Britain on the rocks

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 October, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 October, 1994, 12:00am

FORGIVE me for the melancholy, but this week has not been good for Britain's image.

The new Jaguar car was launched. What should have been a British celebration was marred by the fact that Jaguar is now owned by Ford and is therefore really American.

It also has one delightful feature missing - the leaping Jaguar has gone from the hood, not so much for its safety problems but because vandalism is now so rife in Britain that the manufacturers believed they would just be wrenched off by yobs.

Then the French Institute for International Relations, a government-funded organisation, devoted more than a quarter of a 400-page document to the insular, sick man of Europe, suggesting 'to study the United Kingdom is to study decline'.

The report described Britain as a country 'mired in political infighting and tabloid sex scandals'. It said the rot began in the 60s and Margaret Thatcher's rule in the 80s only helped make the political system more authoritarian.

We had an internal report on the filthy state of British cities with Manchester, Wakefield, Leeds and Sunderland coming out worst. Victorian cities the lot of them, all just about summing up the impression that absolutely nothing has changed since the 19th century.

I hoped to be able to break this depressing view, dismiss it as ludicrous. One could easily see off the French attack of course.

The French have enough scandals of their own, there are plenty of places as grim as our inner city slums. Our political scandals pale into insignificance besides those centred around such luminaries as Bernard Tapie.

That is to avoid the argument though. What are Britain's successes today? Well, we have a very successful film catching the world's eye at the moment. Four Weddings and a Funeral is being hailed as a blockbuster across the United States, it has grossed profits of GBP62 million (about HK$756 million) so far.

But then I heard that the British star Hugh Grant so under-rated himself that he was reportedly paid only GBP62,500 to play in the movie.

His American co-star Andie MacDowell commanded a GBP218,750 fee and even that was low because she thought it was to be a 'funny little movie to be made in quaint old England'.

So I hoped to draw succour from the crime statistics out this week which appeared, superficially at least, to indicate a fall of 5.5 per cent in total recorded crimes over the past year. What a relief, something good at last.

The first drop in four decades said the Home Office. But violent and sex related crime continues on the increase by any criteria. The incidence of burglaries and car crime is alleged to have fallen. Rather the reporting of such crimes has fallen.

The Home Office, which produced the figures even admitted this - the public is less inclined to report trivial offences because it feels there is not much point anyway as they will not be solved.

AND all that after a 50 per cent increase in policing in real terms. Given police 'reforms' over the past 12 months it is not even in the police's interest to record crimes. Heavy crime rates used to mean greater resources for an area. Now lower crime is taken as meaning more successful policing and higher pay.

The police admit it saying they see no point in recording trivial offences. The argument goes round in a circle. Houses are usually so well protected now that a burglar risks an alarm going off at the least.

The security systems on the new Jaguar are so sophisticated it has 60 billion immobilising electronic codes. I even take the fuel pump fuse out of my car if parking in a rough area in the hope that will stop it being driven away.

And am I being cynical if I suggest that manipulating the crime figures like this can ease the pressure for new and expensive prisons manned by prison officers who consistently warn the Home Secretary that their regimes are too soft.

But enough of such melancholy. Next week it is back into the realms of fantasy with the Labour Party conference, followed closely by the Conservative Party get together. Oh, brave new world that has such people in't.