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A pioneer of how a country's reputation rises and falls, Simon Anholt's book provides nuggets of wisdom for smart nations
It is unfortunate that many parliamentary reports from both chambers end up dust waves on the shelf. But this was certainly not the case in the case of the 2014 Lords report on soft power, Power and Persuasion in the Modern World.
Building on Harvard professor Joe Nye's brilliant insights – about the radically changing and subtly mitigating nature of national power and influence in modern international conditions – the report had immediate impact. This immediately led to the setting up of a new soft power unit in the (then) FCO. It also led to countless seminars and think tank sessions not only in London but around the world, including Beijing and New York.
A key witness in the 10-month study leading up to the report was Simon Anholt, founder of the Good Country Index and pioneer thinker about how nations' reputations rise and fall – and with it their influence for the better, their own fortune, and their internal health and harmony .
His new book is out now, The good country comparison, expands on his ideas and on his experience advising a range of countries around the world on how to apply them. For one thing, he is highly skeptical of national bragging rights and achievement narratives as a means of winning friends and giving serious weight in global affairs. This kind of international propaganda graffiti, he claims, wastes millions, never works, and is simply not the way others form their opinion of a particular country – or build sympathy and support for the country and its peoples.
Instead, he argues, a nation gains friends, reputation, trust, and influence through its own clear-cut policies and actions, both internally and on the international stage. The inquiry fully agreed with him on this when he arrived, as did the subsequent report, notably expressing unease at the thumping tone of the 'Britain is Great' campaign that was being launched at the time. promoted.
Countries, Anholt now reminds us, cannot just be marketed with slick advertising messages. Others will make their judgments based on what they see, hear and learn from a country, using anecdotes and examples, form their own opinions, draw their conclusions and accordingly reach out for friendship and cooperation.
He rightly concludes that the Commonwealth is potentially one gigantic force for progress
The author does not, of course, focus solely on the British situation, although his lessons from elsewhere are very relevant to us. While his book is somewhat of a Cooks tour of all the countries he has advised – from Central Asia, through Africa and Europe to the US – the nuggets of wisdom and guidance on the new direction smart nations must take in a totally changed world. conditions, are all there.
Number one is that nothing improves the prosperity, attractiveness and appeal of a country more than working internationally, thinking internationally, even when it comes to domestic issues, and working vigorously with other countries and organizations.
Number two is that this means constant and flexible international networking, which he calls entrepreneurial multilateralism. From this he rightly concludes, for example, that the Commonwealth is potentially "a gigantic force for progress" – a network to both share and draw strength in difficult times.
Number three (and there are many more) is that to enter The good country comparison nations must act meaningfully and do striking things that really resonate all over the world and stimulate interest and admiration.
Apply all of this to a somewhat battered Britain as it sails into new waters and sets some priorities. The first is perhaps to show the world how a United Kingdom can be held together and thrive in this age of fragmentation, hyper-localization and separate identities. Is it time for national ingenuity to invent a new kind of binding federal framework in the digital and big data age to complement the nearly exhausted current political and constitutional structures?
And could this be Britain's most important new message on the changing world stage, along with playing the network game to the full, where the Commonwealth gives us such an edge?
Who knows? It cannot be done overnight. Anholt believes it will take patience and an entire generation to get back on track. But his book is certainly a good starter guide.
Lord Howell of Guildford is a Conservative fellow and former FCO Minister
The good country comparison is published by Berrett-Koehler Publishers