In the summer of 2020, in a brief window when flights were actually airborne, I took the plunge and moved to Vienna from the UK. As a born and bred Brit, the way the UK has changed in the years since I’ve abandoned the motherland is quite something to behold.
Due to my history, I think I’m quite well positioned to talk about the downfall of the UK’s reputation abroad, and the way I see this evolving in the future.
Why has the UK taken a turn for the worst?
It goes without saying that exceptional circumstances certainly played their part – Coronavirus and the war in Ukraine being just two of these. However, to a greater extent, I think the UK has been the architect of its own demise.
This isn’t a political post whatsoever, as although I have a significant interest in UK politics, it’s by no means my remit, and I don’t feel as if I have enough expertise to comment with any authority. Despite this, I think anyone would be hard-pressed to say that Brexit wasn’t the beginning of the end for the UK’s (usually up-there) prosperity – we cut ties with our closest and most advantageous neighbours, to a significant degree. Through lies and deception, the British people signed their own death warrant – and what do we have to show for it?
The leadership demonstrated since hasn’t exactly been exemplary either: Cameron, May, Johnson, Truss and Sunak – it’s hardly a star-studded cast filled with political talent, is it? They’ve proven to everyone, beyond reasonable doubt, that they’re in it for themselves and the elite class. To them, growth is more dosh in the bankers’ pay packets, rather than an increased standard of living for the country as a whole.
To me, these are the two most significant factors in why we see the UK on its current trajectory to the bottom of the barrel. Naturally, as is my way, this is a gross over-simplification, so please take this in to account.
The New European Laughing Stock
Through blunder after blunder, our reputation abroad, particularly from my perspective on the European continent, has also plummeted. I was too young to vote in the Brexit referendum, and really my perception of the political landscape was triggered into formation by it – however, even then I realised that this was bound to go down like flatulence in a lift to our European comrades.
And that it did, as far as I can see. I’m well aware that I live in an echo chamber of (relatively) pro-EU mates in Vienna, however even beyond my circle, hardly anyone though it was a good idea, even on a conversational, superficial level.
And it’s subsequently been proven, via a year-on-year weak-willed failure to deliver, that this post-Brexit scepticism is entirely justified.
The other, previously hinted at factor is the shameful example of leadership we’ve set in the UK over the last few years. With Theresa May, we were already flabbergasted by displays of incompetence and a complete lack of compassion, Johnson’s persistent and shameless rule-bending, Truss’s… well, I think a lack of words better does the talking, and now Sunak’s desperate, and ultimately ill-fated attempts to stable the ship afterwards.
The UK isn’t alone in awful leadership, but we certainly are in the running for “Most Embarrassing Government 2022” at the very least. I’ll leave it at just these two factors for the time being, as I’m not here solely to be pessimistic, but there are, of course, many more I could list.
We’re really going down in the estimations of the world, no question. I, for one, am embarrassed to be British, and as a result I display little to no national pride – ever. In fact, I’m rather indifferent by this point. I would much rather consider myself a European or a ‘World Citizen’ than British or English.
Yes, we were once a global superpower. This was thanks to our expansive empire, built upon exploitation and slavery. Our isles were a superpower, with the strongest navy, and we played our part in stopping the spread of Nazism. For this, among other things, we definitely deserve our plaudits as a nation.
Contrast this to the Britain of the 21st Century. I see the vast extent of national pride today as rather a conceit, a delusion. We’ve grown accustomed to being among the top dogs, the first officer to the USA’s captain, alongside our other Western friends. For a while, and maybe even now, this does seem to hold true, but with every passing year I see our global standing diminishing (which the current Tory government lives in constant denial of, by the way).
The British Empire is (to the best of my knowledge) not taught deeply or often enough in our schools, and consequently is viewed with indifference – we just don’t talk about it, or our other historical exploits of the world. Our success as a country was largely built on this, and although I don’t necessarily think that modern Brits ought to be ashamed of what our ancestors did, we should probably show a bit more consciousness of these facts, and act accordingly – with the right amount of compassion, self-awareness and humility. This is something which is severely (but not completely, of course) lacking in my eyes, and perhaps that’s why I feel so ashamed.
In 20 years, I don’t think the UK will be anywhere near the heights of the bygone years. We are but a small set of islands, and our proportional resources simply cannot compare to those of India, China, the USA, and countless other developed and emerging economies. Relative to the other presences on the world stage, Great Britain will continue to dwindle until the description of ‘little’ Britain will be far more apt.
Hey Now, Where Do We Go Now?
Personally, I don’t see it getting much better, even if the Conservative party is voted out at the next general election in 2024. The UK needs a fresh self-image, one of competence, self-sufficiency and with a measured global influence. This, in my eyes, is absolutely achievable and would be optimal for the further development of the country.
Brexit is likely a huge hindrance in achieving this, as rowing back from it won’t happen for a long while, and after acceptance of the pit within which we currently dwell, it won’t be straightforward either. I do, however, think it’s achievable, and I certainly hope we can make something of it, rising up from the flames of this current dumpster fire with a new, more composed, organised nation. One which, hopefully, anyone and everyone will be able to take at least a measure of pride in.