Editorial: Raise a glass to Britain

If you are unfortunate enough to spend your days ingesting nothing but a fear-filled diet of the Daily Mail, you could be forgiven for thinking Britain is well and truly broken. Here at MT, we don't agree.

by Matthew Gwyther
Last Updated: 05 Nov 2010

This autumn may not have been the most uplifting of seasons - with the grim reaper of public sector spending cuts stalking the land, together with the economy looking as if it may be heading for another serious slowdown - but the country is not falling to pieces.

We are going to have to put this paralysing negativity behind us before it begins to have deleterious effects and we all wind up as miserable as a roomful of Finns in December when the vodka has run dry. With such a lot of questioning and re-evaluating going on, there can be no better time to attempt to establish what are our most promising assets and strengths and then try to capitalise on them.

We chose Paul Smith for our MT interview because he's a truly durable Brit businessman. He has built his empire slowly but methodically, ignoring the enticements of fast-talking financiers who would have put him on the road to ruin. In a sector filled with fly-by-nights, tantrums, tiaras and hopelessly unrealistic business models, Smith stands out as a winner. He's also delightful company, as I once discovered when he took me for a spin in his 1956 Bristol 405 and we nearly got arrested. But that's another story.

It's impossible for us to critique ourselves entirely objectively as a nation, which is why we've asked a number of foreign bosses what they think of us and UK plc. It's noticeable how positive the French interviewees - both women - were about the UK's prospects compared with their side of la Manche. As I write, France is grinding to a halt with mass protests dans la rue as a relatively painless cost-saver - raising the retirement age to 62 - is being violently challenged. In Greece and Spain the grief has been far worse.

In the middle of the gloom, I took off to Islay for two days to research my article (page 56) about the Scotch whisky industry, which remains a good, solid exporter and deliverer of boundless excise revenue to HMG. One thing that was typically British about the experience was Islay's tiny airport, which is the size of two Portakabins. Four uniformed security personnel gave each and every one of the 12 people on my flight out - one of only two movements each day - the kind of going-over to be expected by a member of the Bin Laden clan. All this for a 20-minute hop back to Glasgow. And of course there was no way you could even put a miniature in your hand baggage. 'Ye cannae believe it,' moaned one Ileach under his breath.

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