Pandemic Prizes

When I was a seven-year-old at prep school, maps of the world were predominantly red – British colonies, dependencies and, of course, the motherland herself. But I suspect our geography teacher was a die-hard, nostalgic imperialist. This was 1965, and India remained red, nearly twenty years after independence. It must have been an old map, a reminder of those more glorious times when the British were at their world-beating best – when they bestrode the world.

Boris Johnson went to a similar kind of school, I suspect, though he’s a few years younger than I am. Rather less of the world was red when, famously, he first dreamt of being king of it.

But the ethos endures, and I was reminded of it when yesterday he announced that the UK would soon have a ‘world-beating’ test, track and trace regime.

The British are Best, after all.

Or is it the Americans who are Best?

Donald Trump made a very similar claim a day or two ago. The USA has the world’s best testing regime, he said.

What I don’t understand is why the two of them have turned this into a competition. For a start, best is irrelevant if you’re the best of a bad bunch. And what does ‘best’ or ‘world-beating’ mean? Could we agree on a common standard of measurement?

‘Virus-beating’ is good enough for most of us. Or ‘excellent’, or ‘as good as possible in the circumstances’. Not ‘world-beating’. Not ‘best’. The enemy in this ‘war’ is not other ‘lesser’ nations but a squiggle of RNA that endangers all of us without regard to nationality.

They’re different people, Trump and Johnson, but both sound the drumbeat of nationalism too readily for my taste. It’s unnecessary and it’s dangerous.