Why do you want to be world beating?

Soccer - FIFA World Cup England 66 - Final - England v West Germany - Wembley Stadium

Brits were told in April by Hancock and Prime Minister Boris Johnson that the NHS’s IT wing, NHSX, was working with tech providers to produce a homegrown “world beating app” 

Despite app delay, Johnson says UK will have ‘world-beating’ contact tracing.

We’re all aware of the story by now, Britain was going to lead the way in contacting tracing to beat the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Over time, the original claims for the app and tracking system were watered down with the app eventually dropped. We have now entered the period where history is rewritten and the government brazens it out to say what has happened was always its intention.

I’m not going there.

Instead I wanted to think about the phrase ‘world-beating’, which in this context has left a bitter taste in my mouth. I understand, but don’t condone, the hubris around all things British since the vote to leave the European Union. No doubt it was there for a long time before but was less noticeable and now there are swathes of people who believe that the Great in Great Britain is there because somehow we are the best. Britain is great because it is world-beating. 

To be honest I think this is more to do with English exceptionalism rather than Britishness.

I get it that at times you want to be the best. In sports for example you want to win. In business you want to be successful and if your product or service is the best then all well and good. You can become the best in the world.

Yet there are times when I question why you would want to be the best and healthcare is one of these areas. Yes, of course we want excellent health care and the track and trace app would have gone some way to helping that but being world-beating in this context means something else. For us to beat the world than everyone else needs to be worse than us. We are setting out to make everyone else in the world less effective than us. This just doesn’t make sense to me.

Surely, in these times of a global threat the whole of humankind should be working to help prevent the spread of this disease, just as it should with many other global problems. Perhaps this is where capitalism fails us, in that there are times when profit motive sets us against each other rather than bringing us together.

When dealing with COVID-19 our aim should not be to be world-beating but rather world-collaborating.


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