Magazine article The Spectator

The Right Turns against America

Magazine article The Spectator

The Right Turns against America

Article excerpt

GEORGE W. Bush won't be surprised to learn that he has won few friends on the British liberal Left. He will have known that balling up the Kyoto protocol on climate change and using it to shoot hoops, basketball-style, into the Oval Office wastepaper basket, was bound to anger the Islington class, even if No. 10 moved fast to stop John Prescott from decking Bush over it during his visit to Washington this week. The President will have expected his warlike noises aimed at China and Russia, along with a deliberate scuppering of the rapprochement between the two Koreas, to win equally few plaudits among those who breakfast on oats and wheatbran. He will lose none of those famously copious hours of sleep over the condemnation of Primrose Hill chatterers, lambasting him for reversing Robin Hood and proposing a $1.6 trillion tax cut which steals from the poor to give to the rich.

If Bush has thought about it all, which is unlikely, he will not be rattled to learn how quickly he has become a hate figure among bien pensants across the globe. He knew that lefties and liberals were always going to despise him wherever they live, from Greenwich to Greenwich Village - and for the same reasons. No matter that a top-ranking Downing Street official has now suggested that the US President has `gone mad' - as one did to me recently - or that a Labour bigwig such as Lord Haskins can go on the radio to demand that Britain refuse even `to engage' with an administration like Bush's. A liberal is a liberal, the Bushies will say with an unworried shrug.

But what troubles the Republican guard rather more is the prospect of a new enemy on the horizon. They are used to anti-Americanism on the Left; but could the Bush era spawn an unexpected cousin, in Britain and beyond - an anti-Americanism on the Right?

So far the line is holding. William Hague's circle insist that they remain `supportive' of the new president, adding that Bush's sales pitch for his tax cut - in which W. introduced himself to Congress as the representative of the overtaxed American citizen, there to demand 'a refund' - is quoted by Conservatives frequently and with admiration. If Tories have been slow to defend Bush from his left-wing attackers, that's only because they've been busy with foot-and-mouth and pre-election preparation, says Team Hague.

But that view doesn't completely convince. For it's quite possible to imagine a change of heart on the British Right, one that might reverse the current predisposition, which leans in favour of the United States and against Europe. The Bush presidency could be the catalyst for that change, exposing not only a deep, if buried, strain of Tory anti-Americanism but also a more profound rift - one that splits conservatism against itself.

For now there are only rumblings. There is the curious fact that the leading antiAmerican voice in Europe today is not the leader of the British Labour party but the Gaullist president of France. It was Jacques Chirac, not Tony Blair nor even Tony Benn, who branded the US a 'hyperpower'. Note, too, the criticism of Bush's Kyoto decision found not only on the Guardian's letters page, but also on Planet Telegraph. The editor of this magazine tells me that when he dared defend W. in his Telegraph column, readers bombarded him with 100 shades of foul-mouthed abuse. They regarded Bush's America as the great Satan ready to breathe ecologically ruinous fire on the planet. These, remember, are not subscribers to Peace News: they are readers of the Daily Telegraph.

Boris Johnson was taken aback, but there is deep logic here. To a certain stripe of oldfashioned Tory, anti-Americanism is the natural, default position. If one's Toryism is rooted in a wistful longing for a better bygone era, then Americans are the obvious target of blame. After all, it was the Yanks who dared push Britain off its top perch in the first half of the last century, then to have the impertinence to force us to give up our empire by stopping our adventure in Suez. …

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