United by their colonial heritage, Great Britain continues to loom large in the worldview of its fellow Commonwealth nations, despite the rapid rise of new powers on the global stage, according to a recent survey conducted by YouGov and commissioned by Handelsblatt.
South Africans view Britain as more important than even China, though its economy is one-fourth the size of the East Asian powerhouse. And Australians put the old mother country in third place, behind only the United States and China in terms of global significance.
Both Australians and the Canadians believe Britain has a quality of life that’s second only to their own.
The Brits, however, have a more sober assessment of their standing in the world. They put themselves in fourth place in terms of global influence and many feel recent foreign policy decisions have undermined the country’s standing in the world.
Ian Macsporran, a 67-year-old retired teacher, who lives in Northampton 100 kilometers north of London, for example, believes the country lost its way when former Prime Minister Tony Blair led the country to war against Iraq back in 2003.
“Life in Canada is good. We have a health care and education system that's open to everyone. ”
He was so outraged that he, like many other left-wing voters in Britain, decided to cancel his membership of the Labour Party.
Now Mr. Macsporran is concerned that the current prime minister, David Cameron, has set Britain up to make another foreign policy blunder. With just weeks to go until the country votes on its membership in the European Union, the out camp is leading in the polls by four points.
“I don’t understand why people want to give up all the associated advantages – the access to the internal market for our companies and that we receive European products for good prices,” Mr. Macsporran told Handelsblatt. “That we would jeopardize our ease of travel and the low flight prices – and, and, and.”
The rise of Jeremy Corbyn, a pacifist and leftist, as Labour leader has restored some of Mr. Macsporran’s faith in his party after the Blair years. Still, he believes the country’s ruling elite has implemented a policy of austerity with little regard for its impact on average people. In Northampton, every second street light is shut off at night to save money on electricity.
“They ignore the flip side, that it takes away people’s feeling of security,” Mr. Macsporran said.
Like many Brits, he views Canada as a model to emulate: “You get the feeling that the inequality isn’t so pronounced there.”
Canadians like Graham Long would agree. Unlike Mr. Macsporran, the 32-year-old teacher from Ottawa has faith in his country’s leadership.
Though Mr. Long doesn’t follow politics very closely, he believes the recent election of Justin Trudeau – the young, handsome, Liberal Party leader – has brought a new perspective and greater openness to Canada.
“Life in Canada is good,” Mr. Long told Handelsblatt. “We have a health care and education system that’s open to everyone. I don’t know if it’s the best system, but what Canada offers its citizens is good.”
Like Mr. Long, Lloyd Naicker also doesn’t follow politics closely. The 35-year-old just doesn’t have the time. As a personal trainer in Cape Town, Mr. Naicker works with clients from 5 a.m. until 9 p.m. His only source of information is the flat screen television next to the treadmill that’s tuned to CNN.
Mr. Naicker, however, knows that all is not well in South Africa. The feeling is common among his fellow citizens. Of the Commonwealth countries surveyed, South Africans are the most discontent with their economic situation, though they anticipate an improvement over the next three years.
In search of opportunity, Mr. Naicker tried his luck in London a decade ago. Most South Africans believe Great Britain has the best quality of life in the world. Mr. Naicker, however, was disappointed with his stay and tried to get a visa for Germany – to no avail.
Despite it all, he’s still determined to emigrate. This time, Mr. Naicker has his sights set on Dubai.
“Even if the quality of life in the desert isn’t really great,” he said, the infrastructure is good and its within a few hours flight of the major destinations in Europe and Asia.
While changing countries within the Commonwealth or elsewhere, can bring a higher standard of living, it doesn’t guarantee satisfaction.
Jane Suttle’s family left South Africa for Australia when she was a child. A former child psychologist, the 63-year-old and her husband own a farm south Sydney where they raise cows.
Australians generally believe their country has the best quality of life and the best political system in the world. Ms. Suttle, however, is an exception to that rule.
“I anticipate a total catastrophe if we don’t take these problems seriously,” she told Handelsblatt.
Ms. Suttle is concerned that the media, majority owned by Rupert Murdoch, is distracting Australians from the world’s real problem – a deteriorating standard of living. And Canberra’s recent political instability hasn’t helped the country focus.
“In five years we’ve had four different prime ministers,” Mr. Suttle said, expressing concern that Australians just want to be entertained 24/7.
“We always have to have what’s new,” she said. “Food has become a fashion product.”
Although Australians are generally satisfied with their economic situation and even anticipate a rising standard of living over the next three years, there’s an underlying sense that something isn’t quite right.
Most Australians believe their children will have a lower quality of life.
Nicole Bastian is currently the coordinating editor of foreign affairs in Düsseldorf. Gerd Braune is Handelsblatt’s correspondent in Canada. Wolfgang Dreschler is a correspondent in South Africa. Urs Wälterlin covers Australia, New Zealand, Oceana and Southeast Asia for Handelsblatt. Mr. Wälterlin lives near the capital city Canberra in Australia. To contact the authors: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org