Portland has just published its 2018 Soft Power 30 index, which puts the UK at the top of the list - the first time the country has been so since the initial list in 2015.
Yet with Brexit consuming all diplomatic and political bandwidth, how did the researchers come up with this result? Fair question, Portland admits, "the result is a surprising one." They give three reasons.
First, the UK remains a fully paid up member of the EU – at least until 29 March 2019. As a result, nothing has changed for the UK as objectively measured by the index. Second, despite the chaotic politics and uncertainty around Brexit, the UK maintains an incredibly well-balanced set of soft power assets – many of which exist outside the control of government. Culture, Digital, and Education are all areas where the UK enjoys considerable stores of soft power and will continue to do so with or without Brexit. Finally, global public opinion of the UK has stabilised. The UK’s polling performance is still worse than pre-Brexit vote highs of 2016, but it is in a better place than last year.
The report says that 2019 will be "a make or break year for the UK’s soft power," but while that may prove to be the case as far as the UK's ranking in this report is concerned, it sounds a tad exaggerated when you consider Britain's strengths.
The UK’s objective soft power assets are the foundation of its continued success. Once again across the Engagement, Culture, Education and Digital sub-indices, Britain ranks highly. State institutions such as the British Council and BBC World Service, combined with internationally recognised brands like the Premier League provide the global reach and influence to reach and engage global audiences. The UK’s creative, cultural, financial and technology sectors keep the world interested in what is happening in Britain. Moreover, the UK is home to some of the world’s most successful higher education institutions that attract students and academics from across the globe.
Portland reckon that Brexit uncertainty has thrown many of these strengths into jeopardy. "Will international students still want to come to the UK? Will London hold its dominant position as a leading financial and professional services hub?" In addition, the UK still has a lot to do to compete with Singapore or Switzerland for business friendliness. In the category of "Government" - which scores countries on their "commitment to freedom, human rights, and democracy, and the quality of political institutions" - the UK is ranked a lowly 11th (its worst position); "but with Brexit eating Whitehall’s bandwidth, it is hard to see that improving next year."
"While striking out alone in the current geopolitical context looks exceedingly risky, the UK has the resources, global connections and infrastructure to make a success of it," conclude Portland. "To do so will require a positive and inclusive narrative to take to the rest of the world and the right structural policies to keep Britain attractive for foreign investors, tourists and students." As part of that narrative, Portland cite the "world-leading GREAT campaign." Next year, we will have to get World Class Britain cited as well.
Here's the link to the Soft Power 30.