After coronavirus fiasco, Britain’s international reputation is in tatters

Posted By: May 17, 2020

Patrick Murphy.Irish News. Belfast.Saturday, May 16, 2020 
If the 1918 Spanish flu marked the beginning of the end of the British Empire (with help from Ireland’s War for Independence), the coronavirus appears likely to mark the end of Britain as a major international player.

Indeed as the Irish, Scots and Welsh distance themselves from England’s chaotic pandemic management, it may even mark the end of the United Kingdom as a coherent political entity.

Britain’s reputation as a leading developed nation is in tatters, as indicated by the world’s press. Examples include Italy’s La Repubblica (British “confusions and contradictions”), Spain’s El País (“confusion and anger among citizens”) and Greece’s Ethnos (Johnson is “more dangerous than the coronavirus”).

There is even scything criticism from London’s Daily Telegraph (the world looks in “stunned disbelief”) and the Financial Times frets that Johnson’s mishandling of the crisis has damaged the UK’s scientific reputation.

Welcome to the emerging new world order, where the land of hope and glory enjoys no glory abroad and endures rapidly declining hope at home. So how did Britain reach this level of catastrophe, what will the outcome be and how will it affect us in The North?

Britain’s demise was caused by the unfortunate coalescence of Boris Johnson’s personality with Margaret Thatcher’s economics. Johnson views the world as an unfinished Bertie Wooster-type novel, which he wildly invents as he goes along and then struggles to get the storyline back on course. (Even the Daily Mail said his end-of-lockdown plan descended into farce.)

For him, life is just one jolly jape after another and while he survived (just) as foreign secretary, he has fallen flat as prime minister.

His real problem is that the Tories dismantled significant parts of the state, including the NHS [National Health Service] which Johnson now applauds. When finally forced to confront the coronavirus, he found his party had picked the state clean and Downing Street was knee-deep in karma. Now the economy is in free fall.

Trump faced the same problem in the US. The two worst performing countries in the pandemic had previously vandalised the state and replaced government responsibility with triumphalism: “Make America Great Again” (I wonder how that one’s going) and “Get Brexit Done”.

In the new world order, countries must be more self-sufficient, because the global supply chains are no longer reliable. Britain will be particularly badly hit, because it manufactures so little. Its financial services sector is now much less relevant than China’s ability to make protective masks. Union with Britain has left The North in a similarly vulnerable position.

In this context, the post-pandemic winners are likely to be Japan, Korea, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. Not only are they more self-reliant, their societies have been shaped by Confucianism, an approach to life which believes that the state should promote the common good.

It stresses the need for people to cultivate virtues rather than to prioritize rights (no rights-based society there) and that political leaders should be wise (no RHI [Renewable Heat Initiative] either). The role of the state is to educate and transform people, not by legislation but by moral example.

Would it work in Christian-dominated Europe? In missionary times, the Jesuits said it was compatible with Christianity, but the Dominicans and Franciscans said it wasn’t. Today the Church says Confucianism contains “an undue hampering of individual freedom”.

You will have your own view on all that, but it means that citizens in those countries trust the state. They accept digital surveillance because to them, public safety is more important than personal privacy. As climate change magnifies the possibility of more viruses, the East’s attitude to the state’s role in society may be more sustainable than the West’s.

Boris Johnson doesn’t do Confucianism. Instead he fantasises about Britannia ruling the waves. But he failed to handle the first coronavirus wave and he is ill-prepared for the second. Britannia no longer rules the waves. With Johnson in charge, she is slowly sinking beneath them.END.