Great Britain hasn’t seemed quite so great in recent years, its image damaged by unpopular wars and the banking crisis. But with the new coalition government bedded in and the Olympics on the horizon, experts from the fields of politics, culture, and academia tell us how Britannia can rebrand itself and rule the waves again.
Everyone in the UK knows what lies ahead: cuts. The new coalition government has made it an urgent priority to slash the nation’s budget deficit but as yet it’s still not clear how they will lower spending by up to 40 per cent. One thing is obvious: the country is in for a dramatic makeover of everything from social welfare to the military.
The risk is that this could become the only national narrative, leaving the electorate miserable and making the country look like the land of “sorry we can’t afford that” to foreign investors. Who wants to pour their money into a nation that hasn’t got any money to protect its services or polish its infrastructure?
On the following pages we ask leading commentators, business leaders and cultural mentors what Britain should do, what it should abandon and how it can create a positive story to tell the world.
So far, the new coalition government has made little progress in articulating the future of Britain’s role in the world. This is a disconcerting oversight, as Britain’s global role stands at a precarious juncture. International and domestic politics are in a state of flux: the centre of economic and political power is gravitating from west to east, new structures of global governance are changing the dynamic of international relations, imminent public spending cuts are threatening Britain’s diplomatic capability, and doubts about the UK’s ability to maintain a seat at the world’s top table are growing. In such a volatile international context, the new government needs to clearly define the UK’s role in a globalised world, and play to its soft-power strengths in projecting a positive image abroad.
The government’s ongoing strategic defence review will go far in defining the UK’s role in the world, albeit in the traditional, hard-power context. Barring a re-think on the nuclear submarine programme Trident, the recommendations are unlikely to deviate significantly from the country’s current priorities as a key military power and permanent member of the UN Security Council. But questions will remain on the UK’s soft-power capabilities, mechanisms, and priorities. What the government needs to complete this process is a parallel strategic public diplomacy and branding review.
The case for a joined-up approach to state branding is not a new concept. In 1997, BritainTM, a report published by think-tank Demos, called for a comprehensive re-branding of Britain and argued the importance of managing the country’s global image. Recently, this concept of “state branding” has earned a legitimate place in the discourse on soft power – Joseph Nye’s theory of diplomatic seduction via the leveraging of a state’s attractive intangibles towards achieving foreign policy aims. The ability of a state to build a favourable brand is determined by its cultural appeal, political values, and perceived foreign-policy priorities. But even for the most attractive of nations, garnering soft power is highly dependent on the mastery of public diplomacy, i.e. shaping and communicating a compelling narrative to audiences abroad.
State branding is hardly alien territory in Britain. The heights of Cool Britannia during Tony Blair’s early premiership were a boon for a nation that had a sluggish start in defining its post-Cold War role in the world. Building on that early momentum, Britain transformed itself into the most open of the rich-world economies – advocating free trade, dismantling barriers to foreign investment, and creating an immigration regime that welcomed the globe’s top talent.
But during the fading years of the decade, the UK’s image has taken a beating. The fallout of an unpopular war, the heavy toll of the financial crisis, and the ubiquitous “Broken Britain” label have knocked the shine off Brand Britain. On the home front, it’s difficult to spot a positive political theme capable of supplanting the current heavy narrative. Despite the best efforts of the coalition to push the Big Society initiative, the most dominant media storyline has been the impending budget cuts. Government departments have spent the summer crunching numbers to deliver proposals to slash 25 to 40 per cent off their total budgets. Fortunately for Britain’s diplomats, the foreign secretary, William Hague, is fighting to protect every penny of their £2.2bn budget. Despite the coalition’s commitment to creating a united front on budget cuts, Hague has vowed to protect the Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s (FCO’s) network of embassies, which should leave Britain’s core diplomatic capabilities intact – but to what end?
It is well known in Westminster that Hague is pushing for a stronger, more autonomous Foreign Office. In a July address to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, he argued that the first principle of British foreign policy must be to return the FCO to “its rightful place at the centre of decision-making” – a rejection of outright submission to No 10.
