Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Hysteria! President Bush's Visit Has Been Turned from a State Welcome into a State of Paranoia

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Hysteria! President Bush's Visit Has Been Turned from a State Welcome into a State of Paranoia

Article excerpt

Byline: SIMON JENKINS

I TRIED, reader, I tried. I went to The Mall to wave my flag in support of the ties that bind the British and American peoples.

Politics is not the issue. I like to think that London can roll out the red carpet for any distinguished guest. That is what great cities do.

Fat chance. There was not a Stars and Stripes on view or on sale in the streets of St James's. No children had been given the day off school to cheer. The sparse onlookers in The Mall were for most of its length outnumbered by police, their garish yellow jackets sullying the soft autumn shades of the park. This was not a state welcome but a state of paranoia. It was total surrender to every protester and nutcase in town.

We have gone mad. The Daily Mirror puts a man inside Buckingham Palace and The Times puts a woman in an agitprop cell in the East End.

(Surely it should be the other way round.) A state visit is supposedly a celebration. The ties that bind London and New York, Britain and America, are close and lend themselves to celebration. Yet we have had none of the usual jollities that accompany such occasions, no week of American music, no expatriates' gatherings, no American wine and food at West End restaurants.

This is not because London cannot do such things but because London has been frightened off them.

Instead we have the absurdity of a "welcome" just for television in a Walt Disney medieval grandstand in the courtyard of Buckingham Palace, where the Queen and President had already spent the night. The two heads of state had to drive from the back to front of the Palace to pretend they were greeting and being greeted. Mr Bush was hardly allowed to breathe fresh air.

These occasions have become pointless. They put welcome at a discount and offer massive publicity to dissent. Londoners can express no pleasure at George and Laura Bush's presence because they never see them.

Mr Bush might as well have driven to the British Embassy in Washington's Massachussetts Avenue, with the Queen flown over to receive him.

Instead, every item of news, every ear and every eye is focused on "security scandal, threat, menace, danger".

AL Qaeda does not have to blow up a car. Anti- war protestors do not have to wave banners or charge police lines. They can win acres of publicity and put London on a war footing through the fact of Mr Bush's arrival.

They have been allowed to turn what should be a happy event into a festival of anti-Americanism.

On Tuesday night I drove past Buckingham Palace in a taxi and counted more than 100 police milling round outside. Inside, the Daily Mirror had already mocked their presence by the simplest strategem. Never was the thesis more blatant that massive security is no substitute for intelligent security.

What these police were doing is a mystery. …

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