Try this experiment. Close your eyes and imagine what it would feel like to feel good about your country. You know – like the Americans, or the Scandies, or any of those nations who are strangely delighted to be who they are.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll find it an odd sensation. We, as a nation, are more comfortable with self-criticism. Poll after poll suggests that more than half of us would like to emigrate. The newspapers are full of negative stories about racism, poverty, food banks, domestic violence, house bubbles, job insecurity, you name it.
But, hard on the heels of new figures that show that violent crime in this country has been falling for a decade – and that crime in general is at its lowest level for 33 years – it occurs to me that our view of ourselves may be twisted or out of date. Because, for me, it feels like there has never been a better time to be alive in this country – and it was pretty good in the years before the financial crisis.
Such a statement must be qualified by the fact that I do not see myself as, strictly speaking, British. I am a lifelong Londoner, which is more akin to a city-state than Britain as a whole. If you are a property owner in London – as I am – you are coining it without lifting a finger. I also have the good fortune to be living in the most dynamic, vibrant multicultural city in the world, a place in which it is – or should be – impossible to be bored.
For the country as a whole, the number of failing schools have halved in four years. Property prices are rising in most parts of Britain, not just in the South-east. As for the argument that suggests that young people can no longer afford to buy houses – this is true mainly in London, and there are plenty of other exciting places in Britain to live.
In society, there is much else to celebrate. Gay marriages have finally been legalised. No one is quite certain why the drop in violent crime is happening, but it certainly reflects one welcome trend – the significant reduction in binge drinking among the young.
One possible reason for less drunkenness and violence can be directly traced to technology. Violence is mainly a product of boredom – and technology has more or less abolished it. So long as you have access to a computer – and only 17 per cent of households aren’t online – you can plug into a giant brain that can transport you into a different world entirely.
Women still suffer prejudice and discrimination in a wide range of cultural and institutional contexts. However, women in their twenties now earn nearly 4 per cent more than men in their twenties, before childbearing kicks in to close the gap. Sexual violence and domestic abuse against either gender, although still unacceptably high, between 1995 and 2012 there was a fall in domestic violence of 40 per cent.
Then there are the sporting and cultural worlds. My Sky+ box can’t keep up with all the brilliance that is being pumped out. Our radio is peerless. Our theatre remains the best in the world, and our film-makers punch well above their weight. Our artists remain among the most and distinctively British. Our novelists and musicians are world class. Culturally, we stand, with America, as the great pillars of culture.
In sport we just had the most successful Winter Olympics ever and we will start Wimbledon with a defending men’s champion for the first time since 1937.
In politics, right now is a moment of hope for pretty much everyone. The Tories might govern Britain as a single party again. But it’s not such a good chance that the Labour Party can’t hope and plan for the same thing. And the Lib Dems, despite being at a historical low in terms of popularity, can have reasonable hopes of a coalition government.
Economically we are doing better than most of our European allies – the Germans notwithstanding, but who wants to be German? If you are Scottish you can look forward to the realistic prospect of an independent nation. And if you’re English, most people wish them well, and would be equally happy if they stay or go. If you’re Cornish, you can relish your new minority status. And if you’re Welsh... well, there are always exceptions that prove the rule.
We are living longer than ever before. We are healthier than ever before. Deaths from heart attacks have dropped sharply. Cancer survival rates are improving.
When I was first asked to write this article, I thought I might have trouble coming up with enough words on why the country was getting better, but on the contrary, I could continue for some time. And the odd thing is, I suspect this will offend rather a lot of people. For some reason we are much more comfortable talking about food banks than telling a positive story about the country we live in.
There will always be losers, there will always be injustice and corruption – but to echo Harold Macmillan, for a great number of people, you’ve never had it so good.
All the same, it’s not going to last. After the next election, the nasty medicine is almost certainly going to ruin everyone’s mood. Enjoy it while you can – but you won’t be able to enjoy it at all if you refuse to notice it in the first place.