In June 2016 Simon Anholt is launching Global Vote. Starting with the Icelandic Presidential Elections and the UK’s EU membership referendum at the end of this month, Global Vote will be offering an election every few weeks on www.globalvote.org (and yes, this includes the US Presidential Election in November). You just review the candidates and vote.
“We tried it your way, and it didn’t work. Let’s try something new.”
Simon Anholt helps national, regional and city governments earn better reputations — not by launching advertising or PR campaigns, but by changing the way they behave.
How would you define yourself? Are you a politologist?
I am not a politologist. I am not happy just to study things, I want to change things. I like research, evidence, clear thinking, but I want it to produce a real result in the real world.
And so, what do you do?
At the moment I am trying to start a global movement. I don’t call it a movement in public because that sounds pretentious, I call it a party, the Good Country party. So, people are free to interpret that word party as they prefer.
What is the Good Country party about?
Two things. The first thing is to create a space where everybody in the world who cares about the future of humanity and the future of the planet can gather together. And such a thing does not really exist. It seems odd.
How can a party be external to a specific nationality? What does it mean?
If you define a party as a group of people who stand for election then it is not a party. If you define it as a group of people with a common philosophy, and a common worldview, then in that sense it is a party.
So what do you do?
The second purpose is to try to change the culture of government worldwide. Traditionally governments have a simple mandate. They represent the interests of their own population and their own territory. My view is that today this is leading us to disaster.
Because it means that all countries are in competition against each other.
Was it not always like that?
Yes, that’s the problem. Today we live in the age of globalisation and our problems are not national, they are global.
How can you cancel history? Look how difficult it is to create a political European consensus.
Difficult, but not impossible. I don’t think you can cancel history, but the future does not have to be the same as the past. You see the government of Matteo Renzi in Italy and Angela Merkel in Germany can’t fix the global crisis and ensure stability. The government of Mexico cannot fix narcotrafficking. The European Union can’t fix migration or poverty. America can’t fix terrorism or climate change. We must collaborate more and compete less.
If we think about the ISIS movement and the politics of Mr Putin this does not seem to be the trend nowadays?
I agree, that’s what I am trying to change.
Yes, but how?
I believe that at least 10% of the world’s population and possibly much more would prefer to live in a good country than a competitive country.
Which for instance are good countries today?
According to the Good Country Index the country that does the most international good relative to the size of its economy is Ireland. That’s based on 2010 data.
How do you mean that? What are your parameters of measurement?
I use 35 indicators, mainly from the United Nations, which measure the contributions, both positive and negative, which each country makes outside its own borders. So these are contributions which include aid, culture, knowledge, peace and security, health and wellbeing and so forth. So, for example, if a country is responsible for killing people outside its own borders it loses points on the index.
But today political campaign debate is mostly about the economy and taxes?
Yes, and this is part of the reason people are voting less and less.
What do you think about the troublesome Greek situation?
Of course taxes and the economy are important. But I think that the world we live in, the future security of humanity, the health of the climate, global poverty and inequality, these are all important too. And personally I want to vote for a government that considers all of these things, both domestically and internationally. I think that the last two governments of Greece appear to be examples of the opposite extremes. The government of Antonis Samaras was internationally minded, collaborative and constructive. But the current government under Alexis Tsipras is the opposite, exceptionalist, nationalistic and lonely, increasingly marginalised.
So who is listening to you?
The video of my TED talk last year in June has had nearly 2 million views. 50,000 people have already joined the Good Country party this year. This is on a promotional budget of zero. So with some funding I confidently expect 700 million members. That’s the 10% of the world’s population I mentioned before.
You also advise governments. Which ones?
53 so far, all over the world, from very rich to very poor and very large to very small. If you want extreme examples, as big as Mexico down to the Faroe Islands, population 50,000; from Austria to Sierra Leone.
What do you advise them? Is it the same for all?
