Two reports this week past demonstrate both the sheer enormity and pace of change in this world and the utter inability of democratically-elected Western European politicians to deal with it.
This week the US National Intelligence Council (NIC) published Global Trends 2030, which neatly captured mega-change. Yesterday a report was published in Britain on the 2011 Census that implied a shocking message; given the pace of hyper-immigration by 2100 England will have ceased to be England.
Last week’s NIC report makes for interesting reading. It suggests four mega-trends: individual empowerment that will undermine state authority; a diffusion of power which will undermine both states and their international institutions; an increase in both migration and urbanization; and hyper-competition for food, water and energy. In other words it is a dangerous cocktail of global instability that will be reflected in what the report calls a crisis-prone global economy subject to a governance gap with the potential for conflict increasing, both global and regional. Conflict that will be both promoted and countered by new technologies. This is big change stuff.
Fast forward to yesterday’s report on the 2011 UK national census and the street-level consequences of big change are all too apparent. The UK report confirmed something the English people have seen with their own eyes and yet government has repeatedly denied: the forces of change reflected in the NIC report are changing the face of England. My use of “England” as opposed to “Britain” is deliberate as the census confirms it is England taking the brunt of change engineered by two Scottish politicians, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. For the first time in its history people who identified themselves in the census as ”British” are now in a minority in London which to all intents and purposes is ceasing to be an English city and is becoming instead the world’s first Mega-trend Mega-city in which big change is being played out.
Watching British TV last night was an exercise in elite denial. The usual apologists were trotted out by the BBC. A changing England was a “good thing.” We are all part of the “global village” and it is simply “globalization in action.” Hyper-immigration is something to be celebrated. At one level they are right. London is certainly a ”dynamic” place. However, a vast number of ordinary English people feel betrayed by a political class that has consistently refused to listen to their concerns.
It is frustration repeated across Western Europe. This breakdown between peoples and their political leaders is pronounced everywhere. Of course, such tensions always exist during times of economic crisis but this is something much, much deeper. Politicians are trapped in a perfect storm of global change, uncontrolled mass migration, the consequences of foolishly-relinquished national sovereignty, extra-territorial human rights legislation and with it an inability to control national borders. All they can do in response is either pretend they have control they do not, blame others (in Britain’s case normally Brussels and the EU) for the fiasco or simply deny change is happening.
At the end of next year transitional restrictions on the right of Romanians and Bulgarians to settle in other EU countries will be lifted. Now, I have nothing but respect for both countries as I have visited both often and if I was a poor Romanian and saw opportunity elsewhere I too would vote with my feet. Typically, unable to prevent the next tidal wave of eastern European immigration to Britain on the grounds London is bound by EU treaty the British Government is implying only a few thousand will move to the UK. Yesterday I had a chat on the phone with a friend of mine who is a senior eastern European politician. I asked him how many Romanians and Bulgarians he thought would move to Britain come early 2014. “Anything up to a million”, he said.
Neither the fragile British economy nor its fragile society will cope with such an influx and yet ministers are in denial. If politicians are to regain any sort of trust three things must happen. First, they must begin to be honest with their electorates about the nature of global change and that there can be no refuge in nostalgia. Society is what it is and change brings benefits as well as dangers. Second, those very real dangers big change generates must and will be confronted and if needs be countries like Britain will take back power from broken Brussels to ensure that. Third, Britain must really regain control of its borders.
If not then two things will happen. Social unrest will break out and thuggish political extremists will emerge from the shadows in which today they lurk. Democracy in denial is democracy in danger.
Julian Lindley-French is Eisenhower Professor of Defence Strategy at the Netherlands Defence Academy, Fellow of Respublica in London, Associate Fellow of the Austrian Institute for European and Security Studies and a member of the Strategic Advisory Group of the Atlantic Council. He is also a member of the Academic Advisory Board of the NATO Defence College in Rome. This essay first appeared on his personal blog, Lindley-French’s Blog Blast.