In a speech in Tokyo, Hague called for an injection of a sense of commercialism into the Foreign Office, declaring the promotion of trade and open markets to be Britain’s top diplomatic priority. Then, David Cameron used his visit to the US to echo this view, insisting diplomats promote UK business abroad. Hague’s and Cameron’s messages seemed to align on the surface, but where Hague stressed the promotion of open markets, Cameron focused on ramping up exports. Which begs the question, is nakedly selling UK Plc the best way to advance global interests?
The new government is clearly still finding its sea-legs abroad, which leaves the future of Brand Britain in limbo. In order to plot a decisive course, Hague needs to step back and assess the country’s diplomatic capability, strategy, and soft-power priorities. Britain commands significant soft-power assets, which afford its diplomats a huge advantage on the global stage. Yet the role of key soft-power tools, like the British Council – which promotes British culture abroad – has been largely absent from the debate on the future of British foreign policy.
Protecting such institutions, as well as the embassy network, must be top of Hague’s to-do list. Successfully selling Brand Britain will require a much more nuanced approach than bulldozing a path for British firms abroad. Should the new government neglect the softer side of British power, the country’s global image could be in for sustained decline.
Editor-in-chief, Jane’s International Defence Review
Military planners are currently puzzling over the Strategic Defence and Security Review to shape Britain’s armed forces to win in Afghanistan, but also fight unseen wars over the next 20 years. Simultaneously, they are under strict instructions to save up to 20 per cent from the Ministry of Defence’s budget. With a clean-sheet approach and a slice of humble pie, it could just be possible. Virtually all of the MoD’s 1998 Strategic Defence Review’s planning assumptions proved wrong, so the most important aspect of any future armed forces has to be flexibility.
Key to this is getting the services to work together, so perhaps the RAF, Navy and Army should be redrawn as a “Joint Defence Force”, as trialled by Belgium and Canada. After all, the tri-service Joint Helicopter Command and Joint Force Harrier have proved successful, and the Royal Marines’ 3 Commando Brigade routinely deploys as a joint force.
The US Marine Corps offers an interesting role model. It’s the same size – each with roughly 240,000 serving personnel – and is inherently joint. It can fight as a whole but is also neatly packaged into deployable units. It is a bargain, too, with a budget per head $20,000 lower than other US services.
Alternatively, if the UK could be persuaded to drop its Trident replacement, it would liberate £20bn, which could then be spent on things the MoD could actually use, unlike nuclear weapons.
Chief executive of researcher Ipsos MORI
Britain in 2010 is hard to pin down. Many foreigners still imagine Britain to be what they see on postcards – monarchy, Eton, Windsor, Oxford and Cambridge, changing of the guard, cream teas, rain, bad food, eccentricity and our famous “sense of humour”.
Those who have visited the UK know this not to be the case. To the British themselves, Britain is either “broken” (63 per cent think it is) or vibrant and tolerant (91 per cent agree you do not need to be white to be British). There are those who see Britain as a decaying former imperial power, populated by the most feral illiterates anywhere in the western world (93 per cent agree parents need to take more responsibility for their children), and those who see a still wealthy country, mixing democracy and creativity, and possessed of great institutions like the BBC.
The truth is more difficult. We are all these things. We love tradition – 83 per cent say traditions are an important part of society. We are monarchists (only one in five want a republic), we are proud of our institutions – most of us think our health service (67 per cent) and our army (87 per cent) are the “best in the world”.
With a huge deficit, spending cuts and a soaring elderly dependent population, Britain may soon return to how it was in the late 20th century: lively, interesting, a bit shabby. Just over 60 per cent want Britain to be the way it used to be. Well, it may just happen!
London correspondent, ‘Die Zeit’
When the Germans think of the British they tend to apply one of two stereotypes; one unashamedly romantic, the other blatantly judgemental.
