Do they mean us? International views on Britain

Sunday 19 October, 12.00 until 13.00, Garden Room, Barbican Eye on the World

There was a time when Britannia ruled the waves and the sun never set on the Empire. We had such a sense of self-importance that the ‘great’ in ‘Great Britain’ seemed just as much an advertisement of our cleverness, power and civilisation as a geographical description.

But times have changed. Now there are regular, angst-ridden debates about ‘British identity’ and ‘British values’. What does it mean to be British? In fact, what is the point of Britain at all? We fight wars alongside America to prove that we’re still at the ‘top table’ of world affairs. This year, our foreign secretary even spent a few days running a conference with a Hollywood actress in a desperate bid for a little reflected glory. At home, the rise of UKIP - with its Euroscepticism and anti-immigration policies - suggests that we’ve turned away from the world. Have we gone from Great Britons to Little Englanders?

Yet underneath, there is still a little bit of that imperial arrogance left. We may not have the power to invade anyone anymore, except on the coat-tails of others, but we still claim our military is the ‘best in the world’. We cling to our permanent seat on the UN Security Council as proof we still matter in the world. We like to puff up our successes in culture and science to suggest that economic power is less important than inherent smartness. Londoners love to revel in how cosmopolitan they are, living in a ‘world city’.

But how does the rest of the world see us today? Do they agree that Britain is still a player in world affairs? Is Britain a creative, cultural melting pot or a dying force in the arts? How do foreigners experience living here? Together with the Foreign Press Association, we’ve brought together a group of journalists living in London who report on Britain for their respective countries, to see how the world sees us.

Watch the debate:

Sebastian Borger
London correspondent, Berliner Zeitung, Der Standard and Cicero

Florentin Collomp
UK correspondent, Le Figaro

Maria Tabak
chief UK correspondent, RIA Novosti (Russian News and Information Agency)

Paola Totaro
freelance journalist; former Europe Correspondent, Sydney Morning Herald and The Age

Bruno Waterfield
Brussels correspondent, The Times; co-author, No Means No

Produced by
Claire Fox director, Academy of Ideas; panellist, BBC Radio 4's Moral Maze; author, I Find That Offensive
Christopher Wyld director, Foreign Press Association in London
Recommended readings
How does the rest of the world view Britain?

A new Ipsos MORI poll reveals that the further you travel away from Britain, the better Britain looks.

Ben Marshall, New Statesman, 19 December 2012

Little Britain: How the rest of the world sees us

Britain was once a great power. Are we now best known for oil spills, airline strikes and Simon Cowell? The Independent's foreign correspondents reveal how the rest of the world really sees us

John Lichfield, Independent, 7 August 2010

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