How the rest of the world views the UK

By | August 10, 2019

International journalists share their thoughts with The Observer:

Liu Ye, editor of international affairs at Sanlian Life Week magazine in Beijing: For the past two or three decades, the US and Britain have been cultural symbols in Chinese people’s eyes: the US powerful, rich, enviable; the UK exquisite, elegant. Public intellectuals, especially liberals, talk about the British style of constitutionalism, comparing it to our Soviet-style totalitarian regime. Students know more about Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher than JFK or Bill Clinton. That is real “soft power”.

But now this image has collapsed. In the Brexit farce, there is no Churchill or Thatcher, only a dozen mediocre politicians, none of whom want to take responsibility or unite the nation.

Sylvie Kauffmann, editorial director and contributor, Le Monde: Watching the long descent of Westminster into something resembling hell has been an exhausting experience. Theresa May’s very British resilience was impressive, but we ended up pitying her. Nigel Farage’s type was all too familiar to us: we well understood just how dangerous he was. Some of us once found Boris Johnson funny; we long ago stopped laughing. John Bercow’s ties and desperate calls for order made a good show, but on the whole, this was a cast with too many villains and too few heroes.

Once, we used to hold up British parliamentary life as an example, and watch prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons with envy: for us, accustomed to semi-monarchical presidents of the Republic, this was the very Rolls-Royce of liberal democracy. Now that Rolls-Royce looks more like a dodgem.

Mihir Sharma, author, Bloomberg columnist, and senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi: As a political analyst, I have learned quite a few things from Brexit. For one, I see it as a warning of the danger in allowing a single issue to take over all politics, all economic planning, and in fact all conversation. Brexit has dumbed Britain down.

For another, politicians need to realise that in democracies like Britain or India, people are always angry: whether at austerity, or decreasing living standards, or immigration, or religious diversity. Anger just needs a target. The Brexit referendum gave them one: the EU. The country that invented the Westminster system, intended to control popular anger, seems to have forgotten how to run a democracy.

Jen Kirby, foreign and national security reporter, Vox: Johnson’s ascension to prime minister feels a bit like we still don’t get it, that all the forces that made Trump and Brexit possible have only hardened in the three years since. Johnson, Americans know, is the guy that sold Brexit, and Brexit really has not gone well. But his party, at least, is buying into his vision, even doubling down on it. It puts a knot in our stomach about 2020.

Johnson isn’t exactly “Britain’s Trump”. Their commonalities are mostly superficial: born in New York, both have populist appeal despite a privileged upbringing; both court controversy and are owners of questionable hairstyles. But Johnson appears more savvy, more shrewd, more deliberate. He’s Trump, if Trump were in on the joke.

The end result might be the same for both nations: leaders who cater to the voters who buy into their rhetoric, leaving everyone else to condemn their lies. Two men who should be cast off as ridiculous were they not so capable of tapping into anger, resentment, racism. [Continue reading…]

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