Master U.S. And Poodle U.K.?
February 1, 2002 1:52 AM   Subscribe

Master U.S. And Poodle U.K.? On the right and the left, a lot of Brits seem to be questioning what they see as the UK's increasingly subservient attitude towards the U.S. Has something changed in the once proud British character or, as Nick Cohen argues in today's New Statesman, is it all just politics?
posted by MiguelCardoso (13 comments total)
It's just politics.
posted by nedrichards at 2:03 AM on February 1, 2002

The New Statesman is left-wing. Is anyone in the spectrum from Blair rightwards questioning the UK's attitude towards America? I'm not following UK politics, but it certainly used to be the case that pro-American policies were a right-wing thing (that Blair - along with other ideas - took over). Remember the Thatcher/Reagan Gone With the Wind poster?

And is it increasing? I thought we'd always (last ten, twenty years) been their lapdog.

And do other countries get something in return? What did Argentina get, exactly?
posted by andrew cooke at 4:27 AM on February 1, 2002

I'm reminded of 51st State of America by New Model Army. Not that our "special relationship" particularly bothers me. It's a cracking song though.
posted by walrus at 4:34 AM on February 1, 2002

British foreign policy after 11 September was meant to change America - to turn the Bush administration into European social democrats, or at least Christian democrats - by persuading Bush to accept that only co-operation and efforts to alleviate poverty could reduce the threat of Muslim fanaticism.

Ok, I don't think Tony Blair was ever stupid enough to believe something remotely resembling that. If anything, this whole situation has shown England (and Europe) that the fingerwag doesn't work (not that it ever has). Tony's a smart guy (smarter than Dubya in my opinion) and he knows that America and England are buds, but he knows which one of us is the big dawg - as in who's policy zooms who...
posted by owillis at 4:36 AM on February 1, 2002

I think the British (thats British, not just English Oliver!) feel closer to America than we do the rest of Europe, something which I feel means we lose out on both sides of the Atlantic. We should, geographically speaking be European, but we(and by we I am making a gross generalisation) don't trust our European neighbours. We feel somehow that they could be self-serving and that somehow that they don't quite follow the rules (qv. the tabloid press' constant reporting of 'loony European' directives on banana sizes etc.)
America however has the same language and many of the same values as the UK, they're the best friend we want, the one with the money and power. We'll play with the Europeans but we're awestruck by the US - Thatcher was and now Blair seems to be. They have the world standing we had 100 years ago so they must be cool.
The US view seems to be that we can hang around as long as we don't get in the way or intefere. What amazes me is how my government, for so many years has been quite happy to do this.
posted by Markb at 5:55 AM on February 1, 2002

andrew cooke, good question -- and I think the answer is Yes, there have been demurrals from the British right in places like the Torygraph, bristling with indignation over a diminished sense of sovereignty. But those voices, like the isolationist Republican right in the US, though distinct, are few are far between.

Apart from a few independent howls from Jack Straw on the detainee issue, also, the British government has remained remarkably consistent, underlining what owillis said. Blair was never that idealistic (the British left treats him like the American left treated Clinton -- with barely concealed contempt). Most of these objections have come from the loud, shrill chattering class at the Guardependemirror press outlets, from Robert Fisk to John Pilger. They're loud, they have a platform, but even the left-sympathetic man on the street isn't listening to them much, judging by the polls.

Though this is Ireland, and the lefty target is Mary Robinson (Irish-born UN human rights official), the sentiment in this letter to the Irish Times probably represents much of British opinion -- again, judging by the poll numbers. There's some choice invective in this example (e.g. Robinson, the "patronising saint of the Irish secular left").
posted by dhartung at 6:19 AM on February 1, 2002

Speak for yourself MarkB. Compared to continental Europe, the only thing we have in common with the USA is the language. In terms of politics, attitude and general preferences, my experiences are that we are much more closely European.
posted by salmacis at 9:12 AM on February 1, 2002

America is attempting to be the imperialist force that Britain once was. And it appears to be taking over from the UK as the world's biggest arms seller. Meanwhile on Metafilter I spotted a user comment along the lines of "Iran and Iraq are next for the Afghanistan treatment - and the quicker the better."

Early after September 11th George Bush seemed to be fairly laissez-faire about international co-operation but Tony Blair was full of his "shoulder to shoulder with the USA" talk. Many people in Britain are very uncomfortable with American actions, particular ongoing bombing in Iraq and Afghanistan and the question over the Cuba prisoners of war. But Mr. Blair has done little to change his image as a US Government crony; in fact his endless globetrotting is starting to become a real irritant here in the UK.
posted by skylar at 9:15 AM on February 1, 2002


Most of these objections have come from the loud, shrill chattering class at the Guardependemirror press outlets, from Robert Fisk to John Pilger. They're loud, they have a platform, but even the left-sympathetic man on the street isn't listening to them much, judging by the polls.

