Britain: belt-tightening but still buzzing

The UK's powers of re-invention are astounding.

Having just returned from an extended trip to the UK, I can report that much of southern England shows little outward sign of austerity.  The bars overflow with activity, the restaurants are often packed, the infrastructure projects abound (2012 Olympics, St Pancras International, the Shard, the Battersea Power Station redevelopment, Heathrow Terminal 5, Crossrail, London Underground upgrades, etc.), and the place brims with optimism.

A Brussels-based Belgian friend asked why London wasn't "satisfied with itself", why it had to keep up its pace of development.  His question might suggest why Belgium languishes near default just as the UK powers its return to profitability and economic dominance.

Hacking scandals notwithstanding.  Yet, even corruption allegations and calls for curbs on press freedom are being dealt with speedily and with characteristic fervour.

The UK might take a year or three to revert to consistent economic growth, yet its ability to navigate its way to success through re-invention and innovation is self-evident.  As continental Europe struggles to deal with its debt issues, Britain manages its problems with a surprising level of effectiveness.

Of course, there've been criticisms of PM David Cameron's "Big Society" idea, the Coalition government's troop and police reduction plans to meet austerity targets and other concerns, but the general populace appears optimistic that good times will resume.

The London stock exchange's persistent profitability and the FTSE's robust level are equalled only by the UK's ability to attract and retain flows of overseas investment capital.  There seem to be few fears in the UK that British companies are gobbled up by international private equity houses or conglomerates.  This doesn't surprise, as the British are so good at creating brand new concerns to replace others that get snapped up.

And incomers who've settled there seem to appreciate the UK's strength of democracy and enterprise. There are detractors, but they are overwhelmingly outnumbered by immigrants and their offspring busily participating in and profiting from the country's regeneration.

As McLaren Cars, Brompton bikes and Berwin & Berwin suits demonstrate (all admirably highlighted by Evan Davies in the BBC's 'Made in Britain'), the UK has the ability to manufacture its way into the future. Only problem is it'll require hundreds perhaps thousands of such innovative businesses of the size of Brompton to outperform the likes of Germany or China.

Can the country which invented industrial revolution generate such a proliferation of industrial enterprise in the twenty first century?  Sure it can.

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