Jim Duffy on a seriously limiting British Exceptionalism.
I have annoyed some British people, curiously almost all Brexiters, in criticising the impact of British Exceptionalism on Britain's bungled handling of the coronavirus.
Exceptionalism is the tendency of some countries (the US and UK are two infamous examples) to believe in their own exceptional gifts and skills and how those gifts and skills make them uniquely superior, or uniquely important, compared to others.
In Brexit, it saw Brexiters convince themselves the Europe Needed Britain more than Britain needed Europe, and that without Britain the European project is doomed to failure.
The same mindset of exceptionalism had been shown, with tragic consequences in Britain, in the handling of the coronavirus. Numerous other countries had the virus earlier than Britain, and had unique experience they shared with other countries. Britain, however, paid little attention to the advice - believing that British experts are, by definition of being British, better experts on the virus than those in countries with earlier experience.
Similarly, Britain ignored the advice of the World Health Organisation, and the European Centre for Disease and Control. So while most of the world followed the WHO and ECDC recommended stance of test, trace and contact on the virus, Britain decided it wouldn't, and limited its tests to hospital patients, and did no contact tracing. That has proven to be a catastrophic mistake.
I was watching a programme on the virus earlier. What was striking in it was how little awareness there was of anything outside Britain and British research. Hold a discussion on the science of the coronavirus on Irish television, French television, German television or anywhere else and there would be constant mentions of WTO studies, ECDC studies, reports from China, from Italy, from Singapore, etc. Yet I only heard ONE mention of the WHO on the entire programme (speaking, naturally, to a British scientist there), and no mention of the ECDC or other countries. For example, people on the programmes talked about the reality of how antibody testing will work, once Britain gets the right test. There was no mention of an exceptionally worrying report by the WHO that the required antibodies are not being found among those who were infected in far east countries. If antibodies are not being generated then the whole antibody plan of Britain's may be dead in the water.
Yet it was as if no-one in Britain dealing with the virus even noticed the ground breaking and ominous WHO data. British experts were still debating whether or not to contact trace - despite WHO evidence, ECDC evidence, and evidence across the world that it was vital and necessary.
Nor did anyone mention the crucial new wave of infections in Singapore, and how people who had been infected are becoming infected again - something that should not be happening. Or that places in China are back in lockdown, as is Singapore.
Listening to the British debate, it really seemed entirely British-centred, and almost oblivious to the world outside Britain. It was as if Britain was on its own dealing with the pandemic, and isn't interested in the contributions of 'foreigners' even where they are giving it vital advice it needs. It really does come across as "fortress Britain", not wanting help and indeed believing itself superior to any guidance given.
It was deeply depressing, yet also so reminiscent of the mindset that was appearing more and more in Brexit - one where the drawbridge was up and Britain was shouting from the ramparts to all offers of advice. "We're British. We don't need your help."
It is so very sad.
⏩Jim Duffy is a writer.