“Each stage of the crisis has been characterized by the idea that Britain is a special case,” Mr Sanghera wrote.
This has been special, and sometimes for the best reasons. When the vaccines debuted in the United States, millions of people researched them online. In Britain, the vaccine drove you away. One day a notification appeared on your phone, from the National Health Service, asking which day and which vaccination center was suitable. The whole process was easier than buying an iPad online.
But England were often special in the worst way. During times of the pandemic, it had the highest death rate in Europe. In March 2020, when Mr Johnson contracted Covid after appearing to defy recommended precautions, The Irish Times described Mr Johnson’s leadership as “another example of British exceptionalism backfiring in a big way, some might say, and a bad omen for Brexit, the UK’s other social distancing project.
To date, England’s efforts to prevent Covid-19 deaths have been more effective than those in the United States, on a per capita basis, but lag behind most of Europe. In Germany there were 141 deaths per 100,000, in Spain 197. In England the death rate per capita is 240.
Not the worst and far from the best. Historian and podcaster Dan Snow argues that this show stems from the UK’s faith in the power of vaccines, which goes hand in hand with England’s love for – and gift for creating – game-changing technologies the life.
“The vaccine was a kind of technological optimism, it was the moonshot,” he said. “Like the United States, we are a country open to transformative technologies and that makes sense because that is where the industrial revolution began. We start by playing with looms and textiles and finally there is a man on the moon.
This faith in the power of English minds to get the country out of any mess is a variation on the theme of exceptionalism. In other words, the English are different. To expect them to follow the same path as the rest of Europe is madness.
Or, as Mr Snow put it, “The boring, social-democratic solution of ‘Let’s slow down the transmission, sit apart, don’t do what we want’ – to English ears, it all sounds a bit Dutch.”