Monday 15 November 2010

Why Britain's place in the world matters

Nick Robinson is a great broadcaster but generally his blogs aren't really up to much. I know he was named Blogger of the Year but they were wrong and I am right. Anyway, today he has lived up to his title and delivered a great blog - the first in a two part series with the second tomorrow - analysing Britain's place in the world ahead of the PM's Mansion House speech.

We've punched above our weight for decades - arguably ever since the Second World War - ever since Winston Churchill's sheer force of character allowed us to cling onto the top table of diplomacy and be labelled a 'great power'. We haven't been a Superpower since long before Churchill became PM; although that didn't stop him wishing and acting like we still were.

Britain hasn't really been able to truly influence how the world thinks, how it acts or how it develops without the help of an ally for over 100 years. So why does it matter? Why should we matter?

First, the diplomatic top table and acting like we belong there. We have managed to keep our place here, just about, until now. We're a player at globally important summits - the G20, on the UN Security Council - but it is increasingly difficult. We should do all we can to make it last and, while we are there, make ourselves heard. The world is changing, but it has always been changing. The question that has always really mattered is who is driving that change.

In the last century Germany twice and the Soviet Union for 50 years tried to enforce change on other people. Britain's place in the world - and the ideas we have exported -allowed us to prevent this change happening. I admit, without the help of the United States, we wouldnt have been able to prevent irreversible and catastrophic change being forced upon the world. However, the ideas that drive America were founded in Ancient Greece but finessed in this country.   

Second then is ideas. Ideas nurture humanity and make the weak strong. Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters are a present day example of this. Brits have always been good at ideas. We've - on the whole - been on the side of the righteous when other countries have lost their way. Perhaps this is natural for a country that gave the world John Stuart Mill, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. Without them modern democracy and human society wouldn't be as it is.     

Third, invention. We have a proud record of shaping the world in which we live. Imagine a world without the seed drill, the telescope, the Internet, the telephone, the television, penicillin or football. Agriculture, space exploration, how we communicate, how we are entertained, how we cure and Saturday afternoons would be simply unimaginable.

David Cameron has been criticised as being void of an idea that drives him. That debate is for another day. What David Cameron does have in his favour is he is a pragmatist. That is the fourth and final point as to why we matter. Our best leaders have been pragmatic about what is achievable and, perhaps more importantly, what is not. This has allowed us to cling on to our place in the world.

Pragmatism coupled with innovative thinking led by inspirational and groundbreaking ideas backed up with a bit of bulldog spirit. It is what has defined this country and how we have helped define the world. Long may it last.

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