in News | 23 JUL 18

UK Leads World In Soft Power According To New Rankings, But Will Brexit Topple It?

‘Should the exit be chaotic, it is hard to see global public opinion remaining buoyant,’ the Soft Power 30 report’s authors warn

in News | 23 JUL 18

Chris Ofili, Union Black, 2003, woven polyester with rope and toggle, 1.3 x 2.7 m. Courtesy: © the artist and Victoria Miro, London

The UK leads this year’s Soft Power 30 rankings, compiled by political consultancy Portland Communications, in partnership with the University of Southern California’s Center on Public Diplomacy. The annual study considers a variety of contributing factors including culture, digital, government and education to evaluate countries’s soft power influence.

The UK’s number one spot this year pushed France into second position (from last year) – they were followed by Germany and the US. Japan came fifth in the rankings, making it the most influential soft power in the Asia Pacific region. The US’s position this year represented a fall (from third to fourth). The report suggested that the nationalist and protectionist policies and rhetoric, under president Donald Trump’s banner of ‘America First’, were having ‘detrimental effects.’

The methodology of the report draws on a mixture of available objective data and international polls across the key indicators. The ‘culture’ sub-index, for instance, is ranked according to data that might include tourism figures, music industry success, or even sporting victories. The report does acknowledge that ‘the subjective nature of soft power makes comparison across all countries difficult.’

Under the culture category, the UK came second, behind the US. The BBC World Service and British Council were singled out as key contributing factors to the country’s successful reach abroad. The authors also highlighted the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle – with nearly two billion people watching it worldwide – as a significant moment for Britain’s brand abroad.

A globally recognized museum sector and thriving music industry also propelled the UK up the rankings. However in the culture category alone, the US’s ability to outperform others came as ‘no surprise’ given the continued weight of Hollywood, as well as new media platforms such as Netflix.

The report was rather wary about the UK’s top placing, saying that it was a ‘surprise’ in the context of the slow progress taken by Brexit negotiations. ‘Should the exit be a chaotic one, it is hard to see global public opinion on the UK remaining buoyant,’ Portland Communications say. 2019 represents ‘a make or break year for the UK’s soft power,’ the report’s authors warn.

Recent reports have highlighted how much the UK’s culture sector has benefited from Creative Europe, the cultural funding body for the EU – 91 organizations were supported with a total of EUR€16.6 million awarded last year alone. Organizations who were helped by Creative Europe funding included Sadler’s Wells, Opera North, Hay Festival of Literature & Arts, and publishing house Fitzcarraldo Editions. Britain’s continuing involvement in the funding programme is unknown post-Brexit.

‘As public funding for the arts continues to fall – and with the budgets of the BBC, British Council, and Arts Council England all under pressure – it is going to prove a real challenge to retain our global influence’, V&A director Tristram Hunt writes in the Soft Power 30 report. ‘Our national museums and cultural institutions are world leaders. But in an ever more mercantilist and zero-sum geopolitical world, we need to develop a new template for a mix of state-led ingenuity, vision, and spirit of collaboration.’

Professor Joseph Nye, who first coined the concept of ‘soft power’ as a way of describing international influence acquired through attraction, not coercion, said that the Soft Power 30 index offers ‘a good picture of how changes in policies, as well as wider emerging global trends are affecting the relative distribution of soft power and comparative ability of countries to attract others.’ Portland Communications was set up in 2001 by a former adviser to the then British prime minister Tony Blair.