Britain’s in better shape than we tend to think.
What are the naysayers moaning about?
At the Cop26 summit in Glasgow last month, Greta Thunberg called the UK “climate villains”. Insulate Britain’s founder, Roger Hallam, goes further, conjuring up lurid fantasies about gangs of boys raping British families after the climate “annihilation” we’re bound to cause by not recycling. As for Covid, The New York Times started calling Britain “Plague Island” nearly a year ago. Earlier this month France24 gloated that the UK was “mired in corruption scandals”, while over the summer US Vogue ran a piece headlined: “Britain Is Racist. There, I Said It.”
Any truth in all that?
Let’s start with climate. Global warming is indeed grim for the billions of people who live in low-lying or already-too-hot countries such as Bangladesh. “But I live in Britain,” says Aris Roussinos in UnHerd, and here the worst-case scenario – 4C warmer by the end of the century – will create a climate “similar to central France”. The UK Climate Change Commission says even 2C of warming could see the British wine industry earn £50m a year.
What about the worst-case scenario?
That assumes global carbon-dioxide emissions will rise, but in fact they’ve been flat for a decade. And renewables are improving all the time: the price of solar power has fallen by 89% in the past 10 years, while the cost of wind is down 70%. And the cost of storing this power in batteries has dropped by 97% in the past 30 years. In 1990 a Tesla battery would have cost £375,000; today you can get one for £10,000.
But are we “climate villains”?
The UK accounts for just 1% of the world’s emissions – China’s increase in coal production from this autumn alone will emit more than that. But Britain is trying harder than most countries. This week, for example, the government announced that all new homes, offices and supermarkets must, by law, have electric car chargers. That should result in the installation of 145,000 a year. Our physicists are at the forefront of nuclear fusion, which may one day provide near-limitless clean energy, and British engineers at Rolls-Royce this week revealed they had built the world’s fastest electric aeroplane.
Might be handy for escaping Plague Island
You’d be mad to want to leave, says Daniel Hannan in the Telegraph, although “that statement may surprise you”. The BBC is forever warning us about “spiralling” cases. Sky News says “the UK’s coronavirus epidemic is escalating by the day”. CNN’s Christiane Amanpour thinks “case numbers are spiking”. And a few weeks ago Amanda Pritchard – the chief executive of NHS England, no less – claimed the health service had “14 times the number of people in hospital with Covid than we saw this time last year”.
Was she right?
No. Far from cases “spiralling” or “spiking”, we’ve actually seen a decline in cases in the past month. And far from being 14 times higher, the number of Brits in hospital with Covid had fallen by a third when Pritchard made her spurious claim. She later explained she had used figures from August, when the UK was allowing the virus to spread through the mostly vaccinated population – precisely to avoid the winter bed jam she claimed we were suffering. Meanwhile, our friends in Europe are about to endure a “winter of hell”, says Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in the Telegraph, with vaccine immunity waning just as the flu season arrives. There’s plenty to learn about the new omicron variant, but there are reasons to be hopeful. Pharma firms are carrying out tests to make sure their vaccines work against it, and will make any necessary tweaks. And the doctor who diagnosed it says the new strain entails “mild” symptoms, primarily “sore muscles and tiredness for a day or two”, with perhaps “a slight cough”.
What about racism?
Dreadful cases such as the Yorkshire cricket scandal show that prejudice still exists in Britain. But the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, set up in response to the BLM protests, concluded in March that “the well-meaning idealism of many young people who claim the country is still institutionally racist is not borne out by the evidence”. Its report emphasised the academic achievements of children from minority backgrounds as one reason Britain should be “a model for other white-majority countries”. Lead author Dr Tony Sewell, the son of Jamaican immigrants, said his findings (which admittedly didn’t please everyone) told “the story of our country’s progress to a successful multi-ethnic and multicultural community – a beacon to the rest of Europe and the world”.
Sewell’s government-sponsored report would say that…
Perhaps, but British society really has “moved on”, says Matthew Syed in The Times. Over recent decades we have made “huge strides” on racism, which is backed up by “voluminous data”. We have a strong case to make on international comparisons, most obviously with the Europeans and Americans, but with others too. Even in the bad old days, says Syed, my Indian father said the racism of the UK, “however painful”, was less severe than the sectarianism of his homeland. It’s worth keeping in mind the “proper historical context” and acknowledging the millions of people, “of all colours”, who were part of the “progressive social transformation” of recent decades.
But aren’t we shockingly corrupt?
Hardly. Despite the recent brouhaha, says Robert Colvile in The Times, only 99 of our 650 MPs have second jobs, and only 48 of them work as consultants (all of which is allowed). Only one MP, Geoffrey Cox, has admitted moonlighting for more than 20 hours a week. It’s true that Owen Paterson wrongly lobbied on behalf of his paymasters. But he was busted and scolded; and when the government tried to change the rules to stick up for its man, it got monstered. Transparency International rates the UK as one of the least corrupt countries in the world, and has raised its score – meaning Britain has become less corrupt – over the past decade.
How do we compare to the neighbours?
Two of France’s recent presidents, Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac, have been convicted for corruption in French courts. In its most recent global survey, Transparency International found that nearly one in four people globally had paid a bribe to a government official in the past year. Even in squeaky-clean Europe, 2% of the French and 3% of Germans admitted bribing officials. The figure in Britain was 0%.
So are we allowed to be hopeful?
This is “the best time to be alive in the history of humanity”, says Colvile, “and one of the best places”. Yet on so many issues we seem all too eager to believe the worst. The “more we tell ourselves things are going to hell in a handcart”, the more we lose perspective on how lucky we really are.
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