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Behind the headlines

Reports of Britain’s demise are greatly exaggerated

Cambridge, still thriving. Instagram/@cambridgeuniversity

The Queen’s lifelong task – “did she ever quite realise it?” – was to preside over a country in decline, says AN Wilson in The Spectator, and create the illusion “that the nightmare was not happening”. When she was born in 1926, Britain commanded “the mightiest, richest empire in the history of the world”. By the time she died, it had ceased to be even what Gore Vidal once called it: “an American aircraft-carrier”. It was simply a “muddle of a place”, which had lost “most of its manufacturing industrial wealth”, all its political influence in the world, and “any sense of national identity”.

Since the Queen’s death, there’s been a deluge of opinion pieces claiming that this is the “final nail” in Britain’s coffin, says Finn McRedmond in The Irish Times. Pundits claim the country is “collapsing under the weight of self-delusion”, stuck with a lacklustre PM and trapped “in the thrall of odd and asinine ritual”. Since 2016, when Britain committed the “original sin” of voting to leave the EU, it’s been condemned as “politically adrift” with an “abysmal” economy.

Of course it’s all nonsense. The UK isn’t “falling apart at the seams” – no matter how much certain pundits might wish it were. Sure, it’ll be tough if we get a chilly winter, but Europe as a whole is teetering “on the brink of a cliff”. Britain’s energy crisis and economic woes aren’t unique, however much doomsayers want you to believe otherwise.

Britain still has great strengths, says Timothy Garton Ash in The Guardian. Our national unity in mourning the Queen shows we’re not “hopelessly divided between two hostile tribes”, as many predicted post-Brexit. Our new cabinet, the first in which no white man holds a top role, proves Britain has diversified “better than most European democracies”. We have great universities, some of the world’s best media “(as well as some of its worst)”. Last week’s seamless, near-simultaneous transition to both a new monarch and PM suggests a “constitutional democracy in decent shape”: if the Tories lose the next election, no-one will question the result as in the hyper-polarised US, “let alone brandish automatic rifles”. To invoke “the most British of consolatory phrases”, things “could be worse”.