Above: Britain’s favourite Britons. The Queen comes in second place, while politicians make up the bottom of the table
The typical Briton loves our countryside, National Health Service and David Attenborough, but thinks immigrants, welfare scroungers and yobs are letting Britain down.
Overall, YouGov’s latest survey for Prospect suggests that we are preparing for the Queen’s diamond jubilee celebrations in a nervous, small-c conservative mood. Unlike much of the rest of Europe, our progress has been uninterrupted by revolution, invasion or occupation for some centuries. This helps to explain our reverence towards those features of our national life that suggest reassuring permanence. When people are asked to pick the best features of Britain today, three of their top four are our countryside, history and monarchy. The fourth, the NHS, is of course a more recent invention; however, as Andrew Lansley has discovered, it is now regarded with conservative veneration in the sense that politicians tamper with it at their peril.
Our present economic problems have narrowed our outlook further. Down the years, people in different ideological locations have been stirred by dreams of, variously, a low-tax society, an end to class divisions, greater tolerance, and a clean, green future. But when YouGov invited people to imagine a “British dream” (nodding with due humility to the American version), we found that these come way down the list of today’s national ambitions.
Rather, we want the flipside of our perceived current failings. We yearn for more rewards for hard work, fewer immigrants and more honest politicians, journalists and police officers. If there is a British dream, it is less about marching confidently towards Churchill’s sunlit uplands than clambering out of the hole we fear we are in.
No wonder politicians fill the bottom three of the list of living Britons we most admire: Tony Blair, David Cameron and Tony Benn. Only Margaret Thatcher avoids the relegation zone, coming eighth out of 15. (We derived our list from responses to an earlier survey, when we asked people, unprompted, to nominate candidates they personally admire.)
David Attenborough just pips the Queen to first place; they are followed closely by Richard Branson and Stephen Hawking. Perhaps these names offer a clue…