“And my vision for Britain is simple: I want this to be the best country to grow up in and the best country to grow old in.” Sir Keir Starmer
Keir Starmer is making a dramatic difference to the Labour Party and clearing the Augean Stables of the toxic stink of Corbynism. He’s not there yet but the signs are promising. Until yesterday I thought that as well as returning common sense and coherence to the Party he was eschewing the vulgar populism that so infects our body politic. Now I’m not so sure.
Flying the flag is a pragmatic necessity for politicians of ambition and sometimes this can be a bit gruesomely faux-patriotic. But to have the ambition to make the United Kingdom the “best country” in the world – as the quote from Starmer’s speech at the top of this blog does – goes way too far for me and crosses the line into populist claptrap.
We are accustomed to political sloganry and often it doesn’t really matter. But we live in an interdependent world and one in which all nations have their individual national character. When we judge them, which inevitably we do when we visit, we do so from our own perspectives. We are entitled to have “favourite” countries but surely not to suggest a “good, better, best” ranking.
My personal perspective is likely to rate culture, scenery and cuisine highly. And my favourite countries tick all the boxes though I have to say Germany, which I love, doesn’t feature strongly gastronomically! The point of course is that every country is a complex mix. There can perhaps be “best” countries for aspects of a nation but even that is subjective. The frankfurter has its stout defenders.
The aspiration for Britain to be the “best country” to grow up in or grow old in actually suggests that there are measures available to allow targets to be set and progress to be measured. There are not – except at a very detailed level. We probably can measure our education or transport or healthcare systems against others. And my gut feel is that we don’t do very well. But to decide how our combined provision of public services across the board can make us the “best” would be a pointless and subjective task.
Of course Sir Keir may just have been indulging in populist jingoism with a touch of flag waving thrown in but I’d have preferred something a bit more forensic. To aim to be a “better” country (e.g. in respect of public services) is an admirable goal, providing it is detailed, specific and measurable. But to throw out the generic and bombastic “Best country” is too redolent of the mock exceptionalism of Flanders and Swann for me:
“The English, the English, the English are best
I wouldn’t give tuppence for all of the rest”