First thing: your characterisation of discomfort with the civil-rights aspects of this as a niche, left-wing opinion is a misrepresentation, and I think lazy. Smearing them with labels like "shrill, chattering classes" just compounds the crime.

Onto specifics, I don't really see your point in your post. On the one hand you describe protests as extreme-left and extreme-right opinion, on the other the platform that you give for them includes the first, third and fourth largest daily broadsheets, and the second largest daily tabloid newspaper. Hardly a niche platform by any perspective. As it happens, critical coverage has been even more widespread, including The Sun (the highest circulation daily tabloid in the UK, and purported opinion leader for "the man on the street").

It's also very easy to overstate the impact of traditional print media here. The fact remains that even The Sun reaches at best 10% of the population of the country, and that people get their news from TV and radio more and more as time passes. TV news in particular offers very little direct opinion in the UK, and 'talk radio' has never taken off to anything like the extent it has in the US. A picture is worth a thousand words, as the images of celebrating Palestinians post-September 11th have demonstrated. Facing facts, pictures of prisoners with bags over their heads, accompanied with the report that "the US has been accused of ignoring the Geneva Convention" (which is a not-particularly-curtailed caricature of how TV news has reported this) has little chance of coming across in favour of the US to an uninformed Joe Public, in a country with much less of an emotional stake in the situation.

I struggle to see your point regarding polls, could you clarify what you mean when you mention them? Do you mean government satisfaction/intention to vote/opinion polls? If so, then I think you seriously overestimate the short-term effect that Guatanamo Bay could possibly have on the UK political scene - it certainly couldn't significantly impact satisfaction levels for the government, which has made appropriate noises to mollify both sides. As always, the economy and public service provision continue to dominate the news, and people's discussions. Foreign policy hasn't been sexy here for 50 years.

My gut reaction is that Guatanamo Bay can only continue to contribute to an man-on-the-street impression of the US government as unilateralist in outlook, and possessed of double standards (the case of John Walker Lindh's domestic trial, compared to the likely military tribunal for British detainees has been put across in just such a way). The wide characterisation of the "special relationship" as "all give, no get", which started with Fylingdale, and continued through Kyoto cannot help matters. Any grass-roots dissatisfaction is much more likely to come through in government (and opposition) policy over the long term via the feedback of voters through focus groups. Having said that, if you have a poll that proves your point, for either the UK or Ireland, then I'd be really interested to see it.

A final point, my feeling has always been that the warm UK outlook towards the US is not just due to cultural similarities, but is a counterweight to dislike of the alternative - Europe. The reasons as noted before in this thread are also cultural, but also rooted in the inevitable teething problems of the EU. I tend to see this as a fine balance, and one that is already perceptibly shifting towards a pro-European angle (as demonstrated by polls that show increasing acceptance of monetary union). Right now, I can only see this trend continuing.
posted by bifter at 9:56 AM on February 1, 2002

PS Yikes! Really long post... sorry...
posted by bifter at 9:56 AM on February 1, 2002

...but a good one. Good comment, bifter.
posted by salmacis at 12:06 PM on February 1, 2002

Tony Blair, in common with most British Prime Ministers since the war, overestimates the importance of Britain's role on the international scene, and the importance of the international scene in his own job.

But more importantly, I think, gadding about the world on 'statesmanlike' jollies is an uncontestably convenient way of avoiding getting to grips with such dull issues as our cratering transport infrastructure, an assortment of Public Servants who can't seem to come to work for more than 4 days in a row without going on the sick, and a toxic National Health service.

I think the man is bored. I think the jangling from his exquisitely tuned domestic political antennae have paralysed him into terminal procrastination. And I think he's looking to get his CV in really good shape for the real job. Don't think 'politics' : think 'career move'.
posted by RichLyon at 2:27 PM on February 1, 2002

I agree in some places Rich. He's definitely setting himself up for a very high profile 'statesman' position... President of a Federal Europe perhaps? I disagree on one thing though - I really don't believe that anyone involved in the UK political scene harbours any illusions about the international power and influence of the UK, but rather they all play to the patriotic gallery as best they can. Talk is cheap, and it's a good way to develop and further their own interests and careers.
posted by bifter at 3:01 PM on February 1, 2002

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