British exceptionalism and English jingoism – all wrapped up in an education secretary


Gavin Williamson, the current education secretary and former chief whip has long been labelled ‘Stupid Boy’. He looked set to be banished from the cabinet to the backbenches after a disastrous summer following the exams and results fiasco that caused misery and chaos for students and pupils.

He has managed to hang on, yet Williamson has been largely absent and rarely exposed to the media’s glare in recent times. Stepping forward today to announce “there will be exams” next summer, it was very quickly evident as to why.

‘We’re better than everyone’, says the UK education secretary

Williamson was asked on LBC radio if Brexit had given the UK the ability to approve the vaccine first – the question’s currency following yesterday’s furore when Matt Hancock made the same erroneous Brexit boast, as repeated by Jacob Rees-Mogg and Michael Fabricant.

Williamson told LBC’s Nick Ferrari: “I just reckon we’ve got the very best people in this country and we’ve obviously got the best medical regulators – much better than the French, much better than the Belgians have, much better than the Americans have.”

He continued: “That doesn’t surprise me at all because we’re a much better country than every single one of them.”

Actually and audibly tapping the table for emphasis, Williamson was just getting into his stride about why Britain’s so great.

“I think just being able to get on with things, deliver it and the brilliant people in our medical regulator making it happen means that people in this country are going to be the first ones in the world to get that Pfizer vaccine,” he gushed.

“It’s down to those brilliant, brilliant clinicians in the regulator who’s made it happen so fast, our thanks go out to them. By doing what they’ve done, they’re going to have saved lives.”

Not to mention, of course the internationalism of the project to create the vaccine. Or indeed BioNTech’s Turkish-German founders who developed the vaccine in Germany – which is manufactured in Belgium and distributed by Pfizer, the US pharmaceutical giant.

London mayor calls it ‘jingositic nonsense’

Predictably, Williamson’s remarks provoked many replies across platforms and media. Was he  being serious? Or was a secretary of state actually trolling the country? Or were his words, as London mayor Sadiq Khan called them, plain old “jingoistic nonsense”.

“This guy is the person responsible for education in our country and that is the problem,” Khan told LBC’s James O’Brien.

“He was being serious by the way – he wasn’t making a joke. This sort of British exceptionalism I think is misleading. What this politician is doing is typical English jingoism that I think is unnecessary.”

Not just unnecessary, but also absolutely wrong – and on so many levels, not just that of veracity and truth. Concern about how Williamson’s words may impact on future relations and trade deals with countries post Brexit are muted by the fact that such countries are by now aware of the nature of the government they are dealing with.

In short, a government that is prepared to break international law – and risk peace – in a “very limited and specific way”, by ripping up the international agreements it negotiated, signed and then sold as an election winning promise to the country. An “oven ready deal” to “get Brexit done”. There are just four weeks until the transition period ends, yet still no sign of a deal.

But, as Williamson said: “That doesn’t surprise me at all because we’re a much better country than every single one of them.”

International comparison

Williamson’s statement that basically, “we’re better than everyone” because “we’re getting the vaccine first” came on the day the UK became the first European country to record 60,000 deaths from coronavirus.

It begs the question: how great is Britain when compared to “everyone” else?

India has recorded 140,000 deaths from coronavirus – 2.33 times as many as the UK’s 60,000.

India’s population (almost 1.4 billion) is more than 20 times bigger than the UK’s (68 million).

Thailand’s population, at over 69 million is similar in size to the UK’s yet Thailand has recorded a total of just 60 deaths – 1,000 times less than the UK. The World Health Organisation reports there “have been 4,026 confirmed cases” of Covid 19 in Thailand from January 3 up to today (December 3).

The UK government reports today there has been 16,170 new cases in the last 24 hours alone. The total of confirmed cases in the UK from January 3 to December 3 is 1,659,260, more than 400 times more than Thailand.

The US population is almost 332 million, 4.8 times bigger than the UK’s. Donald Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus is an acknowledged disaster, yet the US total of 268,482 deaths equates to 4.47 times more than the UK.

Meaning Trump’s handling of the pandemic – in the harshest terms of death per capita – is actually better than Johnson’s.

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