First, there’s the idyll of the countryside with cricket on the village green and cottages in picturesque gardens. Every year at the end of August, the good people of Hamburg indulge in this fantasy when they celebrate British Day and the city’s polo club holds a version of the Highland Games, a rugby match, and a dog show. The event culminates in an open-air Last Night of the Proms concert.
Next to this rose-tinted view of Britain exists that of a nation of crass economic policies. Whether it was Margaret Thatcher who didn’t care for society and fought a relentless battle against the miners, or the staunch belief in Anglo-Saxon capitalism that made the latest economic crisis so much worse in Britain. When it comes to the fundamentals of politics and how to organise society, the Germans look at Britain with a sense of shock and disdain.
Granted, these are both exaggerated views but they capture the stark contrasts that exist in Britain, where the Queen and royal pageantry are as much part of the national identity as Vivienne Westwood and the punk movement.
If ever a country needed a mother superior, it’s now. And no, we’re not advocating a return of Margaret Thatcher but a stern-faced Austrian nun might not be such a bad idea for the role of Home Secretary and a bit of Julie Andrews cheer and sunshine would do wonders at G20 conferences and NATO summits. As part of the national rebrand, the new map of the UK will be hung in every school, turned into napkins and beer coasters, offered as a free application for mobile communication devices and will be the mandatory screen-saver for all laptops sold in the UK and all her remaining territories.
1 Pick your battle. No one knows what you stand for anymore or what’s on offer. We say invest in culture – in its widest definition. Your global new media brands have been performing well (yes, we count ourselves as one of them), so use them as your new soft-power tools and spend on the BBC’s newsgathering operations – don’t cut. Also, create an environment that will attract global media talent.
2 Pick your battle – part two. If you’re going to go to war then choose your fights carefully and make sure you have the best possible resources to sustain the battle.
3 Create a national service scheme. No, we’re not suggesting a conscription programme to prop up the war effort but a mandatory national programme for all 17-year-olds, which will see them learn essential life skills, discipline, a language and how to work in a team.
4 Create an alternative to higher education. Anyone who’s had to endure British tradesmen will happily endorse a new apprentice scheme to create a stronger service sector and also a viable and sustainable option for those uninterested in university life. See Germany and Switzerland as good models.
5 Encourage a bit of rivalry. The UK needs a competitor as an alternative hub to London – what Osaka is to Tokyo or Chicago to New York. A bit of domestic competition would force London to up its game. The Manchester-Liverpool corridor seems as good a place as any to start.
6 Get rolling. The nation needs a proper, robust scheme to create a high-speed rail network to rival Spain’s and Japan’s. But it should do more than just link south to north, but also open up the west of the country.
7 Abandon failing towns and villages. It’s time for some councils to call it a day and merge, relocate or simply shut down. There are too many enclaves in the UK that are beyond salvation and should have their residents relocated and then be returned to the land.
8 It’s time for a small to medium size enterprise revolution for the economy and this means a homegrown equivalent of Germany’s Mittelstand. A super-connected nation could create a spike in patent registrations, revitalise ailing towns and suburbs and also provide some much-needed glue for communities.
9 You’re on Europe’s doorstep – embrace it! This doesn’t mean behaving in front of the mic in Brussels when the cameras are on but encouraging more UK nationals to work on the continent and more Portuguese, Germans and Swedes to settle (and bring skills) to the UK.
10 Make things, grow things. We’ve become a country that’s forgotten how to use its hands. Follow Japan’s effort to get young people to go back to the land. Encourage cities to zone for light industry alongside retail and residential.
In a moment of weakness, have you ever contacted one of those big international consulting firms? Did you go so far as to call a bunch of them and ask them to pitch for your business? Did they all come in with pretty much the same presentation and promise you a “future-proofed” business, a more motivated workforce and greater engagement via social networking? Did you end up hiring one of them? Have you tried to implement what they suggested? Was it a lot of hot air? Have you got the final invoice yet?
The tale of the big management consultancy hired by the big global brand to help them dream up their next big idea is a familiar one. The tale about the big country that thinks it can behave like a company and hope for a similar result is less well known. Nevertheless, it’s a story that’s playing out in the UK right now.
