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UK institutions

Here’s what lures me back to struggling Britain

Graduation day at Cambridge University. Flickr/Sir Cam

I’m moving home to the UK from the US, says Niall Ferguson in Bloomberg, and my friends think I’m totally mad. I can understand why, given Britain’s indefatigable efforts to re-enact the “stagflation and malaise” of the 1970s. So what’s drawing me back? I think it’s the “virtue of inertia”. Thanks to immigration, British society has changed immeasurably over recent decades. But its institutions have either stayed the same or changed “only very slowly”. And that, I think, “is at the very heart of Britain’s international appeal”.

Take education. Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial have long been at or near the top of global university rankings, and our private schools remain second to none. These places are great in large part because of inertia – because even the wokest of vice chancellors or headteachers “can achieve only modest changes in the face of centuries-old traditions”. It’s the same with politics. Last year was seen as exceptionally fractious because the UK had three prime ministers, but it wasn’t unprecedented: there were three PMs in 1868, four in nine months in 1834-35, and five in 1782-83. Unlike in, say, France, these ructions didn’t lead to revolution. “A spike in the turnover of Oxonian premiers is surely preferable to barricades and tumbrils.” This isn’t to say Britain hasn’t changed – we currently have a Hindu PM, a Buddhist home secretary and a Muslim mayor of London. But in today’s changing world, “the immutability of Britain’s institutions has never looked more attractive”.