Richard Hammond's Invisible Worlds on BBC1 last night featured bioinspiration. Three key subjcets - the Lotus Effect, spider silk and gecko adhesion - were featured. All first appeared in The Gecko's Foot (2005), still the only popular science book on the subject. Bioinspiration is set to be a key element in the new technologies that will fill the gap left by industrial collapse and the banking implosion.
The sale of Cadbury to Kraft in the middle of a recession, following the loss over many years of a good proportion of our industrial companies, has prompted much hand-wringing but one crucial consequence of these sales has not entered the debate.
We are about hold national elections. This country is a democratic nation state: the assumption being that the nation is a unit that has some control over its own destiny and that the political parties will compete to offer their vision for the future direction of this entity.
But, more than any other country, Britain has largely give up control of its industrial companies, preferring to let foreign companies to own them and to make the big decisions on investment and hiring and firing. Allied to this, financial deregulation in the 1980s resulted in a massive loss of control over the financial sector, something starkly highlighted by the ongoing crisis in which billions of private sector debt (caused by banking incompetence) have been loaded onto the state.
The democratic nation state used to have a clear identity and purpose: it had the monopoly of force within its borders and the right to defend the country from external threats also by force. These powers were buttressed by the ability to raise sufficient taxation and to exert, if necessary, some leverage over industrial activity, without which the means to fight are compromised. The Labour Party for decades made public ownership of "the commanding heights of the economy" a principal plank of its policy. That clause went of course and the old commanding heights have disappeared. But it is a strange course to have given up control of almost all parts of the economy, commanding or not.
Just before the recession the government on its website crowed: “The UK was the number one destination for inward investment in Europe in 2007”. Globally, it was second only to the USA. Why was this a boast? As the government admitted, this represented mostly foreign companies buying British ones. This is selling the family silver and should not be equated with real investment, ie new economic endeavours or products that are seeking to create or fulfil a new market.
Surely, a nation state that goes to war as often as Britain has done in recent years, on the back of a dwindling industrial base, is a shell of a country? China is thought to be potentially militarily powerful because it has become economically powerful. This rule has held throughout history. Britain once understood this better than any other country but is now standing the rule on its head. The awful thought occurs that the British nation state goes to war so often because that is one of the few traditional powers it has not yet relinquished.
When we vote in May our votes may, if we are lucky, influence events in Afghanistan but they can have no effect on Kraft, Santander, Tata Steel, Nippon Sheet Glass Co (owner of Pilkington), EDF, Nissan, Alstom, AkzoNobel (who bought ICI), and all the other once-British companies. It has been said, by the City Minister, Lord Myners, among others, that it is easier for foreign firms to buy a company in Britain than anywhere else in the world. Why? Who let this happen and why isn’t this gap being plugged as an urgent priority? Unless we recover some control of the industries in which British people earn their livelihood, the Election will be a hollow charade. How can a country go to war as a supposedly sovereign nation when it is fact largely owned by other countries? The dirty word for the condition we are approaching is helotry.
I'm a writer whose interests include the biological revolution happening now, the relationship between art and science, jazz, and the state of the planet