In May’s election, all of the main parties pitched themselves to the nation not unlike management consultants do to dithering CEOs. In the end the Conservatives’ plan seemed the most palatable. It doesn’t matter that they had to team up with another firm to win the nation’s business because the final plan sounded even better and two top consultants seemed better value than one. Or so it seemed.
Just as many a CEO soon finds that management consultants are great on grand ideas but have no clue about implementation, the UK voter is feeling the same about their government. And just as the corporate leader finds that all his highly paid consultants are good at doing is cutting costs and finding efficiencies, the UK is wondering whether there’s something else to go with the cuts that have hit virtually every department.
Management consultants are never very good at sharing road maps. Oh sure, they’ll unfold them and explain how you can get on the highway for a fast but charmless journey or opt for the meandering, if slightly tedious, scenic route. They’ll then fold up their map and silently glide away while you stand around trying to remember whether to go east, left, up or around. The coalition government has acted the same way.
Fortunately, Monocle anticipated we might all end up stranded somewhere along the scenic route so we’ve been saving our little map (see opposite) for this very moment. It doesn’t really matter where you are in the country; just jump aboard a gleaming, high-speed “Made in the UK” train and head anywhere you want. On board you’ll be treated to tasty, fresh food supplied by one of the farms whizzing past outside and an array of media. So rich is the offer that a whole carriage is dedicated to selling the books, magazines, newspapers and downloadable content that are the envy of the world.
At every junction on the Monocle map, the UK is focused on supporting and selling what it does best – culture. The UK has become the world’s most formidable cultural superpower and its content touches virtually every man, woman and child on the planet. Admittedly, it’s not all the most highbrow but it’s influential and the more pedestrian, the more profitable.
What’s more, it’s clear that the UK’s main mission is to be an innovator and leading exporter of lyrics, images, formats, words and platforms for the world to consume. This doesn’t mean everyone can tickle ivories or pen a film script but, thanks to a focus on culture, the UK has become Europe’s No 1 tourist destination and that’s spawned a sustainable service culture which in turn has created a whole generation of globally respected travel brands. This has stimulated everything from the aerospace to construction sectors and, well, you can follow the map to see how things might end up.
Professor for communication in politics and civil society at the Hertie School of Governance, Berlin
“Things can only get better”: New Labour’s call to arms during the 1997 election must be going through German chancellor Angela Merkel’s mind quite a lot these days, as she struggles to keep her fragile coalition government together. Seen from Berlin, the dynamic Downing Street duo of Dave and Nick look to be giving Britain a lively, modern sheen once more and, so far, they’ve managed to avoid any major political gaffes reaching the world stage. All the more remarkable given this is the first British coalition since 1945.
In Germany – where parties in power are used to being political bedfellows – politicians view the situation with a mix of bemusement and scepticism. Germans – known to be Europe’s penny-pinchers – are watching the new cabinet’s austerity measures closely. There’s broad consensus in Berlin that prudent cutbacks could lead to a more streamlined and agile competitor. Only time will tell if Britain will be able to rediscover the Cool Britannia brand of optimism it seemed to have found in the late 1990s – or if the big plans (and the Big Society) will soon be consigned to the dustbin of pragmatism.
In the meantime, initial signs are promising. Whereas London is busy gearing up for the five-ring Olympic spectacular, it’s all Ms Merkel can do to keep her three-party coalition from resembling nothing more than a three-ring circus.
Senior fellow, Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures
When I was a diplomat at the Japanese Embassy in London in 2005, my boss liked to say the problem between Japan and the UK was that there were no problems. Five years later, things have changed very little. Few Japanese even know who the Liberal Democrats are.
Like it or not, the one constant of the UK national brand in Japan remains tradition, not novelty. When asked to name their favourite British things, Japanese still respond: Peter Rabbit, English gardens, the Cotswolds, and the changing of the guard.
