'This is the greatest nation on earth'
I can tell you what a number of newspaper op-ed pieces will ask over the next few days: Is this the greatest nation on earth?
Tony Blair says it is. And he says we know it, and the rest of the world knows it too. It’s a grand statement, unlike anything he’s ever really said before. And unlike anything most of us have said before.
You wonder if he’s been caught up in the euphoria of leaving one of politics’ great offices, knowing there’s more chance of him getting a Sainthood than becoming UN Secretary General.
But you also find yourself wondering if he’s right. We’re not a nation for posturing. “We’re best” almost seems to be an unfashionable, American motto, but it’s not a notion the British are very comfortable with. A Kiwi colleague of mine laughed when he heard Blair say it. No-one in the room defended our PM. But no-one vocally disagreed with him either.
New Zealand and Canada are two countries who always seem to be in with a shout of being a ‘nicer’ nation than Britain. Given the cultural and language similarities, many of us have probably thought for at least ten seconds about moving there for a while.
And you can hardly blame many of them for thinking they’re better than us. Just look at Johnny Foreigner – our ambassador in T-shirt and shorts, wearing sandals with socks on, and drinking a can of Stella in countries where they actually brew their own lager.
Weakening our claim for ‘best nation’ status is our lack of nationalism. The Union Jack has been hijacked by racists, our cultural institutions seem to acknowledge their continental equivalents are superior, and few of us seem to know what it means to be British.
It’s ironic that Blair believes we’re the best, when if most people were asked, they’d probably say it was he who had made it worse. But outside of politics, is there much that is completely and deep-seatedly wrong?
We are, perhaps, the most upwardly mobile nation on the Earth, and yet few of us try to leave, to try bigger and better things than Britain alone can offer. Is that lack of imagination or satisfaction with what we’ve got?
It’s unnaturally patriotic for most Britons to suggest, but is it true? Is ours the greatest nation on earth?
I’m not sure. But I know I wouldn’t want to leave.