“How disappointing Mr Bond. Your pitiful little island hasn’t even been threatened.” I recalled these words of Blofeld, the arch-villain of Diamonds are Forever, when I read that the Prime Minister was considering military action against North Korea.
This ridiculous hubris of British politicians about our importance in the word has been a common theme since Word Word II and caused a great deal of real damage to Britain, as well as to a large number of innocent bystanders, and has done damage to our true potential.
I am not against confidence and national pride, but true confidence must be founded on a realistic understanding of your own abilities and how others see you, not delusion based on past grandeur.
Britain used to rule the waves and the sun never set on the British empire. We still have a bit of it left, places like the Falkland’s, St Helena – where we have just built a runway that planes can’t land on, and Ascension Island. I have actually visited this bleak rock in the middle of the Atlantic.
Britain’s importance as a global power really ended when we pulled out of our jewel in the crown, India 70 years ago. Currently the UK is the fifth biggest economy in the world, but – in 70 years from now – the UK will not even be in the world’s top ten, having been overtaken by countries like Indonesia, Mexico, the Philippines and Nigeria.
Over the last 70 years, Britain has been under the illusion that we punch above our weight because of our supposed influence over our special friend, the USA, which happens to be the current global hegemon. Over the next 70 years China, with whom we have negligible influence, will pull way ahead of USA, which might also be overtaken by India as well. Our true place in the world is a long decline from global hegemon to irrelevant backwater with zero influence.
But the reality is that we have punched well below our weight. Suez taught us that we no longer had any power without the USA’s say-so, and since then we have fulfilled our role as the USA’s lapdog, helping them out in conflicts such as Iraq and Afghanistan – and what great successes they were.
Our delusions of grandeur mean that we continue to overspend on the wrong military, for example Trident, or our wonderful new aircraft carrier, the Queen Elizabeth – we really need one of them to project our power – only we have no power and can’t afford the planes to go on it. Instead we should be spending military resources on drones and cyber defence.
The irony is that Britain does have a lot to offer the world. We just don’t seem to know it. I deploy my professional skills mostly in developing countries. A UK qualification is considered gold standard and being British is positive advantage. Many of the countries I work in do business in English using rules based on British law, and have a surprisingly high regard to us Britishers. We are much more trusted than our competitors!
And Britain’s greatest success, post war, possibly our true finest hour, was a relatively small donation by DFID backing mobile money in Kenya at a crucial time in its development. Its success in Kenya has meant that many other poor countries around the world have copied it. The impact of mobile money cannot be understated, it has transformed the lives of millions, maybe billions of people.
This post-empire grandeur delusion is not Mrs May’s alone. It seems to be a mantle taken over upon ascent by Prime Minsters. Recently, she also supported another initiative, a new risk centre in London whose mission is to use the UK’s insurance industry to bring risk management tools to developing country.
In Diamonds are Forever, a plucky Brit saves the world using his technical brilliance and charm. This initiative has the potential to help millions of people avoid the evils of poverty and natural disasters, saved by Britain’s technical excellence – in risk management. Spreading insurance through the world, not military adventurism, will make Britain great again.
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