Foolish politicians have made life easy for the enemies of the West

At first it happened slowly, but now it is sudden and harsh: the era of unreality in which we have lived in comfort and safety is coming to an end.

For years, the global trading system has given us cheap manufactured goods. Asian economies have helped keep inflation low and credit cheap. The warning signs were there – stagnant wages despite high employment, shuttered factories and low productivity to name a few – but life was comfortable enough, at least for the political classes.

Obviously, that wouldn’t last, but the complacent generation carried on regardless. Superficial leaders who preferred the ephemeral and the peripheral to the serious and complex have failed to correct our structural weaknesses – such as the planning system, skills, investment in innovation and the geography of our economy – and continued to expose us to risks, such as strained global supply chains and the dependence of our economy and key institutions on investment from hostile foreign states.

This dependency has undermined our security as well as our economic resilience. When the Cold War ended, the West reigned supreme. But the generation of leaders that had confronted the Soviet Union gave way to the complacent generation, which made mistake after mistake. Defense abilities have been reduced. Military defeats in Afghanistan and Iraq have been hijacked and explained. Communist China, keen to restore its global power, has been asked to fund and manage critical national infrastructure, from power plants to parts of the telecommunications network.

Despite an unprecedented threat from Islamist terrorism – mostly home-grown and instigated by preachers and ideologues from Britain and overseas – too little has been done to prevent segregation within our cities, the adoption of extreme beliefs and practices and open organizing by agitators, plotters and extremists who want to destroy our way of life.

Across Europe, including Britain, smoothing politicians took security for granted. Even as they cut defense spending, they reached out to the United States, the ally on which European security depends. The European Union, which contributed to peace by integrating the economies of Western Europe, came to believe that it had secured peace beyond France and Germany. It has expanded its borders to Russia, even opening talks with Ukraine, but has no power to defend its members and friends. Observing Russian aggression, Finland, an EU member state, now urgently demands accelerated NATO membership and US protection.

Everywhere we look, the craziness and naivety of the complacent generation begins to reveal itself. There are many examples, but the energy crisis above all is a textbook case of stupidity.

Britain should have approved new nuclear power stations twenty years ago. Yet Blair and Brown balked, and the Coalition ruled out nuclear subsidies. Theresa May began her term by promising “an energy policy that emphasizes reliability of supply and lower costs for users”. It should have meant a new nuclear and a boost for gas, but instead we got a net zero goal with no idea how to get there or what it would cost. Now the Johnson government, even more net-zero religious, opposes fracking and chooses not to exploit the North Sea gas fields. Faced with an energy crisis, ministers protest there is not much they can do.

The crisis may be international, but the blame for Britain’s lack of preparedness is domestic. Energy prices have been rising here for years, thanks to ministers imposing green surcharges on household and industrial energy costs. Today, with China’s demand for gas rising, Russia exploiting Europe’s dependence on its gas supplies, the post-pandemic recovery of the global economy, the depletion of Britain’s gas storage capacity and refusal to tap its own reserves, wholesale gas costs have more than quadrupled since before the pandemic.

British households and our energy-intensive industries will pay the price, just as they will pay for rising inflation and, however necessary, tax hikes. The whole structure of our economy – too dependent on financial services, too geographically uneven, too exposed to tight supply chains, poorly connected, with low productivity and too little investment – is as it is because of the decisions and indecisiveness of the complacent generation. No politician from any party has yet provided the cohesive plan for growth that we need.

Nor is there a credible plan to project and defend Western interests as economic, diplomatic and military power shifts to the East. Geopolitical change has been accelerated by Western mistakes, such as wars in the Middle East, naivety, such as through global trade policies, and the virus, which has disrupted democratic societies more than autocratic states. But Britain and our allies have also been blind – perhaps deliberately – to the actions of our competitors and enemies.

China has bought its place in our critical national infrastructure, our universities and even, as we have recently learned, our democratic institutions. He has corrupted international institutions, from the World Health Organization to Interpol. He set up rival organizations – like the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank – with the connivance of the British government. He stole industrial secrets and increased his economic and military reach in Asia and Africa.

Russia, with troops massed on the Ukrainian border, has already won in its confrontation with the West, whether it invades or not. He showed that Europe was hypocritical, weak and, in some cases, corrupt. He proved that German energy needs prevailed over the international order. She managed to establish that Ukraine, occupied or not, will remain in her sphere of influence. It will continue to facilitate international organized crime, launch cyberattacks, develop hybrid offensive capabilities, launder dirty money through financial hubs like London, and undermine Western interests.

Russia, like China, can do these things because the complacent generation of Western leaders made it possible. And now, from a position of needless weakness, we face great challenges – revolutionary new technologies, mass migration, competition for energy sources, security threats, the decline of international institutions, the need for growth economic and doubts about how we protect our way of life and the power of the project – but our eclipse and defeat are not inevitable. Now that the era of unreality is definitely over, the truth is before us. We need a new generation of leaders to bring us back to sanity and strength.

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