10 things that make me proud of the UK ( in no particular order)

Now the Olympics is done we can expect an orgy of commentary and self congratulation – I thought I would add my ordure to the pile – things that make me proud to be part of this country and which have been in evidence this summer. In no particular order. (BTW can you spot Chris Hoy with his 2 medals in the photo I took this afternoon?)

  1. BBC – and that sub brand which ought to issue its own passport to listeners – Radio 4. Interested in just about anything happening in the world today. Belief in education and balanced reporting. But not taking itself too seriously. I know Channel 4 was carrying the Paralympics but the BBCs stamp on the summer has been a solid one.
  2. Health service – nurses jumping on beds at the opening ceremony. Thank you Danny Boyle for that reminder and stirring up all that argument. Of course we can’t decide how much to spend on free health care and whether we pay our nurses too little and our doctors too much but we still have largely free health care and we’re in favour and barring a few nutty republican candidates the rest of the world rather envies us.
  3. Overseas aid – also flawed but in the amount this country gives overseas even while being up to our eyes in debt we are an aid superpower. There’s no reason why nations should raise money in taxes and give it to poor and not to poor countries – I think it a healthy practice – its not all about us. Pass.
  4. Church of England – bit more controversial this one – should we have Oxbridge trained bishops in funny clothes in our parliamentary apparatus – is it weird to see the Archbishop of Canterbury sitting behind the Queen in the opening ceremony? You betcha. The church of England is as bizarre an organisation as you could wish for in the British Isles. Do its members believe the same thing? No. Does it work? No. Is it worth sticking together and muddling through? Absolutely yes. In an age of religious extremism the centrism of the C of E is something the people of this country can access and it also allows for extremism of almost every kind. You couldn’t make it up.
  5. Music. Enough said – if you saw any of the Olympic starting and closing ceremonies you know this. Case closed. British music is a world leader – not because we are always the best at making it up but we’re quite good at borrowing and improving. And our track record is as good now as it was 50 years ago. Thankyou Paul (and Ringo) that’s enough for now..
  6. English language – a lot of the world speaks it. We still do it better. I remember being complimented by a Belgian planner who said he far preferred doing brand development in English because we had more words for everything which made the language difficult for someone not a native speaker. But ultimately more rewarding because it was such a precise tool.  English evolves constantly like all languages but the back catalogue is awesome. Learn a new word today. But remember that you can speak English very simply – and there’s nothing wrong with that either.
  7. The Commons – not the house of commons but all those goods and services which are free and which we like to keep free. We can use local footpaths without needing to buy a license or to pay a fee. We can walk all around the borders of this fair island without landowners chasing us off with shotguns and dogs. When the human genome race was in full swing – certain US companies were trying to patent parts of the genome to charge us for the drugs that were subsequently developed. Our British scientists published the findings as they sequenced making sure everyone benefitted and no one had to pay. That’s the power of free – of course a lot needs paying for but a good life is also those things that can be shared without having to be billed. This summer? Look no further than the games makers (known as volunteers to everyone not required to stay on message.) Think for a second. What difference would it have made to the games if they had all been on payroll. Rewind. Remember how you felt when the bus drivers and train drivers started striking to get more money because of all the extra work that came with doing their job at the Olympics. That’s the difference made by the commons. And remember the troops drafted in straight from Afghanistan when they were supposed to be going on leave. Has any other games had anything like the same number of volunteer support? And it has been one of the success stories of the games.
  8. The union.  That is to say the squabbling but largely co-operating 4 nations. The keel of England surrounded by their more emotional and expressive neighbours of Scotland Northern Ireland and Wales. Who have stayed resolutely Scottish, Irish and Welsh. And English. Now I personally hope that the Scots don’t unmoor themselves and try and drift up towards Iceland – that once successful centre of North Atlantic finance. I can’t imagine what the Union Jack would look like without them.  I far prefer life together with all of the richness and all of the squabbles – with free prescriptions, free student fees and local assemblies for the non-English too. From my travels I have discovered that our 4 nation country is hugely admired because we continue to make a go of it. Without sectarian violence. Mostly.
  9. Self-deprecation. I was going to say humour but there are lots of different kinds of British humour some of them savage. The favourite is not taking ourselves too seriously. Actually ridiculing ourselves. But its bigger than humour – self deprecation is a national characteristic. We don’t like the way we sound when we get too cocky – so we self edit.
  10. The underdog. We love seeing the underdog come out on top. We know life isn’t a level playing field. And the big battalions win a lot of the time. But we love to see the little guy win. And we like the idea of rigging the system so that the underdog has more of a chance.  It may seem disrespectful to put Paralympians in this category. Their performance was heroic. But the term underdog is taken from dog fighting where the underdog was not inferior but triumphed against the odds. And as a national characteristic we can’t get enough of it. It’s actually more important than winning for us – partly because we don’t win as a nation as often as we’d like so we’ve learned to take pleasure in overcoming fearful odds – even if this doesn’t happen that much either. This summer has been full of both kinds of triumph. And the wishes for a legacy are about treating all our citizens, ablebodied, the disabled, those with generations of forbears in these islands and those who have just arrived – exactly the same. Interestingly this idea of nationhood is not built on equality as the US is – but on diversity.

That’s my 10.




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