Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

A Political Hot Potato

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 26th April, 2007

us-flag.jpgAs a change from the now commonplace (though often delightful) Pizza and Politics, Hackney LibDems hosted a ‘Political Hot Potato’ this evening, at which I led a lively discussion on the topic “America: Friend or Foe?”. For a long time now, the British have had a love-hate relationship with the United States, which is not surprising, considering the history. (Incidentally, I’d love to be a fly on the wall of the bedroom of the Queen as she tours the Land of the Free.) Oscar Wilde famously said that the British and the Americans are two people divided by a common language, but it is true that we are completely different in character and in our attitudes. Think championing the right to gun ownership, saluting the flag, and believing that your country knows better than anyone else in the world, and you’ll see what I mean. The thing is, we can criticise the US from experience. We’ve been there, done that, worn the imperialist T-shirt — a century or so ago. We were too big for our boots and subsequently got some nasty shocks, but I believe we are a better nation for it. So we can see what the USA has coming. And I have no doubt (as several people at the Hot Potato themselves averred) that America is starting on an inevitable slide down in global terms, economically and politically. One just hopes that George W Bush doesn’t decide to bomb Iran as his (and his country’s) swansong.

One problem is that talk of this kind quickly leads to one’s being branded ‘anti-American’ — and that is not a stance that I espouse. What we have to recognise, nonetheless, is that there is no special relationship between the US and Britain (in fact, the Americans never believed there was; they don’t have permanent allies, they have interests). However, Tony Blair’s slavish following of Washington’s lead (re Iraq, last summer’s battering of Lebanon, etc) has done colossal damage to Britain’s standing in the world, by no means only among Arabs. We need to redefine our relationship with America, not as a foe, certainly, but as a critical friend. We need to fortify our links with the other members of the European Union, strengthening the EU in the process, making it a powerful force for good on the international stage. New Labour isn’t going to do that, even with wee Gordie at the helm. Nor will the Cameroons, despite young David’s recent statements about redefining the trans-Atlantic Alliance. Only the Liberal Democrats can stand up honestly and give this country the correctly-oriented and openly stated moral and multilatalist foreign policy that this country needs. Over to you, Messrs Campbell and Moore.



4 Responses to “A Political Hot Potato”

  1. I was planning to come tonight, but the large fire that disrupted south London trains made me go for safety and come home. I agree on what you say about america. I have always had an issue with the lack of a non imperialistic view by america, and lack of any concept of the world outside of their state, let alone the states, by many americans. This really doesn’t fit squarely with the far greater international knowledge by the residents of our little island, even the “little englanders”. I sometimes feel myself going a bit anti-american, but it is in reaction to american conservatism. We must redefine our relationship, especially if and when a Democrat is in the White House, and of course strenghthen our links with our european partners.

  2. I’m not so sure the US is imperialistic in the way Britain was. The neo-cons are basically liberal imperialists of course, seeking to spread freedom through the sword – something I thought Britain had learned in the past.

    Gun ownership has nothing to do with imperialism, it is to do with individualism and is a distinct trait of US liberalism stemming from the birth of the country. It is about empowering the individual and ensuring the state and the masses do not impinge upon personal freedom.

    The US was the first liberal deliberately liberal country in the world. It has had flaws (slavery, the lack of civil rights for minorities, the treatment of the Indians, the Spanish American war, the imperialism it engaged in after that in the Phillipines and Hawaii etc) it has done an enourmous amount of good as well though.

    Rational criticism of the current government is good and necessary, this does however descend into puerile, anti-American, anti-capitalist and ultimately anti-liberal rantings in too many cases…

    America’s greatest problem at the moment is that both its major parties are anti-liberal in one way or another. The Federal Government has been engaged in a centralisation of power ever since its inception and that’s a power grab which accelerated before the depression and has become even faster ever since (except perhaps for a brief respite under Reagan, and a smaller one under Clinton – although both of them caused problems of their own…)

    America is a friend, but like all friends it can lead us astray. We need the courage of our convictions to criticise the US when its needed (and sadly it is needed a lot) but also to praise it when good things are done in its name (as has happened today with the protest over the abandonment of the corruption investigation).

    We should also resist the temptation of identifying the US as simply being the actions of those in Washington and the few high profile and unusual events which get reported over here.

    We should also remember that the US is very different from Europe. It has a very different ethos in many places.

    Like all countries the US has many flaws, but ultimately, it is currently one of the greatest opportunities for a liberal world – if its politicians can turn away from the protectionist, nationalistic view which is currently fashionable in both parties.

  3. Sheila said

    Why do we all get so uptight at the idea of being branded Anti-American? I’m not a US citizen, so I don’t have to love the country out of patriotism, and I believe that US foreign policy has done great harm in Central and South America. If that makes me Anti-American, then send me the T-shirt and I’ll put it on…..

  4. Alex Feakes said

    It’s because being branded Anti-American has all sorts of associations with narrow thinking left wing political groups, who all too often take an almost ‘America’s enemy is my friend’ approach to global politics, which leaves them in some unsavoury company.

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