How does the rest of the world view Britain?

A new Ipsos MORI poll reveals that the further you travel away from Britain, the better Britain looks.

Our position in the world and how we are perceived from abroad matters economically and politically. A positive image abroad can support export-led growth and inward investment, but also facilitates "soft power" and British influence on the world stage. Has 2012 changed global perceptions and improved brand Britain?

New Ipsos MORI research for the British Council suggests that Britain’s three big events of the past year – the Olympics, the Paralympics and the Diamond Jubilee – have contributed to an improvement in its reputation overseas and created additional interest in Britain as a place to visit, study and do business. This comes on top of an already positive global image of Britain, one which contrasts with, in many cases, an unnecessarily self-deprecating outlook among Brits as evidenced by our pre-Olympics research, Britain 2012.

Our latest Global Advisor survey across 11 countries including the US, China, India and Russia suggests that the Great British summer has had a positive impact overseas. Almost two thirds of those we polled said that they thought Britain did a good job at organising the Olympics (compared to only 6 per cent who disagreed), and 44 per cent believe that Britain has a greater influence over world affairs as a result (only 3 per cent take a negative view).

More than one in three said the 2012 Games have made them more likely to visit Britain and the same proportion said the Games have made Britain more attractive to them as a place to do business or study. Fewer than one in five said the Olympics have not made them any more likely to want to visit, study or do business in Britain.

The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee also appears to have contributed to improved perceptions of Britain, albeit to a lesser extent. More than a quarter of those surveyed around the world said they had experienced or been aware of the Jubilee in some form. Of those, one in three said they now think more positively about Britain as a result. Only three per cent say that it has had a negative effect on their perceptions of Britain.

So far so good, but is Britain distinctive? There is some evidence from our polling that Britain stands out from other western nations in a way that could be good news for UK plc if harnessed in the right way. For example, other research for the British Council finds that people from the UK are more trusted than, say, those from Germany and from the USA.

Across a whole range of topics, we find people around the world see Britain in a pretty positive light with, for instance, a majority seeing us as a country committed to culture and the arts (54%), with strong democratic values and institutions (56 per cent) and with a good standard of living (59 per cent). The power of the English language is a positive, and cultural activities have a beneficial impact on views of Britain.

As is always the case though, there are some caveats. Much of the research we have conducted over the last twelve months suggests the further you travel away from Britain, the better Britain looks. Our European neighbours and trading partners tend to take a rather less positive view. Perhaps we should not be too surprised that Europeans give us a cool reception – along with ‘in/out’ debates, they are hardly hearing and seeing British confidence, something Boris Johnson pointed out at the CBI annual conference recently.

There is no getting away from the relatively poor self-assessment the British people give Britain. Is this a good place to invest, for instance? Only 24 per cent of us think so. Looking at Britain from outside, however, the figure rises to 42 per cent. The same poll found that only 13 per cent of Brits feel we have a strong economy whilst globally, 48 per cent feel Britain’s economy is strong. And one of the more striking Global Advisor poll findings this year is that Germans were four times more likely to be positive about their economy’s prospects than the British were of theirs.

Still, back in August, 78 per cent of the British public thought that the Olympics had had a positive impact on the way Britain is viewed by the world, and our polling for the British Council shows that they have been proved correct. This means that while this Olympic year is fading fast and interest in Rio 2016 is only just in its infancy, the 2012 legacy opportunities for Britain are still evident and exciting.

Ben Marshall is a Research Director at Ipsos MORI
Follow him on Twitter @BenM_IM

Fireworks light up the stadium during the closing ceremony of the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

Ben Marshall is a research director at Ipsos MORI.

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Justin Trudeau points the way forward for European politics

Is the charismatic Canadian Prime Minister modelling the party of the future?

Six months after Canadian election day, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party continues to bask in the glow of victory. With 44 per cent of support in the polls, the Liberals are the most popular party amongst every single demographic – men and women, young and old, and people of all educational backgrounds. 

While most European mainstream parties only dream of such approval, this is actually a small dip for the Liberals. They were enjoying almost 50 per cent support in the polls up until budget day on 21 March. Even after announcing $29.4 billion in deficit spending, Canadians overall viewed the budget favourably – only 34 per cent said they would vote to defeat it.

Progressives around the world are suddenly intrigued by Canadian politics. Why is Justin Trudeau so successful?

Of course it helps that the new Prime Minister is young, handsome and loves pandas (who doesn’t?) But it’s also true that he was leader of the Liberals for a year and half before the election. He brought with him an initial surge in support for the party. But he also oversaw its steady decline in the lead up to last year’s election – leadership is important, but clearly it isn’t the only factor behind the Liberals’ success today.

