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The Tories and the Special Relationship

Donald_Trump_by_Gage_Skidmore_4Stoke-on-Trent might be the centre of the political universe, but that isn’t to say tumultuous events don’t take place outwith the gilded city limits. And while by-election fever and an altogether unpleasant illness have gripped me, Donald Trump marked his first week in the Oval Office by unleashing a hurricane-level shit storm. His “temporary” travel ban on people born in seven Muslim countries where Trump happens to have no business interests drew near unanimous condemnation. And yet he found backing from Boris Johnson in the Commons this afternoon. The foreign secretary said this isn’t as bad as his pledges on the campaign trail and that means his bark is worse than his bite, and so we should be thankful. Just how we should thank racists for firebombing one Mosque as opposed to two, or the EDL for beating up an Asian kid instead of tearing up a town centre. May is no better. Her craven performance as the first overseas courtier to meet the new president was, remarkably, regarded as something of a coup across the official commentariat and established media. How fast things change. Dismissing Trump’s travel ban merely as a “matter for the Americans” speaks for the moral vacuity at the heart of her project.

The right’s counter argument invokes that misused and knackered old beast, the “special relationship”. The Churchill bust is back, Trump went out of his way to woo “his Maggie”, he promised the UK would be at “the front of the queue” for a trade deal post-Brexit, and he even allowed the Prime Minister to take his dainty hand and guide him down a wee incline. We must therefore seize this moment and stay as close to this well-disposed president as possible. To utter the slightest criticism puts his Anglophilia at risk. None of this should come as any surprise, the Tories are well practiced at sucking up to worse people than Trump. The legacy of appeasement runs deep.

The Tory understanding of the special relationship comes from the overdue sunset on the British empire. As anyone conversant with any half-decent analysis of global geopolitics will tell you, Churchill (himself half-American) worked to get the United States involved in the war against Nazi Germany and then to step up to the plate as the guardian of the liberal capitalist order. Exhausted, as Britain withdrew from its colonies the US became the anti-communist bulwark old Winston always wanted it to be. Never mind that it subverted democracies, destroyed popular movements, and installed and supported dictators wherever it saw fit, little Britain was there by its side, sharing intelligence and providing fig leafs. Britain may have its own bomb and advanced military capabilities, but in a world inhabited first by the Soviet Union, and now a resurgent China it only “punches above its weight” by virtue of its being the herald for United States interests. They can never really admit it, but the Tories know well this is the case. Hence why they weren’t fans of Obama nor Hillary Clinton who, for their part, viewed the special relationship with some distaste. Why not hang around with interesting folks like Angela Merkel’s Germany instead of a ceremonial hangover as obscure and puzzling as parliamentary protocols are to most normal people. It’s also why the Tories had no problem with Blair getting his thing on with Dubya. He understood Britain’s proper place, and that was in America’s lap. And why almost every single Conservative MP happily walked through the lobby in support of the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq.

The character of the special relationship May has planned for Britain post-Brexit will see America and Britain become even closer. Already we have one of the most open economies in the world. Open for businesses from anywhere to swoop in and make a killing on the property market, take advantage of our anti-worker legislation to lock millions into poorly paid, insecure employment, and snap up strategic industries without even a shrug of the government’s shoulders. A trade deal with Trump’s America would exacerbate the situation. As we export more than what we import from the US, because their economy is over six times the size of our own, and as we’ll be desperate for a deal if May follows through with her wrexit promise, Britain is going to be in a weak negotiating position. And that means two things, because this was what the Americans were pressing for under the aborted TTIP negotiations under Trump’s liberal hero predecessor. A diminution of food standards so the Americans can freely sell all kinds of hormone injected meat and dairy without labelling, and opening more of the state up to private capital – including the NHS. A handshake greased with the slick of billions of tax monies heading for the coffers of American insurance companies. All presided over by secret corporate courts in which businesses can sue the government if they take action that threatens profitable returns on investments. Talk about sovereignty. Talking about taking back control.

That isn’t to say the special relationship is a fiction, it is real. American culture is global culture, and because of the shared language Britain binges on their cultural produce like no other. But it is not a one-way street. British cultural exports and talent find ready audiences over there as well. The numbers of British actors, directors and producers, and video game developers that participate in the shaping of how America sees itself is surprising. And that’s without acknowledging the roots burrowed under the ocean bed that link the two nations to the point where an understanding of the national character of each is impossible without reference to the other. And like all relationships, there’s some give and some take. When Obama came to London and said no special favours for the UK post-Brexit, that didn’t scare leave-minded voters – it motivated them to say up yours, a bloody sod you then. It firmed up the Brexit camp because, despite the special relationship, the then president was totally uninterested in the give. When May has gone through years of the weekly humiliation of soft soaping, white washing, and spinning for Trump, when her appeasement starts costing Britain friends and trade, and when finally she goes cap in hand to the White House for a trade deal, May will be doing the giving and Trump the taking. And all in full public view. The special relationship is tilting toward appeasement, how long before it becomes supplication?


