The latest Times poll on life in Britain makes grim reading. Some 70 percent think that Britain is ‘broken,’ while 68 percent say that people who play by the rules get a raw deal. Not surprisingly, 82 percent think that it’s time for a change. The figure that leaps out, however, is that 42 percent of people in Britain would emigrate if they could. That figure represents over 25 million people!
Britain does have its drawbacks, including endemic discomforts such as its appalling weather and even more appalling Guardian columnists, but it is doubtful that these are enough to drive people out of the country. The real reason is probably lack of opportunity. Social mobility has declined under Labour governments, with the chances higher than before that someone born into a social milieu will remain trapped there. Taxation, including income and stealth taxes, act against opportunity and ambition, and the dead hand of bureaucracy stifles innovation and enterprise.
Studies tell us that happiness is associated more with progress than with any level of wealth. Denied the chance to better themselves, people feel less content than they do in societies where progress seems possible. The poll results speak of a deep unease with Britain as it is, coupled with a wish that it could be better.
The lesson for the next government, now fewer than 100 days away, is that it should restore opportunity, encouraging people to get ahead and improve their lot in life themselves, instead of passively taking what government feels able to deliver through its public services. There are some who need help, of course, but what the majority need is opportunity. The next government should remove the barriers to it, and let talent do what it can.
The terrifying thought is that if things don’t change, and 42 percent do manage to emigrate, they will include all those who might otherwise improve things.