Wednesday, September 29, 2004
Rattlesnake Realism

Niall Ferguson had pitched his flag in Churchillian stance on the cover of this week's Spectator and asked a question that exercises this blog more often than not:

Yet the question that continues to trouble me, 18 months after the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, remains: What was in it for us? To put it more precisely: in what respect, if any, was and is Britain’s support for American policy in our national interest?

Ferguson charts a slavish devotion of the present British administration for the United States, under the guidance of that moral ideologue, Blair, whilst placing it within a larger narrative of a 'special relationship' in decline. The decline of Britain, engineered by the United States, is a high note of nostalgic tragedy, since the 'special relationship' was never closer except when we could rely on the Republic as a trusted sidekick in its own hemisphere. However, his dislike for Blair undermines the historical perspectives, since the relationship between Britain and the United States has proved far more volatile than the article's descriptions

Ferguson stalls after he has set out his brief from the School of Decline, and demonstrates why that group formerly known as the Right remain paralysed when confronting the changes that have taken place since the end of the Cold War. Indeed, you could argue this is the latest example of formerly sound individuals melting into the soft left, and confusing the hell out of the Conservative Party. Are they, aren't they?

Ferguson argues that there are no longer any connections between Britain and the United States, except for the establishment and the elites. Popular attitudes are European, as his stylised family shows:

But it is certainly not true now. Travel to the United States and then to the other European Union states, and you will see: the typical British family looks much more like the typical German family than the typical American family. We eat Italian food. We watch Spanish soccer. We drive German cars. We work Belgian hours. And we buy second homes in France. Above all, we bow before central government as only true Europeans can.

These attitudes (reinforced by the scientific evidence of the poll) are sufficient reason for calling time upon this Alliance. The unspoken conclusion is that our future and our foreign policy should be 'European', a direction that is most comfortably embodied by our Prime Minister.

It is unclear whether Ferguson views this anticipated convergence with Europe as a desirable alternative to the 'special relationship' or as the gloomy final chapter in Britain's long decline. His article does not really suggest that he views the Blairite years as bad for us although the comparison between British and American conservatism naturally favours the latter.

This is just part of a fundamental divergence in popular culture which increasingly makes a nonsense of the special relationship. Combining as it does religious fundamentalism, economic individualism and red-blooded patriotism, the American conservatism so vividly described by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge in their book The Right Nation simply has no counterpart in this country. British Tories are a beleaguered minority, vainly trying to preserve a few picturesque pastimes and landscapes from the depredations of New Labour’s corrupt and cynical party apparat.

Ferguson's manufactured controversy is cynical. No debate is stimulated and he proves unable to provide an alternative. His article will provide succour for those on the soft left who masquerade as Tories and argue that accommodation (read submersion) within Europe is providential; as they try to win an election on the platform of Blairism without Blair.

There are two morals that can be drawn from Ferguson. One is that the quisling right no longer exists; they all belong to the Left and should be condemned as such. The other is that an independent British foreign policy will depend, indeed demands, a resurgence of muscular conservatism at home, based upon "economic individualism and red-blooded patriotism".

(23.12, 29th September 2004)


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