AMONG MANY CUTS FORCED by the imminent loss of government funding, the BBC World Service discontinued the weekly programme Politics UK on 25 March. It was, in fairness, a grey, fusty show whose presenters turned over the mundane and the less mundane in British politics with gravelly equanimity. Listeners around the world will have to make do with bite-sized bits of British news, but one doubts that the programme's disappearance is much mourned in Lagos or Lucknow. The sceptred isle is now well and truly an isle, its sceptre (despite the monstrous pomp of the royal nuptials) not nearly as weighty as it once was. In an age of economising, the World Service can no longer afford the luxurious 30 minutes once allotted to parochial discussions of alternative voting reform, child tax credits, incapacity benefits and the other issues that periodically ruffle Britain's political class.
There is a clear symbolic shift in the suspension of the programme, over and beyond the exigencies of BBC bean-counters. If the World Service—the very institution meant to project Britain to the world—deems Politics UK expendable, it suggests a recognition that the UK has diminished in the eyes (and ears) of a global audience. Even executives at the BBC believe that the internal concerns of Britain are of tepid interest to those beyond its shores.
Yet it is striking that just as British politics continue to slide from view, events within the country are bringing it in line with upheaval and tumult elsewhere. On 26 March (a day after Politics UK crackled to a quiet end), the UK saw its largest demonstration in nearly a decade. In a march organised by the country's leading unions, an estimated 500,000 people took to the streets of London to protest the severe cuts planned by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government.