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10 Reasons Modern Britain Is Still One Of The Greatest Countries On Earth
“There’s panic on the streets of London,” sang the Smiths in 1986, but look at the news, and it feels like they could be talking about today. The Britain you see in the media is no longer a place of empire and progress but a wasteland of violence, ethnic tensions, Brexit-based confusion, and a health system on the brink of collapse. Faced with this barrage of negative stories, is it any wonder some journalists—including on this very website—are driven to claim the UK is going down the tubes?
Only, this isn’t quite the whole story. Step away from the negative headlines and actually look at modern Britain, and it becomes clear that the “Great” part of Great Britain really is an apt descriptor. Far from being over, the glory days of the nation could be happening right now. Here’s why 2018’s Britain is still one of the greatest countries in the whole darn world.
10 The Higher Education System Kicks Butt
The World Universities Listing estimates there are over 26,000 universities worldwide. Out of all those, you could probably count on one hand the number that are global household names, and two of them happen to be in Britain. Yep, Oxford and Cambridge are still the cream of the crop as far as higher education is concerned, and the reason for their renown isn’t just historical. Across the whole of Britain, the higher education system consistently delivers some of the best results on the planet.
Just check out the QS world subject rankings for 2018. Despite both Brexit and recent funding cuts, ten out of 48 subject tables are still dominated by UK institutions. Oxford leads in four subjects. Cambridge is ahead of Harvard in anthropology. Heck, even the University of Sussex beats Harvard on development studies. In total, about a third of subjects have a British institution in their top three, while the employability of UK graduates is greater than those of most Western countries. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that more current world leaders have been educated in Britain than anywhere else.
9 The Health System Is Way Better Than You Probably Think
If you live in the United States, chances are you only hear about the UK’s government-run National Health Service (NHS) in the context of cold indifference and terrifying failure. The recent case of Charlie Gard, a terminally ill baby who was blocked from leaving Britain for treatment, rightfully angered people around the world. Alongside other reports of endless waiting times, winter crises, and doctor screwups, it painted a picture of a health service that would be more at home in Eritrea than England.
Such reports, disturbing as they are, only focus on individual cases. Look at the NHS as a whole, and it’s clear things are nowhere near as bad as the media portrays.
The US-based Commonwealth Fund’s triennial rankings of global health services have twice given the top spot to the NHS, citing its cost-effectiveness. Now, this is just one source, but others still fete the service. The OECD ranks the NHS firmly in the middle generally, but as a world leader in improving quality of care. A 2014 study into efficiency using World Bank and IMF data, meanwhile, ranked the NHS tenth out of 51 health systems. The US, by comparison, ranked 44th.
8 It’s One Of The Safest Countries On Earth
2018 was the year that London’s murder rate overtook that of New York City. Following a 2017 in which terrorists killed 31 people in four separate attacks (only one of which wasn’t inspired by Islamism), it can seem like the UK is fast turning into the sort of post-apocalyptic wasteland usually associated with the Mad Max franchise.
We’d be lying if we said the UK doesn’t have problems with knife crime, particularly in London. But, once again, this is a case of scary individual headlines covering up a rosy bigger picture. Britain is generally one of the safest countries on Earth.
The figures come from the OECD, which ranks each member on many criteria, including safety. They place the UK 11th out of 38 nations for safety, just behind Canada but ahead of Ireland and waaaaaay ahead of the US (22nd). They have data to back this up. In 2016, the UK recorded a lower homicide rate than Japan. Perhaps it’s no wonder that 77 percent of Brits feel safe walking home at night, compared to an OECD average of 69 percent.
Even London’s rising murder rate needs some context. Yes, it has now overtaken that of New York. But violent crime in New York City is currently experiencing historic lows, a caveat all too frequently left out of these comparisons.
7 British Culture Is Second To None
After three data-heavy entries, let’s turn to one that is blissfully subjective. There’s an excellent argument to be made that British culture has produced some of the greatest works of art and literature on the planet. We don’t just mean Shakespeare (although the Bard wasn’t bad); we mean stuff that’s getting made in the here and now.
Just look at what the UK’s arty folk have pooped out in the decades since World War II. The Beatles. David Bowie. James Bond. The Harry Potter series. 1984. The Office. Monty Python. Doctor Who. Mr. Bean. The Rolling Stones. Lawrence of Arabia. Or look at the two greatest British directors of all time: Alfred Hitchcock and Charlie Chaplain. Everyone reading this has heard of all of these, and the effect they’ve had on global culture can figuratively not be overstated.
Sure, every country has its icons and its heroes, but it’s rare for one tiny island to produce so many global household names. Pleasingly, a lot of the best culture in the UK is also free. Go to London, and you can stroll into world-class galleries like the Tate or the British Museum without paying a penny.
6 The People Are Unusually Tolerant
Since the Brexit vote, there has been a tendency to paint the UK as a country that has decided to firmly close itself off to outsiders. This comes both from nativists who like to think the Brexit vote was a confirmation of their own views and from left-wingers who are terrified that these nativists are right. But while Brexit was partially driven by anti-immigrant sentiment, that doesn’t mean the UK is an intolerant place. Years of polling data from Eurobarometer shows that British people are unusually open to people of other races.
This includes among cohorts that were statistically more likely to vote for Brexit. When asked how they felt about having non-white leaders, neighbors, and coworkers, nearly every Brit effectively said, “Why the bloody heck would I care about that?” or something else adorably British. When a 2015 poll asked parents in all EU nations how they would feel about their child dating a Muslim, only the Swedes were more relaxed about the prospect.
