low public spending doesn't make for a nice country.
I'm living in northern Italy (Bologna) and I still can't believe how well off it is compared with Britain. Everyone is healthier, taller, better dressed and educated than back home. The transport is better and the level of manners and behaviour is something only England can dream about. Still at least we have Eastenders, pop music, kebabs, fighting after the pubs shut (11pm) and glorious sporting failure
Yes, the UK has problems but it's still a great place. I've come back from living in New Zealand for the past eight years and I'm SO glad to be here. One of the things I like is that we can have this debate. In NZ it's just assumed that everyone loves the place and if you don't agree you're mad.
I wouldn't bring kids up anywhere else, either. Imagine your children growing up without a British sense of humour....
We're in the state we're in because our infrastructure was starved of investment in the "glorious" Thatcher era and because despite irrefutable evidence that we should grow up, the right-wing establishment still believes that there are no lessons that we can ever learn from 'Johnny Foreigner'. Pathetic but true...
Many visitors to the UK are struck by the general ill-kempt appearance of the streets and the people. The low level of general culture is also a striking feature, as is an inability to speak clear English and, even, an indifference to wearing respectable clothes and eating decent food. So, yes, there does seem to be something inherently grubby about the British.
On the other hand, I think there may have been some signs of improvement in the UK in the past few years. Large-scale investment in education and public services has started and is definitely needed.
The Germans are correct, we are in a mess. One of the first things Tony Blair needs to do is to visit Yorkshire and try and console the farmers. We have just returned from a short break in the North and there are farms and beautiful footpaths closed all over the place. Visitors are well down. These people have a living to make. He must stop playing Mr Charming and get on with being a PM. If he is to be credible at all he must get on with this and other issues such as Health, Education, Transport. No more promises. I did not vote him in anyway, but we have all had to go along with it. Now get on with running a country. Stop playing at it.
Having read their article, I think they must have brought up just about everything that stinks about Britain in the last 4 years. The problem is that, although they portray Britain in a rather Dickensian way, most of it has some truth about it. I think that to refer to Blair's "Third Way" as "Third World" disregards the mess that we used to be in but I can see how this would appear compared to German standards of living. Mind you, I don't know how seriously to take a magazine that brought us the "Hitler Diaries"!
Just don't mention the war....
Somehow I feel sure that this article won't stop German tourists from flocking to the UK every summer and spending their money here - which is all we really need from them anyway.
What worries me most, from my distant viewpoint, is that the UK now resembles the Britain shown in the film of "1984", with cameras everywhere poking their lenses into people's lives. George Orwell seems to have been uncannily accurate. And, judging by the chat boards on the Internet, 'New Speak' is already well established.
These comments are simply ridiculous. Britain is a prosperous nation that can boast of pre-eminence in commerce and finance; has several excellent universities; maintains high quality armed forces. The British people will have a referendum on scrapping the pound. I don't recall the German people being asked permission to scrap the Deutschmark !
This article was long overdue. We do live in a country where mob mentality rules, where people are forced to work longer hours and pay more tax. The streets are filthy, some of our cities are absolute no-go areas for whites or others. Houses are so expensive that I really pity anyone just starting out. Add to this the IR35 tax on IT workers, BT's inability to roll-out ADSL and various other problems like foot and mouth, and you can see that this country will soon be more third world than most of the Third World itself.
Andrew Cooper, UK
If we could persuade more foreigners to loudly voice their intense dislike of all things British, the peoples of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales might well re-discover the joys of living together in a truly United Kingdom.
Obviously, this journalist has grossly exaggerated what he saw in order to be sensational. However, this does not mean that we do not have a problem with the under-funding of public services. People are always quick to say, we must raise taxes. I disagree. Why should the people who get off their backsides and work for a living have to pay for everything and everyone else? The reason our public services are poor is because money is mishandled and misappropriated. Tony Blair himself admitted that tax on fuel was being used to fund hospitals. This is scandalous. Tax on fuel should be used to fund public transport and improve roads.
If less public money was wasted on handouts such as these new lump sums to new parents (paying people to have more and more children), and to people who are not prepared to move away from home to find work, then maybe there would be more money available for schools and hospitals.
I have lived outside of the UK for the last 5 years and can therefore see my home country in quite an objective way. I find Stern's comments deeply offensive, ignorant and inaccurate. Britain is not Germany (thank God) or anywhere else. We are what we are and I would rather be British than anything else. This is not nationalism, or even patriotism but just a heartfelt regard for British values. Yes we whinge quite often, but deep down we are tolerant and welcoming. We are the fourth richest economy in the world. What we certainly must do is get the balance between private and public accountability right. Virtually all of Thatcher and Major's privatisations have been disasters, or scandals or both.
The article is not wrong. But it must be taken in perspective. It would be possible to write such an article about any country. It would also be possible to write a truthful article that only showed this country in a glowing light. That's the problem with mere snapshots taken at a specific angle.
Just a quick point for Scott from England - The German economy is much bigger than ours - check the OECD statistics - maybe the Germans have got a point about illiteracy.
