Table Speech

The Attraction of Today’s Great Britain 

April 13th, 2005

Former Japanese Ambassador to Great Britain
Mr. Masaki Orita

Form Great Britain is rich in history and culture. They created congressional democracy through the test of time and became the world’s first capitalist country. These facts loom large in our eyes, but today they are maintaining the crown and congressional democracy, while working towards reform and making great changes.

An election will take place on May 5. It is predicted that Blair's Labor government will lose quite a few seats but still be able to secure more than half of the seats. The reason why the Labor Government seems secure in spite of Mr. Blair's falling popularity is due to the prosperity of the economy.
Mr. Blair’s Labor Government started in 1997. But since Mr. Major’s government started in 1992, the economy has never receded. It has grown by 1 to 3% annually, and the jobless ratio is less than 5%, the lowest in recent history for the land.

It’s economic policies are putting importance on the free market, de-regulation, and privatizing of firms. It is a continuation of Thatcher’s policies adding the idea of social justice and quality of educational rights.
Great Britain’s economy changed greatly from the 90’s. A shift was made from production to finance, securities and the IT industry – the service industries. Only 13% of the work force is engaged in production, which is 30% lower than 20 years ago, while 78% work in the service industry which was only 40% then. The days of labor lost due to strikes is today 1/60th of that of 1979.

Due to de-regulation, London’s ‘City’, or financial center has many foreign firms working, and the pure assets of the banks in Great Britain have increased threefold in the past 10 years. Today, there are 674 licensed banks in operation.

Although it has been called a class society, things are changing. The tradition of sending sons of the elite to public schools and on to Cambridge and Oxford whose graduates would control society has greatly changed. With the increase in service industries, professionals and intellectual workers have increased and the old pattern of capital versus labor has changed.

Colleges too, are no longer ivory towers and are seeking ties with Corporations. Oxford dismissed the business school started in America, saying that it was not a legitimate academic pursuit, but today it and other British Universities have started them.

These changes have activated the British society, but problems have arisen in the public sector, such as railways, hospitals and schools. For railways, by separating firms responsible for train operations and rail maintenance, the latter finds itself deprived of sufficient funds.

For hospitals, programs such as PFI (Public Finance Initiative) and PPP (Public Private Partnership) are being used to utilize funds, abilities and technology.

Some say that the break down of old traditions are making schools drift away from basic mathematics, basic physics, the classics, philosophy, etc. and the consciousness of noblesse oblige.

When confronting an issue, the British are quite flexible, or realistic.
When they confront a problem they immediately find ways for correction.
For new policies, they do not aim for 100% perfection but feel that it is worth doing if it attains 70 or 80% of its aim.

The British do not have a written constitution. A large part of their law is not written, so they rely on past records. Although they believe that congressional democracy is the best system, they do not think it is perfect.
The British can argue without being carried away. By being taught the art of debate in primary and middle schools, children understand that there are two sides to every argument. Thus Great Britain, whose people continue to produce new thoughts at every instance remains an attractive country although it may have shrunk in size.