Life In London: May 2007 Archives

Good-bye, Tony

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A few hours ago, I watched Tony Blair announce that he'll be ending his decade as Prime Minister on June 27. (Or "27 June," as we like to call it here.)

Pundits seem to be zeroing in on the part of his speech dealing with the invasion of Iraq, but for me, the most striking moment was when he said six simple words: "This is the greatest nation on earth."

In an American political speech, such a declaration is pretty much mandatory. Somewhere in the US, there may be an elected official who has never declared that America is the greatest country on the planet, but I doubt it.

In England, though, it's much rarer. We Americans are comfortable selling ourselves, individually and collectively. But the trappings of patriotism that Americans love--giant flags, country-wide celebrations of national pride, boasts about our nation's greatness--seem to make the English a trifle embarrassed.

After a bit of Googling, I've been able to turn up just one instance of a modern British politician using the phrase: in 2002, Tory leader Ian Duncan Smith told his party conference, "For me, this is the greatest country on earth." And note the first two words of the quote, which qualify it as a subject personal preference, not an indisputable scientific fact.

If you read Blair's quote, you'll notice no such hedging. However, if you hear it, or watch the video, you'll notice a slightly defensive tone in the way he says it.