Perspective is all about offering fresh and, at times, conflicting viewpoints. But occasionally two of our writers will contradict each other not in a matter of opinion, but of fact. That happened in a small way with this issue. In his lament over our diminished armed forces, Simon Heffer states that Britain remains the world’s fifth largest economy; but our guest writer, Anjana Menon, writes that India has already pushed us into sixth place. For two reasons, we decided to let both statements stand. Firstly, whatever figures you use, only a whisker separates the two. Secondly, the disparity highlights the key theme here, which is Britain’s declining influence in the world post Iraq, Afghanistan, and Brexit. Whoever wins the financial photo finish, the UK’s trajectory is distinctly downward, while India’s fortunes are on the way up.
Toby Green’s and Michael Burleigh’s articles share a common thread, along with Gavin Esler’s interview of Lord Peter Ricketts (who chaired the Joint Intelligence Committee under Tony Blair), which is the US’s fading star as the dominant superpower. And there’s a potent echo of this also in Michael Janofsky’s reminder that the next presidential election is likely to be fought between the oldest contenders ever. Of course, the US’s faltering dominance presages Britain’s own waning claims to global significance. Worse still, our departure from Europe (and the contradictions inherent in Northern Ireland’s position), has seen even America lose interest in the so-called “special relationship”.
In his regular column, Peter Lawlor points out how the financial ringmasters at the Bank of England are exacerbating inflation by failing to learn from past mistakes, emphasising the point Peter (Phelps) makes about our insecurities abroad being matched only by those at home. We are, of course, by no means the only nation where questions of identity and purpose continue to exercise the common psyche – as the filmmaker Tina Gharavi’s response to the furore over her Netflix series, Queen Cleopatra, in this issue attests.
We suspect none of this will be news to the BBC’s International News Editor Jeremy Bowen, who talked to us about everything from maintaining impartiality in war zones to Wales’s chances in the upcoming Rugby World Cup. Which reminds us, it’s not all about politics. The global theme of this issue flows over into Helen Brown’s discussion with Amanda Craig on her new novel The Three Graces, set in Italy. Then there’s Phoebe Greenwood’s poignant letter from Greece, and Mic Wright’s analysis of the viral nature of the content that populates the world wide web. But sometimes we don’t need to go online or travel abroad, it’s enough to take a trip down memory lane. At the back of the mag Rowan retreats to her teens, revealing with her usual candour the terrible things she got up to in the 1980s (dangerous for someone who has two teenagers of her own).
Finally, we couldn’t let this issue pass without acknowledging the death of Martin Amis on 19 May 2023. Boris Starling gives his own novelistic insight into the literary legend who bestrode English letters for half a century. With this age’s doom and gloom, Amis’ reminder that funny and serious go hand-in-hand is, we think, rather timely.