Should our two countries be satisfied with this long-standing affinity, and nothing more? This summer, William Hague, the UK’s foreign secretary, visited Japan and vowed to give more attention to the two countries’ relations. Hopefully, this will be reciprocated in Tokyo.
There has always been a sense the two insular nations face similar challenges. Climate change, the reform of the UN Security Council, and nuclear non-proliferation are a few of the issues where we have a shared goal. Can we work together to share information and insight for the solution of these issues? This is the test for the governments and people of Britain and Japan.
While immigration has been hotly debated in recent years in Britain, the emigration of up to 200,000 Britons annually has been all but ignored. There are 5.5 million British nationals living abroad (and half a million who spend much of the year abroad in second homes), a figure roughly equal to the stock of immigrants in the UK.
The British are seasoned globetrotters. In fact, the term “brain drain” was coined to refer to British scientists being lured across the Atlantic in the 1950s.
But the scale and causes of recent emigration have been unusual. While the lure of better weather is a constant, recent emigrants have been backed by a strong pound, a booming domestic property market and respected qualifications. With a mid-terrace house in Poole fetching enough to buy a Spanish villa with a pool, no wonder a Briton was packing his bags to start a new life abroad every three minutes when emigration peaked in 2007.
The recession and a weaker pound seem to have slowed emigration levels but Brits are still seeking new opportunities. China has become increasingly popular – estimates are that British expat numbers have swelled by more than a third in the past five years, while formerly popular destinations such as the UAE look set to slump. The danger is that after a decade of what seems like boom-led emigration, if Britain remains in the doldrums, the best and the brightest may be the first to flee.
National identity specialist
The reputations of countries, like the brand images of companies, are critical to progress and prosperity. A powerful, positive national image makes it cheap and easy to attract tourists, investors, talent and positive media coverage, and to export products, ideas and culture.
Unfortunately, there are no short cuts to a better reputation, but if a country truly deserves a better reputation, major sporting events can sometimes help. China’s image had been declining since the Anholt Nation Brands Index launched in 2005; but since the Beijing Olympics, it’s improving. Spain’s and Australia’s greater international respect can be dated from their Olympic years. So what should London’s Olympics do for the UK’s image? Well, our external image lacks warmth, and our self-image is weak.
Can we fix it? Yes. The International Inspiration initiative aims to bring sport education to 20 million children in 12 countries by 2012. This makes us the first Olympic host ever to think about sharing the benefits of the Games, rather than simply maximising them. This is the ethical, non-governmental, international collaboration our world needs. It’s true “nation branding”: participating usefully and imaginatively in the world.
Cool Britannia – remember that, way back in ’97? When Mick Hucknall and the Gallagher brothers were at every Downing Street bash. Bliss was it, in that dawn to be alive. Tony drove boldly along the Third Way. Labour was New and Britain was the “Young Country”. The latter was the quintessential Blairite trope – Britain was “young” in the particular sense of “old and getting older”, as all western European countries are.
By 2000, all these ideas were as dated as the Sony Walkman, and rebranding Britain faded from the political lexicon. Blair himself became “Bush’s Poodle”. Brown had a stab at defining Britishness, but it was embarrassingly clear that the sole aim was to persuade the English to forget he was a Scot.
Now Blair, Brown and Mandelson are fighting a proxy war through their publishers, and the baton has passed to Dave and Nick and the brave new world of coalition government. They are new, young, fresh-faced and modern. Clegg has a Spanish wife, for goodness’ sake, and Samantha Cameron has a tasteful tattoo of a dolphin on her ankle, done on a beach in Kerala. You can’t get more right-on than that. They remain, nonetheless, a little short of the vision thing. Cameron’s “Big Society” campaign is an idea whose time will never come. Certainly it is not the basis of a new brand identity for the United Kingdom overseas.