It all comes under the general heading of engagement, helping countries to collaborate more effectively with other countries and the international community.
What about an old and common disease called war?
I think that war is another consequence of the old style of competitive governance, my nation against your nation. And we must move beyond that.
Israel and Palestine. The situation in the Middle East. Africa. Ukraine, you name it?
It’s a mess, but what do you do? Give up? No, you mustn’t give up. You search for areas where improvement is possible and you do what you can. But for me, the reason I am hopeful is because of the 10%. This was the result of a simple piece of research that I carried out last year using data from the World Values Survey which clearly shows that 700 million people agree with me.
But they are not united. They are atomised, fragmented, all over the world. L’union fait la force. 700 million working together could be a very, very powerful instrument for change.
How do you put them together?
Because they already agree with me it’s quite simple. I only need to tell them that the Good Country Party exists, and they want to join.
Are you a Utopist?
No, I have faith in human nature.
You have said that the only global superpower is public opinion?
Yes. I think that all the problems in the world were caused by humanity and the only instrument we have which is powerful enough to deal with those problems is humanity itself. That’s the superpower.
What are you doing? What’s your platform?
I am trying to find platforms, to find ways of reaching the 700 million.
How do you do it?
I think I need the right partners, organisations with compatible views, that already speak to many people. That could be governments, charities, corporations. I need to find speaking engagements with big audiences so I can talk directly to people. TED was very effective for example, TV, newspapers, social media.
Are the political parties in England or abroad talking to you?
Left or right?
From all sides of the spectrum. For example, I have been speaking to a new political party in Denmark called Alternativet, which means The Alternative, whose approach is 100% compatible with mine. One of their slogans is that Denmark is the best country for the world. Not the best country in the world. Which I find beautiful.
What about the boat people, the millions of migrants and refugees in the world?
When things work in the area of immigration it is when we collaborate most fully and most imaginatively. When we fail, as we are failing at the moment, it’s because of inefficient and unimaginative collaboration.
In today’s world there are more and more discrepancies between very poor and very rich. Is this one of your concerns?
Of course. But I find many of the remedies being proposed are very old fashioned, based on 19th Century charity, the idea that the only kind of wealth that matters is monetary wealth and all that wealth is north of the equator, so we simply have to transfer enough dollars from the north to the south and the problem will be resolved.
Everything seems very simple from your words, but for the moment that’s not the case?
You know, in an interview like this we can only talk about fundamental principles, that’s all we have time for, and fundamental principles should be simple. Of course, the execution of those principles is a much more complex and messy business, but it’s a different kind of conversation. For example, we spoke about migration, and I mentioned the importance of imaginative collaboration. That took me two seconds to say, but we would need at least two days to explore what that means in practice.
How do you see the future?
Exciting. Humanity has a noble tradition of rising to great challenges. We are living in an age of great challenges. So I am expecting wonderful things, and already seeing them everywhere. The majority perhaps want to be separatist, the minority has never organised itself sufficiently.
Apparently people are not at peace, riots in America, wars everywhere, separatist parties having more and more appeal, nationalistic ideas being more and more successful?
Nationalism always increases when there is economic hardship. Whenever people are facing economic stress, that always creates an opportunity for nationalists and racists to gain popular support by blaming the outsider. This tendency will never go away. Generally, as soon as things improve, these parties fall from favour, partly because they usually lack administrative capability. Of course, we must never be complacent or forget the lessons of history, but nationalist politics is a symptom, not a cause.
Some people say if you want to change the world, first you must change yourself?
I have changed my career. For 15 years I had a very successful business, essentially helping nations to be more competitive and I feel that this was a mistake, which is why I changed my job.
What bought you to that realisation?
It was often the same evidence. I would be returning from another country where I had been helping the government improve its trade or its security or some purely domestic issue and then I’d read the newspaper on the plane on my way home about people starving and the planet and people killing each other and I thought, I’m part of the problem.
05 May 2015