Book Review: How Britain Really Works by Stig Abell

I’ve always enjoyed watching Stig Abell on the Sky Newspaper review (before Sky stopped him for doing it when he went to work at Times Radio) and always felt he was sensibly even handed when it came to a whole range of subjects. I figured we were a similar age (although when reading the book I found out he was born in 1980 – so I am in fact 6 years older – he must have had a tougher paper round!!) and had both taken our daughters to watch One Direction in concert. When I saw he’d written this book I was keen to read it – but somehow never got round to it (too busy drowning in ARCs from NetGalley!) but my Mum, who is also a Stig fan, purchased a proper copy – so I borrowed it (as I often have a hard copy non fiction as well as a Kindle copy fiction book on the go at the same time – living life on the edge!). Mum’s top tip was to make sure you had a book mark in the main part of the book and also the references at the back – and this proved to be very useful! Here’s the blurb:

“Getting to grips with Great Britain is harder than ever. We are a nation that chose Brexit, rejects immigration but is dependent on it, is getting older but less healthy, is more demanding of public services but less willing to pay for them, is tired of intervention abroad but wants to remain a global authority. We have an over-stretched, free health service (an idea from the 1940s that may not survive the 2020s), overcrowded prisons, a military without an evident purpose, an education system the envy of none of the Western world.
How did we get here and where are we going?
How Britain Really Works is a guide to Britain and its institutions (the economy, the military, schools, hospitals, the media, and more), which explains just how we got to wherever it is we are. It will not tell you what opinions to have, but will give you the information to help you reach your own. By the end, you will know how Britain works – or doesn’t.”

From the introduction Stig’s ‘voice’ shines through – which I always like in a book – and I liked his style of writing immediately. After the introduction it gets into the nitty gritty of various British institutions with chapters on:

  1. Economics
  2. Politics
  3. Health
  4. Education
  5. Military
  6. Law and Order
  7. Old and new media
  8. Identity

The inner geek in me loved all of the history! There was, as my mother predicted, a lot of toing and froing from the main body of the book to the references at the back and initially I found this quite annoying (and wondered why bother doing it like this, when surely everyone would want to read the references, so why not include them in the main text?) but I got over myself and got used to it. It might be easier reading an electronic copy where it’s just a click of a button (ooh, and that’s made me wonder if there’s an audiobook and how the references would be done in that?)

The ‘Health’ chapter was great for the history of the NHS etc – but did feel like it had been slightly blown out of the water by the last 18 months of the covid pandemic. Interestingly within the chapter Stig refers to the fact that an institution like the NHS wouldn’t change significantly without an earth shattering event such as a global health crisis – so maybe this is the start of a new era for British health?

The ‘Old and New Media’ chapter also has evolved since Stig wrote this – with the new radio station being one change, along with the global phenomena of TikTok which has exploded during lockdown in particular. However, again, the basics and the history are always going to be there.

The epilogue contains Stig’s advice for the future of Britain – and how he thinks certain things could be solved. I wouldn’t necessarily agree with it all – but it’s definite food for thought.

Overall I feel like I’ve learned lots from the book and enjoyed it (and will probably quote facts from it in quite an annoying way for some time!)