“World Leading” hyperbole I

A favourite expression of politicians seeking to boost their flagging credentials is to describe some manifestation of their efforts as ‘world leading’. Were it to be true, it is a wonderfully opposition proof accolade – you can’t do better than lead the world. It has been used even about the NHS, an organisation which does not respond to emergency calls, has less beds per head of population than Azerbaijan or Romania, and has 6 million citizens waiting for treatment. Yet politicians such as Cameron and the NHS itself refer to delusional goals of ‘world leading’ status, when the reality is that even getting to an acceptable state seems currently unattainable.

Another manifestation is that when world conflicts arise, the UK feels the urge to respond as it might have done a century and a half ago and send in the Navy, when in fact it has less active military personal on a per capita basis than Burundi or Chad (where?). Surprisingly perhaps, it has only one tenth of the number of battle tanks Ukraine has, and significantly less aircraft than Pakistan – both countries which receive largess from taxpayers in aid from the UK.

The reality is that – which a few key and vital exceptions – the UK is not world leading anything. The plain truth is that the UK has little in the way of land resources, even fewer natural resources (apart from maybe coal which is a non-starter), and chronic manpower shortage. However, for something over 300 years, the UK was able to transcend these limitations by stealing resources from weak countries which were subdued by military force and impose an effective dictatorship. Wars were even fought to maintain its position as probably the largest Narco-state the world has seen and kill huge numbers of Chinese natives with opium.

Britain’s apex state status essentially came to an end by 1914, and the Suez crisis of 1957, (which underlined that foreign policy was subject to US approval) put the final nail in the coffin of one of history’s great – and it was huge- Empires.

However, the innate assumption of superiority stemming from the days of the Raj has left its cultural imprint on the Civil Service and some politicians to this day. It’s the feeling that the UK is still a ‘world power’. But the reality is that – in maybe the ultimate irony – the GDP of India is now greater than that of the UK, which languishes in 31st place in world nominal GDP, way behind (as another humiliation) Ireland at no 3.

Grumpy, believes that shedding this historical baggage would open up the opportunity for the country to take another approach and exploit some key assets it does have and find a creditable place in the world, matching our peers in countries of similar size and wealth.

There are areas where the UK could (and in fact does in some cases) rank as world class, as say in certain classes of research. To be world class, however, requires excellence, and that comes from fostering exceptional people. With a curious national trait to shun exceptionalism, the growing woke sector equates this with elitism and works hard to destroy such opportunities. In part II of this post, these opportunities – and the impediments to realising them will be discussed.