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The New Anatomy of Britain

In his new book, former Conservative MP Rory Stewart sharply critiques the British political class. Analyzing the degradation of the United Kingdom’s public services, he highlights two potential culprits: a ruling class preoccupied with political maneuvering and a civil service excessively focused on bureaucracy.

LONDON – Anthony Sampson’s Anatomy of Britain, published in 1962, was a profound and scholarly work that appeared at a time when the perception that the United Kingdom was in decline was undermining confidence in British institutions. Though the former Conservative minister Rory Stewart’s new memoir, Politics On the Edge, is far more personal and narrower in scope, it similarly provides an opportunity to reflect on the state of the UK.

In Stewart’s telling, British politicians have “failed to respond adequately to every major challenge of the past 15 years.” While some sectors of the UK economy work well, “public-service Britain” – encompassing the National Health Service (NHS), schools, public transport, utilities, the police, and prisons – is deteriorating. The problem, Stewart argues, lies largely with a dysfunctional political class that views politics as an endgame rather than as a means to effective policy.

Stewart’s position in British politics afforded him a unique vantage point from which to make such observations. For the nine years chronicled in this memoir (2010-19), he stood largely on the edge of the British political scene. Given that he entered politics as an acclaimed travel writer and former provincial governor in post-Saddam Iraq, his outsider status was hardly a surprise.

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