England Feature

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England Today

England is the biggest region of the United Kingdom (or U.K.), the nation that also includes Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and the Channel Islands (Guernsey and Jersey). Some but not all of these are also part of Great Britain (or just Britain), which is made up of the contiguous regions of England, Scotland, and Wales on the main British isle. It's worth noting that, while England, Scotland, and Wales are all part of Britain and the U.K., Wales and Scotland aren’t part of England, and vice versa. Get that one wrong at your peril—you haven’t seen angry until you've seen a Welshman referred to as English.

Although it's about the size of Louisiana, England has a population 12 times as large: 51 million people find space to live on its green rolling hills and in its shallow valleys and crowded cities.

Coalition Country

The current government in the United Kingdom is a coalition government. In the last election in 2010, no single party won more than 50% of the vote, so the leading vote-winner, the Conservative Party, joined together with a small moderate party, the Liberal Democrats, to form a government led by Prime Minister David Cameron, a Conservative, and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, a Liberal Democrat. This uncomfortable alliance between two parties that had long been political enemies is controversial with some voters because both parties are forced to compromise on complex issues: nobody gets everything they want. Matters were exacerbated in the 2013 local elections by the gain of seats by the relatively new UKIP (UK Independence Party), led by Nigel Farage. This party favors tighter control on immigration and an "amicable divorce" from the European Union.

Caught up as the United Kingdom is in the ongoing global economic crisis, you could say that London was put in an unfair test, having been chosen in 2005 as the venue for the 2012 Olympic Games. Costs ran at least five times the original £2.4 billion budget, and whether this overspending outweighed all other benefits—in terms of sports, urban regeneration, and architecture—will never be less than controversial.

Despite the economic crisis, the money invested in the Olympic and Paralympic Games of 2012, which were universally regarded as an outstanding success, was regarded as money well spent. The games also contributed to a rekindling of the British sense of pride. The site of the games, renamed the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, has not kept its stunning wildflower meadow but is undergoing transformation into the capital’s largest urban park.

Analyzing how the different political parties respond to everything from a politician lying over personal speeding offenses to discussion of holding a referendum over the European Union is a national hobby. And there’s much to consider: provoking continuing discussion are changes affecting welfare and social care, reorganization of the National Health Service, and the problems caused by the fact that people are now living longer. The issues of unemployment and the lack of opportunity among England’s youth on one hand, and corporate greed and crony capitalism on the other, are a constant. Social networking sites have aided and abetted the debates.

The Royals Reinvented

How things have changed for the Windsor family. Essentially a figurehead monarchy but with a symbolic political role, the Royal Family has teetered on the brink of obsolescence. After the death of Princess Diana in 1997 and the royal scandals and divorces that littered the late 20th century, the idea of ending the monarchy's political role—and its government subsidy—was widely discussed publicly. Maintaining the Royal Family costs the country £42 million (more than $65 million) each year, and that amount was increasingly difficult to justify as the popularity of the family—aside from the beloved Queen—plummeted.

It's not surprising, then, that some in the media maintain that when Prince William married the appealing Catherine Middleton he saved the monarchy. The young couple’s popularity is enormous, particularly after the birth of their son, George, Prince of Cambridge, in July 2013 The Queen capped her successful Diamond Jubilee year in 2012 by playing a starring role as a Bond girl in the much-lauded Olympic Opening Ceremony. Now in her late eighties and with no thought of retiring, she is scaling down her public engagements, gradually transferring them to her son, Prince Charles, and other members of the Royal Family.

Fashionable Britannia

Known for their quirky, creative, and bold style, British fashion designers have been influential on the global stage for decades. Whether it's from top-of-the-line companies like Burberry and Mulberry or from individual designers such as Paul Smith, Stella McCartney, Victoria Beckham, and the late Alexander McQueen, clothes made by British designers are sought after. According to the British Fashion Council, the British fashion industry is worth £21 billion and is still growing.

Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, still holds sway as chief ambassador for British fashion. The "Kate effect," first fired by her wedding dress, has not diminished; constant analysis of her attire and that of her offspring continues. Choosing to mix high fashion with moderately priced high-street clothing, she’s caused such chains as Reiss, LK Bennett, Hobbs, and Whistles to sell out the moment she dons their garments, and the cachet of such designers such as Jenny Packham and Jimmy Choo to rocket.

Last Call for Alcohol

According to published studies, Britain is only the 11th-heaviest drinking nation in Europe, but on a Friday night in any town center that rating can be hard to believe. The British refer to some busy towns as "no-go areas" after 11 pm, because they’re packed with raucous, drunken young people stumbling out of pubs. Even normally staid towns, such as Harrogate in Yorkshire and Rochester in Kent, can take on a spring break atmosphere after the pubs close on a Friday night. Seaside towns tend to have the most problems, including Bristol, Newquay, and Hastings.

The main cause, experts say, is a binge-drinking culture, particularly among the young. While, overall, Britain may rank quite low in drinking studies, for people under 25 the results are quite different. A recent study ranked British youth as the third-heaviest drinkers in their age group in Europe. Now government programs, including price increases, are underway to try and change the nation's gulp-it-down approach to alcohol.

Updated: 10-2013

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