I have some respect for the Russian President Vladimir Putin. His leadership, though authoritarian and often cruel, has greatly improved the lot of ordinary Russians, among whom the President enjoys considerable affection and support. On Syria too, the President has taken a uniquely rational and firm position, much to the benefit of us all.
That being said, at this weeks G20 summit, Putin made a silly, offhand comment that has offended many in the UK. Talking to a reporter, the President is alleged to have described Britain as ‘a small island nobody listens to’.
Whatever motivated him to say it (almost certainly the Syrian debacle) and though it isn’t technically-speaking a slight on British culture, I must join with the Prime Minister in defending my little island from such a patronizing and ignorant assessment.
David Cameron’s rejoinder has so far met with mixed reviews. Shortly after Putin made the gaffe, our Prime Minister gave a bizarre speech intended to list the glories of British achievement, historic and current. Among the examples he chose were the Beatles and One Direction.
Can’t we do better?
The nation of Russia has roughly 143 million inhabitants and a land mass of 17,000,000 square kilometers. Britain has 60 million citizens and a land mass of 230,000 square kilometers. That is indeed a great difference in size, so hats off to Mr Putin for noticing this. The difference in cultural achievement however is equally large, but this time exactly inverted. Despite its size, Britain can make a claim to be the most inventive country the world has ever known.
The following list is an excerpt from an even larger list of British inventions compiled by the Radio Times:
Light Bulbs, Telephones, Steam Turbines, Electric motors, Cement, Fire Extinguishers, Photography, Chocolate Bars, Television, the Jet Engine, the Kettle, Hovercraft, Vacuum Cleaners, Stainless Steel, the Torpedo, Hypodermic syringes, the World Wide Web, ATM machines, Carbon Fibre, the Programmable computer and the Military Tank.
Britain’s musical exports have included David Bowie, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Clash, the Sex Pistols, Radiohead, Oasis, Blur, the Smiths, Joy Division, New Order, Pulp, Adele, Massive Attack, Coldplay, Muse, the Who and the Kinks.
British writers, past and present, include Shakespeare, Martin Amis, Phillip Pullman, Byron, Coleridge, Samuel Johnson, Keats, EL James (sorry), JK Rowling, CS Lewis, De Quincey, John Donne, George Orwell, Thomas Carlyle, Aldous Huxley and Samuel Pepys.
It’s never a bad thing to pat one’s country on the back, especially in the midst of such a bleak political and economic landscape. Whatever else Britain may be, its people are of the profoundest creative quality and without them the world would be considerably poorer.