But while politicians are struggling to project a plausible image of Britain, there are other carriers of the British gene who do sell in the export market. Team Britain, as the copywriters would say, has Rooney, Branson, McCartney and Jagger up front, with a strong creative midfield of Emin, McEwan, Beckham and Rattle, two terrifying tacklers in Hitchens and Black (now once again free to roam the pitch, if only in the US) and Gilbert and George holding hands in goal. What unifying message can we derive from this exotic squad? Broadly, nothing at all clear or coherent. Yet that may be entirely appropriate, as incoherence and cognitive dissonance could well prove to be at the heart of today’s British brand. Britain is a country with more genuine traditions, shared history and pageantry than you can shake a stick at, yet it is a place where the national anthem is rarely sung. US-style patriotism is the love that dare not speak its name.
The Brits remain quietly convinced that the world was a better place when most of the globe was coloured pink on the maps, yet care little when their capital is in turn colonised. Londongrad? Londonistan? Bring them on (as long as the foreigner bids the price of our houses up). At the London School of Economics, 70 per cent of the students, and 50 per cent of the faculty are foreign, yet its identity remains firmly rooted in its location.
The country is a famously reluctant member of the European Union, yet its citizens travel more in Europe than any others, and cheerfully buy up Dordogne gîtes and dodgy developments on the Costas in Spain for their retirement. EasyJet, founded by that celebrated Englishman Stelios Haji-Ioannou, has done more for building understanding among the peoples of the continent than has the European Commission.
The pessimists argue that we are riding for a fall. We face an identity crisis at best, and at worst risk being submerged by alien cultures, with Church of England evensong, warm beer and village cricket soon a distant memory. The optimists, by contrast, see the emergence of something rather different, and more interesting. Britain may be becoming the first genuinely post-modern nation – a country which embraces the imperatives of globalisation more warmly than any other, certainly more than the US, France or Germany, not to mention Japan, which I won’t. We do not care if our car industry, our ports or our yoghurt are owned by foreign interests, as long as they manage them well. We understand that if you want to be a global entrepôt, you have to let foreigners in, and even to speak to them.
This model looked to be working rather well when Finance stood proud, and the City of London was the spider at the centre of a complex web of exciting new acronymic instruments – CDOs, CDSs and the rest. The British (and especially the London) economy grew faster than others in Europe, and many Londoners grew rich, some simply by sitting in property in Notting Hill. London was the only city in Europe where you could earn £5m a year, legally, working for someone else, with none of your own skin in the game.
The prospects in finance look a little less rosy these days, but being long on globalisation still looks a good trade to me. Maybe Cameron can one day explore the more challenging notion of a “Global Society”. He might find more followers than he suspects.
Professor of public diplomacy at University of Southern California
I’ve long suspected that being British is worth 20 points on your IQ and 20 pounds off your weight in American eyes. Britishness connotes quality, tradition, innovation and quirky humour – making British voice-overs ubiquitous in US adverts.
BP may have renamed itself to avoid a national identity, but US enterprises routinely court British identities irrespective of their real origin. The Economist, FT, and BBC are some of the most respected media in the US and trade on a British reputation of objectivity.
Even so, the “special relationship” so vaunted on one side of the Atlantic is a much smaller deal on the other (like a son who discovers his father is a serial bigamist, a Brit has to accept the US has many special relationships). But there’s some kinship left: national reputation guru Simon Anholt (right) found that when asked: “If you lost your passport and were given one from the wrong country, which country would you prefer that to be?” and “If you were obliged to marry somebody from another country, which country would you prefer that to be?” – Britons and Americans selected one another.
David Cameron can rest assured that recent ill-feeling over the BP oil spill has not shaken the fundamentals of the relationship. Moreover, the careers of Blair, Thatcher and Churchill are a guide, Cameron can count on being feted in the US long after his UK sell-by date has expired.
1 Britain could do with tightening its belt in more than just the fiscal sense. The UK ranks high in the obesity charts: 24.2 per cent of adults according to the World Health Organization.
2 Almost 15 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds in England are NEETs (not in education, employment or training), while the figures in Wales and Scotland are only slightly lower.
3 The teenage pregnancy rate in the UK is the highest in Europe and the fifth highest in the western world, at 26 births per 1,000.