Perhaps this isn’t surprising. London is, on a per capita and absolute basis, the most multicultural city in Europe, with other British cities ranking highly. And while Brits would certainly like less immigration in general, that desire is generally as far removed from actual racism as it’s possible to get.
5 Personal Liberty Protections Are Stronger Than You Probably Think
Compared to the US, Britain’s free speech laws are remarkably weak. While in America, you can string up a Nazi flag on your lawn while simultaneously burning a Koran and picketing a soldier’s funeral, trying any of these in Britain will most likely land you jail time.
As a result, there’s a tendency among American writers to portray Britain as a Stalinist state where personal liberties go to die. While the UK could certainly strengthen its free speech protections, in most other respects, it’s a fierce guardian of personal freedoms. According to the Legatum Prosperity Index, the UK has the 15th strongest protections for individual liberty in the world.
The rankings are based on things like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, access for all to legal services, and respect for the rights of ethnic minorities. While 15th is clearly a score that could be improved, it still places the UK ahead of countries like Spain (16th), Switzerland (18th), and the US (25th).
4 The Quality Of Life Is Mostly Excellent
There’s no doubt that parts of Britain—such as the Welsh valleys—suffer from poverty and neglect. As sad as this is, it’s worth remembering that the broader reality across the whole of the UK is very different. Compare Britain to nearly any other country, and the quality of life is demonstrably higher.
The data comes from the nonprofit Social Progress Index. Every year, the Index publishes a ranking of all the world’s nations for which there is available data (so, no North Korea or DR Congo, etc) according to three criteria: how well basic human needs are met, what opportunities citizens have, and their “foundations of wellbeing” (e.g. health care, education). While the UK has recently fallen out of the top ten, it remains one of the highest scorers. For 2017, the Index ranked the UK 12th out of 128.
For comparison, the US is 18th, France 19th, and Italy 24th. The UK’s high rank comes due to its nearly 100-percent scores on access to sanitation and health care, along with very high scores on access to basic education and protection of personal rights. Suddenly that Cecil Rhodes quote, “To be born English (or British, in this case) is to win first prize in the lottery of life,” starts to make sense.
3 British Technology Is World-Leading
Every year, major international auditing firm KPMG releases its list of the most promising global markets for the tech sector, based on surveys conducted with leaders in the industry. And every year, the UK comes bobbing up near the top of the rankings. According to the 2018 report, Britain is the fourth best place in the entire world for major tech breakthroughs.
This is actually down one spot from the 2017 rankings, but, hey, fourth place is still pretty impressive, especially when you consider the competition. And when you look at individual cities, Britain has even more to boast about. London is considered the third most important tech city after San Francisco, level with New York City, and ahead of places like Seoul, Singapore, and Berlin. The investment shows it, too. KPMG estimates UK tech had more venture capital pumped into it in 2017 than France, Germany, Spain, and Ireland combined.
Now, all this can maybe seem a little removed from the lives of ordinary people. But it’s actually pretty important. Britain’s post-Brexit future is going to rely hugely on homegrown industries like technology to keep the economy going. Luckily, KPMG’s report shows London is coming from a position of strength.
2 Brexit Hasn’t Actually Divided Everyone
The Brexit vote of 2016 was a shock that caught just about everybody off guard. Against all predictions, the British public voted to leave the EU. However, it’s worth remembering just how insanely close this was. The pro-Brexit vote was less than 52 percent. Rather than a resounding roar from the oppressed masses to leave the EU, the referendum was more the British public politely saying, “Erm, we’re not totally sure about this, but we’re leaning more toward leave, thank you very much.”
This is important, because for all the howling about how anything but a clean break with Brussels is ignoring the will of the people, the reality is that the people themselves have nuanced views. Polls continue to show majorities of Britons favor staying in the EU single market after Brexit while also showing that they want Brexit to bring immigration down—two mutually exclusive outcomes. Huge minorities also continue to respond to such questions with “don’t know,” suggesting the public are far less entrenched into Leave or Remain camps than the media would like you to believe. Even the question of whether there should be a second referendum on the final deal mostly returns shrugs.
There are signs Theresa May’s minority government is trying to listen. Current plans would see the UK effectively remain in the EU until December 2020 (as part of a transition period), with Whitehall hoping for a close, bespoke agreement with the EU afterward. It might make less satisfying copy than a clean break, but it will probably be better for Britain in the long run.
1 The British People Are Basically Awesome
Okay, so we’re back to subjective again. But heck, we’re gonna say it anyway. British people are basically awesome. If you actually take the time to go to the UK and speak to a random Brit—provided they’re not either drunk or about to engage in some recreational soccer violence—then you’ll almost certainly find yourself talking to someone who is infallibly polite, probably funny, happy to go out of their way to help you, and noticeably not a jerk. Sure, they may force you to talk about the weather, but it’s a small price to pay.
If we’re being honest, even that jokey paragraph is a little unfair. Alcohol-related violence in the UK is actually falling, as is alcohol consumption in general. Violence in general spiked in 2018 . . . but only after reaching historic lows beforehand. (Fun fact: British statistics also include things like sexist name-calling under violence, something American statistics definitely don’t). Even Britain’s famed soccer violence is largely a thing of the past.
No nation is perfect. Everywhere you go, there will be jerks and jerkettes and things governments could be doing better. But modern Britain is making a fairly good stab at being awesome. At the very least, it’s clearly not a nation about to be driven to destruction by evil elites and perfidious foreigners. The sooner people stop moaning about the destruction of Great Britain and realize that it’s still pretty great, the better.
Read more about British politics on Top 10 Embarrassing Incidents Involving The British Monarchy and 10 Signs Britain Is Becoming A Creepy Police State.