Mario Vargas Llosa, novelist Best: Its profoundly democratic spirit, visible in every aspect of social life. I’ve never encountered another society which practices the virtues of tolerance, co-existence within diversity, and respect towards others, to the same extent. Institutions have a greater influence than in other countries, and there exists a spirit of solidarity which emerges, above all, in testing times. Worst: Its resistance to accepting that in our age borders are disappearing and the idea of nationhood is going to lose substance. Britain lags behind other countries in accepting that integration, first with Europe, and then with the rest of the world, is absolutely essential for maintaining a high quality of life and making the most of modernity.
Lady Hale, Justice of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom Best: The good old British sense of humour, not appearing to take anything too seriously (while actually doing so), broad-mindedness, and fair play—women would never have got anywhere without the support of men who were prepared to put their sense of fairness above self-interest. The Church of England, at its best the embodiment of those virtues. The weather, always giving us something to talk about. Worst: The great British class system, still remarkably resilient, perhaps because it is also so flexible. The Church of England, at its worst. And the weather, of course.
Brian Eno, musician Best: Cultural creativity, ingenuity and verve. Worst: Awe at privilege and celebrity, and disdain towards those without either.
Martha Lane Fox, entrepreneur Best: The diversity, calibre and integrity of talented people: community leaders, charity bosses, small business owners, well-known faces in music, fashion or the arts. Worst: Our inability to celebrate our talent and our failure to unlock even more of it through more equality of opportunity.
Swaran Singh, professor of psychiatry Best: Every important public matter is subject to wide consultation. All voices, whether weak or powerful, are patiently considered. It is democracy in action. Everyone has a say. Worst: On every important matter, everyone insists on having a say. All views, from those based on hard evidence to those driven by ideological purity or single-issue fixation, are considered. It is democracy in paralysis. Everyone feels dissatisfied with the outcome.
Margaret Drabble, novelist Best: BBC talk radio, drama, short stories, fiction. Worst: Our ludicrous, sycophantic, poisonous class system. Those who think it’s gone away deceive themselves. It’s still endemic.
David Bailey, photographer…