Context matters

As disappointing as it is for Europeans seeking to unpack Canadian secrets, the truth is that a large part of the Liberals’ success was also down to the former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s extreme unpopularity by election time.

Throughout almost ten years in power, Harper shifted Canada markedly to the right. His Conservative government did not just alter policies; it started changing the rules of the democratic game. While centre-right governments in Europe may be implementing policies that progressives dislike, they are nonetheless operating within the constraints of democratic systems (for the most part; Hungary and Poland are exceptions).

Which is why the first weeks of the election campaign were dominated by an ‘Anybody But Harper’ sentiment, benefitting both the Liberals and the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP was even leading the polls for a while, inviting pundits to consider the possibility of a hung parliament.

But eight days before election day, the Liberals began to pull ahead.

The most important reason – and why they continue to be so popular today – is that they were able to own the mantle of ‘change’. They were the only party to promise running a (small) deficit and invest heavily in infrastructure. Notably absent was abstract discourse about tackling inequality. Trudeau’s plan was about fairness for the middle class, promoting social justice and economic growth.

Democratic reform was also a core feature of the Liberal campaign, which the party has maintained in government – Trudeau appointed a new Minister of Democratic Institutions and promised a change in the voting system before the next election.

The change has also been in style, however. Justin Trudeau is rebranding Canada as an open, progressive, plural society. Even though this was Canada’s reputation pre-Harper, it is not as simple as turning back the clock.

In a world increasingly taken by populist rhetoric on immigration – not just by politicians like Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and other right-wingers, but also increasingly by mainstream politicians of right and left – Justin Trudeau has been unashamedly proclaiming the benefits of living in a diverse, plural society. He repeatedly calls himself a feminist, in the hope that one day “it is met with a shrug” rather than a social media explosion. Live-streamed Global Town Halls are one part of a renewed openness with the media. Progressive politicians in Europe would do well to take note.

Questioning the role of political parties today

Another interesting development is that the Liberal party is implicitly questioning the point of parties today. It recently abolished fee-paying, card-carrying party members. While this has been met with some criticism regarding the party’s structure and integrity, with commentators worried that “it’s the equivalent of turning your party into one giant Facebook page: Click ‘Like’ and you’re in the club,” it seems this is the point.

Colin Horgan, one of Trudeau’s former speechwriters, explains that Facebook is “literally a treasure trove for political parties”. All kinds of information becomes available – for free; supporters become easier to contact.

It was something the Liberals were already hinting at two years ago when they introduced a ‘supporters’ category to make the party appear more open. Liberal president Anna Gainey also used the word “movement” to describe what the Liberals hope to be.

And yes, they are trying to win over millennials. Which proved to be a good strategy, as a new study shows that Canadians aged 18-25 were a key reason why the Liberals won a majority. Young voter turnout was up by 12 per cent from the last election in 2011; among this age group, 45 per cent voted for the Liberals.

Some interesting questions for European progressives to consider. Of course, some of the newer political parties in Europe have already been experimenting with looser membership structures and less hierarchical ways of engaging, like Podemos’ ‘circles’ in Spain and the Five Star Movement’s ‘liquid democracy’ in Italy.

The British centre-left may be hesitant after its recent fiasco. Labour opened up its leadership primary to ‘supporters’ and ended up with a polarising leader who is extremely popular amongst members, but unpopular amongst the British public. But it would be wrong to assume that the process was to blame.

The better comparison is perhaps to Emmanuel Macron, France’s young economy minister who recently launched his own movement ‘En Marche !’ Moving beyond the traditional party structure, he is attempting to unite ‘right’ and ‘left’ by inspiring French people with an optimistic vision of the future. Time will tell whether this works to engage people in the longer term, or at least until next year’s presidential election.

In any case, European parties could start by asking themselves: What kind of political parties are they? What is the point of them?

Most importantly: What do they want people to think is the point of them?

Ultimately, the Canadian Liberals’ model of success rests on three main pillars:

  1. They unambiguously promote and defend a progressive, open, plural vision of society.
  2. They have a coherent economic plan focused on social justice and economic growth which, most importantly, they are trusted to deliver.
  3. They understand that society has changed – people are more interconnected than ever, relationships are less hierarchical and networks exist online – and they are adapting a once rigid party structure into a looser, open movement to reflect that.

*And as a bonus, a young, charismatic leader doesn’t hurt either.

Claudia Chwalisz is a Senior Policy Researcher at Policy Network, a Crook Public Service Fellow at the University of Sheffield and author of The Populist Signal: Why Politics and Democracy Need to Change