  1. Just for the sake of argument let’s say that there was a good reason for not allowing immigration or tourism from these seven Muslim countries because of security concerns.

    Why on earth would there not be an eighth in Saudi Arabia which surely has exported more extreme Islam than any other country through its Wahabi version of that religion. Looks like not much change in the US Middle East policy being grounded in support for Saudi and Israel.

  2. David Pavett says:

    Phil B-C says that Boris Johnson gave support to Trump’s travel ban. In reality Johnson said that the ban is “divisive and wrong” and that he shared the “disquiet” of MPs who had spoken against the ban. Does it matter if our criticism of such an objectionable figure as Johnson are wildly inaccurate so long as they are aimed at someone we dislike and disagree with? Yes, it matters a lot – if we want others to think we are worth listening to.

    That is not the only problem with the rambling rhetoric of this article. Phil also seems to have a problem with basic quantification (I have noted this previously). Thus he says

    … we export more than what we import from the US, because their economy is over six times the size of our own …

    No Phil, that is not the way it works. We may export more than we import from the US but if so it is not for that reason. It clearly could not be for that reason. If it were a reason then every country in the world would be exporting more than it imports since the economy of the rest of the world is always bigger than any given national economy. (Besides, Phil could hardly have failed to notices that we have a very large trade imbalance with China in the opposite direction.) This is the reductio ad absurdum of Phil’s reasoning. Whichever way you cut it this logic just doesn’t work.

    The underlying problem of this piece is its generalised off the shelf rhetoric which can be pulled out at any time without any effort of analysis. It is not that I cannot find any agreement with all those general points e.g. about Britain’s subservience to the US. It is rather that the mere repetition of such things without some fresh illustration drawn from the chosen issue turns them into dull rhetoric instead of keeping them alive with new angles.

    I don’t understand why Left Futures prints quite so many pieces like this from Phil B-C. Some of his pieces are worthwhile but others seem to result from an imperative to write and publish come what may. Is this not a case of “less can be more”?

    1. John Penney says:

      All four of Phil B-C’s latest articles have been utterly dire. They have had no analytical content at all of any merit. And in the case of the three on the Stoke Central situation, laughably complacent and keen to provide “cover” for Labour’s locally disastrously Austerity-implementing record , and the toxic Right Wing nature of Snell as a blatently “shoed-in” Labour Candidate choice of the still deeply embedded Labour Right in the area.

      Phil occasionally writes a useful article, but it is perfectly clear that he is primarily concerned, with his large output of low quality articles, to maintain his blogosphere profile as some sort of “Leftie” in line with this longer term ambition to be an MP. (Which he modestly thinks “he would be rather good at” ).

      A bit more quality control of Phil’s over-frequent submissions required methinks.

  3. John Walsh says:

    I see P B-C’s articles as a form of fake news, part of our post-truth culture.

    Rather than just being about blatant lies from Trump, May or the Daily Mail, ‘fake news’ can be thought to also include, for example, the BBC’s editorial decisions where pictures of cute cats are more important than content about the effects of austerity, the witless sharing of years-old news stories by uncritical social media users and, importantly, the witless ‘liking’ of such stories. As such, fake news isn’t just about content producers, it’s a thoroughly enmeshed part of our cultural moment. And like it or not, P B-C is pandering to that moment.

    As John Penney notes, that pandering is also to the blogosphere, itself now, for the most part, hostage to the whims of social media ‘truth’ fashions. Witness Paul Mason’s rambling Mosquito Ridge, a strange see-saw mix of well thought through and utter nonsense writings. In fact, Mason’s style could usefully be described as ‘social media twaddle’, a form of modern toss which has no need for coherence or consistency – very few people actually read it, they just ‘share’ it on Facebook with a ‘this is great’ which prompts ‘likes’ from users further down social media’s rigid hierarchy.

    The point here, for this website, is that P B-C’s ‘interminable anecdotes’, the ‘laughably complacent’ ‘dull rhetoric’ is pitch perfect for the hordes of Momentum Facebook Snowflakes envisaged by Lansman’s notion of a ‘movement’. In a sense, the recent, very public Momentum kafuffle between clicktivists and activists is here being played out between P B-C and the likes of JP and DP. And like the Momentum spat – because of ownership – here on Left Futures P B-C will always be favoured, as demonstrated by the volume of his modern toss published.

  4. Bazza says:

    Excellent piece by George Mombiet in The Guardian (3/2/17) about the Dark Forces behind Trump – Corporate US and in particular the Heritage Foundation who have really written Trump’s scripts!
    Perhaps we need to start attacking the source and deny the ego of the actor?
    It is the working billions of the World who really create the wealth and make societies work.
    Perhaps we need left wing, bottom up, participatory, democratic socialist forces in every country in the World to speak WITH us.
    Yours in peace & international solidarity!

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