I've lived on both sides of the Atlantic and have visited the Continent. I would say there is truth about the article in Stern. What gets me is this: in my country, we Americans are taxed lower than you Brits and yet we don't have the same problems as you guys. Can anyone explain why the US shouldn't be far worse off than the UK?
I think the comments are very accurate. England is a country which rewards greed and selfishness and puts the ignorant on pedestals. Half the kids in schools are sent home early because there are no teachers, not enough nurses to care for the sick and money is wasted on the Dome and other disgusting projects. Our major cities are a shambles, with litter, begging and crime everywhere. Many people's quality of life is so bad they simply don't know any better.
Its time this country did take a good look at itself and the three useless options available at the general election should sound serious warning bells for the future.
I couldn't agree more with Stern. I have spent time in a number of European cities and I think that we have a raw deal in comparison to many of our closest neighbours. A lot of the things that impact most heavily on our quality of life - public transport, cost of living, working conditions, healthcare - are far better in other northern European countries than they are here. The "Britain knows best" approach, exemplified by the attitude of many people towards the EU and closer European integration, is outdated, arrogant and demonstrably wrong.
Yes, I think UK is falling apart, one of the most expensive countries to live in and for what? Blair might think we live in paradise, its time he came down to earth!
Well we must be something special, considering that with all our troubles and deficiencies, we've still got a bigger economy than that of Utopian Germany!
Not bad for a bunch of illiterate, losers eh?
The Stern article contains a lot more than the few quotes you report about. I have read the complete article, and I have to say, that most of it describes life in Britain pretty accurately, with regards to NHS waiting lists, tube safety concerns (and the consequent strikes) etc.
Before blaming it all on the Germans again (especially those proud Brits who have never been abroad in their life!), maybe Britain should stand back and think about what state the country is in, and compare it with other European countries. Then you might see how bad it really is.
Patrick B, England
I don't understand how "travelling on London's creaky public transport is akin to having sado-masochistic sex". The sadism of the staff, and masochism of the commuters is fairly obvious ... but where are the orgasms?
Frankly, thank goodness not only that someone's noticed, but they had the sense to print it. Shame it didn't come from this side of the Channel.
Petra Kagleder, UK
Of course, journalistic licence allows a hefty amount of exaggeration. But the comments are rooted in truth. Because of the absence of realism in this country regarding the link between taxation and public services, our public services are on their knees. Their infrastructures are under-funded, and salaries are derisory. Unless taxes are raised, Stern's correspond will at least begin to sound like an accurate prophet.
I was born and raised in Britain and spent most my adult life wanting to "escape". I have done so. It is a land almost devoid of opportunity, with a terrifying gap between rich and poor and a very depressed social structure. If any of you want to stay there you're welcome to it.
John Cullen, Northampton, UK
An irrational rant: I am heartily sick and tired of foreign journalists coming over here and telling us what is wrong with our country. Sure the UK has more than its fair share of problems, but so do most of the countries in the EU. In any case, an examination of former East Germany would turn up problems that would equate or be much worse than conditions here.
The Stern article may exaggerate the problems, but its overall analysis is correct. Britain's public services are in a terrible shape. There is only one way to solve the failings: effective state intervention. But that would need German tax levels. When will the people of Britain learn? You cannot get away with paying low taxes and expect excellent public services. It's a simple yet tough choice.
We certainly care more for miserable tax cuts than we do for people. We have become an embittered, selfish nation resenting our fellow man. Thanks for everything Maggie!
Keith Saunders, Scotland
This will get the tabloids and Conservatives screaming blue murder but however they bluster about this, it has unfortunately got a lot of truth to it. Whilst we've been resting on our laurels as a nation, with our tabloids bleating that to be British is therefore to be great, and at the same time either mocking or being directly offensive to Europeans, they have got on and left the UK way behind.
Yes indeed, and it always rains. What would we do if we had nothing to complain about? I pity the Germans.
Recognise, yes - but only in a "Spitting Image" kind of way. Stern did highlight a lot of Britain's problems. There is too much illiteracy, tuberculosis is becoming more of a problem and standards of public transport are very poor. But twenty per cent illiteracy? Tuberculosis 'raging'? This is hardly accurate. I think Stern are using hyperbole to draw attention to their article which is by any standards, bad journalism. I might add that it's also rather rich to be lectured to by Germans on racial tolerance.
It takes a foreigner to point out the obvious. Ultimately this is how Blair plans to deal with asylum seekers - reduce quality of life to a point when we all seek asylum in the Balkans!
Rob Moseley, Loughborough, England
Robert Burns wrote 'tae see ourselves as others see us'.
Having lived and worked in Germany, they do have a point. German public services outstrip ours hands down. The reason?
High levels of income tax and a socially responsible cultured population.
I'd have to agree with Stern magazine. I grew up in this country thinking that a health service and good education system is what made Great Britain ...'great'. Into my thirties, I now realise that this is a myth. I would not bring up children in this country, and hence I'm out of here as soon as I can. Shame.
Essentially this is correct.
A trifle over the top but let us hope it starts the politicians talking about how we are now - rather than all the dreamy stuff of what we might be in the future.
We always start the debate from a position assuming that we are in a better place than we actually are - subsequently, it is very difficult to make progress!
The UK is drifting aimlessly.
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