It takes a lot to get my attention in the mornings. I’ve mastered dozing through John Humphrys interviews on Today that once left me quivering all day long. I can let out the chickens and make a pot of coffee without even waking up. But last Thursday, when I saw the headline in The Times ‘China set to buy Liverpool’, lightning struck my matinal fog. Good Lord, I said to the dog. This is news, even if the subtitle read ‘Communist Government funds bid for Premier League Club’.
In the olden days, when one country wanted a hunk of another, it meant war. Remember when Argentina decided that the Falklands really belonged to them? All hell broke loose. And a few years later, when Saddam Hussein reckoned that Kuwait was really a little patch of Iraq, a mighty (short) war erupted.
But times have changed. Now, if a rich and powerful country wants a hunk of another little country, they don’t need anything as labour-intensive and messy as an army. They don’t even require rumours of weapons of mass destruction. All they need is a stockpile of foreign-currency reserves, and one thing is for sure: it’s a heap easier to buy a country than it is to invade one.
Of course, the very thought makes some people edgy. Senti-mentalists call it the curse of globalism, and cynics claim it’s colonialism by other means, but I reckon we should take a more positive view of this new world order. In fact, I wonder why China and its overseas investment arm should confine themselves to Liverpool. I think there are far bigger bargains to be had.
For a start, I’d suggest that China have a look at the NHS. It has a lot more real estate than Liverpool, it operates year round, and it’s the envy of the world. China has the experience necessary to run it, because the Chinese army is the only institution in the whole world that has more people on the payroll than the NHS. It wouldn’t be cheap, but as China has a stockpile of more than $2 trillion (whatever that is), I think a deal could be made.
What a relief that would be to future coalition governments. No more waiting lists, and the budget deficit would be wiped out in one fell swoop. And we shouldn’t stop there. China is eager for a high-profile entry into British cultural life, and, for reasons that will mystify the average reader, they believe that a football club would be just that. Alas, they have been steered in the wrong direction.
The heart and soul of our cultural life are our universities and they’re crying out for investment.
It seems churlish and short-sighted to accept the 9,000 Chinese students applying to British universities this year just because we need their cash. Why not sell Oxford and Cambridge heck, sell the whole Russell Group of universities-to the Chinese? It would solve decades of underfunding, arrest the brain-drain of academics, and wipe away resentment on the part of Old Etonian taxpayers whose sons are pushed aside by Oxbridge in favour of full-paying Chinese students, whose fees prop up the ancient spires.
The last thing I want is a fight between China and Abu Dhabi or Kuwait, all owners of little patches of this green and peaceful land, but it might be an idea to see if any of them are interested in Network Rail. And the M25. And London Transport. All those burdensome institutions we can no longer afford. The future is right there in black and white on the front page of The Times.
Of course, some people will object. Old-fashioned folks who like Evensong, read Philip Larkin (Going, Going from High Windows), listen to the Proms, are friends of the Royal Academy, subscribe to Country Life. But after a while, we won’t remember how it happened. As Larkin puts it: ‘Most things are never meant.’