4 Unemployment is on the rise. The UK is 75th in the world employment rankings with 7.6 per cent out of work. It is ahead of the US (111th) and Sweden (95th), but behind Monaco (No 1 with 0 per cent), Norway (28), Switzerland (41) and Japan (47).
5 The most recent figure for the jail population in England and Wales is 85,706.
6 The UK slipped two places in the Global Gender Gap Index to 15th in the last survey as a result of a decline in economic participation by women.
7 The UK ranks 74th in the Happy Planet Index, 14th in Europe: behind countries including Serbia (58th) and Romania (70th).
Chair, Race Online 2012
and Campaign, Efficiency
and Reform Board member, Cabinet Office
What do people think of Britain as a business nation?
I think Britain has a great reputation within the creative and digital industries – our advertising and media markets punch way above their weight, we have one of the best gaming industries in the world and we are in the premier league on the next phase of web development, the semantic web and linked data – a Brit did invent the web after all.
How has it suffered, or held up, compared with other nations in recent years?
We have suffered, like everyone, from a lack of credit, and the number of under-24-year-olds out of work is very depressing – there are now millions of young people who cannot find work and are not in education.
What should be the future for Britain in business? What challenges does it face?
I think we’re actually a very inventive nation, but we are not good at commercialising our inventions – we seem to have trouble moving from academia to business. The venture capital community in the UK is more risk-averse than other countries – we need more and better seed funding to ensure that we create many entrepreneurial businesses.
Chair, University Association for Contemporary European Studies
How is the UK currently seen as a political force abroad? The perception of the UK overseas is a curious and contradictory mixture. There’s a grudging respect that the country has been able to maintain an international role for so long – but this is accompanied by a sense that the UK often overplays the degree to which it is a political force of international significance.
How has this role changed in recent years? A key change in recent years has been the diminution of the brand-strength of British diplomacy. The UK was credited with having a bespoke diplomatic service that exuded quality, but the Iraq War took the lustre off and suggested that British diplomacy lacked differentiation from that of the United States.
How can the UK remain relevant and influential internationally? Cultural and creative power give Britain its greatest resonance overseas: for this the best diplomacy is no diplomacy.
How does architecture fly the flag for the UK abroad? Architecture is one of Britain’s best exports at the moment. Many firms are setting up satellite offices in China and India, and are contributing to the development of new cities on a scale that is unheard of at home.
What are some of the best recent examples of this? British-trained Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI in Rome is an incredible building that shifts perceptions of what architecture can be. British architects also excel at the contemporary refurbishment of historic buildings. David Chipperfield’s and Julian Harrap’s restoration of the Neues Museum in Berlin is a good example.
Is there a coherent brand to British architecture? It is incredibly diverse. At its best, for example by Tony Fretton, Hadid and Chipperfield, it’s enquiring, imaginative and open-minded. Unfortunately, a lot of British architecture is really bad and reflects parochialism and low horizons.
On home soil, what approach to architecture should define the British city of the future? I’d like to see architects being more proactive in their attitude to building new cities in the UK. There’s too much acceptance of limits to development.
What role does creativity play in the UK’s global presence?
The UK is a hub for creativity, fostering homegrown talent and attracting practitioners from around the world. Internationally renowned artists, architects and designers from the UK act as ambassadors on a world stage.
Has this suffered or been strengthened in recent years?
The UK has maintained its position as one of the leading international cultural destinations over recent years, despite the challenging economic climate. The arts here have a history of resilience and entrepreneurialism in the face of economic adversity.
What are your top three fixes for fostering the UK arts?
We firstly need investment, and a mix of public and private funding is essential. Education is also key, from the earliest age, to foster the next generation of artists and audiences. Finally adaptability – arts organisations need to be flexible and entrepreneurial to adapt to the new economic climate.
What international role should the UK be aiming for?
The UK should develop its role as a global creative hub. Our creative practitioners should continue to operate on the global stage as ambassadors for the UK’s unique contribution to the arts internationally