View Full Version : Britainís Anti-American, Anti-Israel, Michael Moore Conservatives

25 May 04,, 23:19
The Michael Moore Conservatives
From the May 31, 2004 issue: Meet Britain's anti-American Tories.
by Adrian Wooldridge
05/31/2004, Volume 009, Issue 36

THERE ARE MANY THINGS that can be said against Michael Moore. An odd combination of Howard Stern and Paul Krugman, Moore is the king of all left-wing media, from films to books, who specializes in trashing everything that conservative America holds dear. For Moore, businessmen are always trampling on the faces of the poor, Republicans are always the tools of sinister vested interests, and America is always up to no good in the world. But say this for the pudgy auteur, he has his uses as a timesaver at dinner parties in hyper-partisan America. If the woman next to you admires Moore, she probably dated Dean and is now firmly married to Kerry; if she regards Moore as a bilious blowhard, then she is probably going to vote for George W. Bush.

Things are a bit more complicated in my native England. Take, for instance, a lunch at a famous Conservative haunt in London's clubland in the tense weeks before the invasion of Iraq. As a visitor from Washington, D.C., I would normally have expected a few warm inquiries about the health of Britain's closest ally; instead, I was subjected to a vigorous inquisition from the assembled Tories.

A retired Foreign Office panjandrum denounced the Bush administration for its crass ignorance of the Arab world. A curmudgeonly barrister proclaimed his intention to march for peace. A senior banker complained that he can't visit New York these days without being shocked by the money-grubbing vulgarity of the place. The only person present who didn't regard George W. Bush as a warmongering simpleton was an American ťmigrť who had worked for Richard Perle in the Pentagon back in the 1980s.

This was my first introduction to the world of Britain's Michael Moore conservatives. Think of all the baggage that one finds in Moore's ideological duffel bag--from his first film, the anti-GM attack Roger & Me, through his denunciation of the "thief in chief" in the bestselling Stupid White Men, through last week's standing ovation at the Cannes film festival for his latest conspiratorial anti-Bush film, Fahrenheit 9/11. There is the belief that American politics is shaped by evil special interests (oil barons, neoconservatives, evangelicals); a preference for "sophisticated" European policies over "simpleminded" American ones; and, above all, a loathing for George W. Bush. All of these views are commonly voiced in the most impeccably conservative circles in London. This is not to say that every true blue cloakroom has a stock of Moore's books, though some do, particularly in houses with children at university (he has sold a million copies in Britain); it is more that British Tories have come independently to exactly the same views as Moore.

Of course, the Tory High Command remains officially Atlanticist. The current Tory leader, Michael Howard, based his political rehabilitation, after the disastrous John Major years, on a breakfast club he set up called the Transatlantic Partnership. The Tories like to claim a shared heritage with the Republicans, dating back to the days of Ron and Margaret, and the brighter Tories, such as David Willetts and Oliver Letwin, raid American think tanks for ideas.

But under the surface, things are changing fast. Indeed, the Tories may have taken a subtle but decisive turn away from their traditional allies in the Republican party. On May 20, Howard wrote a piece in the Independent, a ferociously antiwar newspaper that is home to the legendary Robert Fisk, attacking Tony Blair for being slavishly loyal to Bush, and urging him to be a "candid" critic. The language was extremely careful, as you would expect, and Howard stressed both his party's support for the war and its ties to America; but the Independent had no doubt about the meaning ("Howard's message to Blair: Time to stand up to Bush"). Nor did Tory Atlanticists. Charles Moore, a leading Thatcherite journalist, immediately attacked Howard for making "cheap shots" and pandering to antiwar sentiment. At the same time, the Spectator, the house journal of the British right, published a cover story claiming that Republicans are furious with Howard for criticizing Blair. "The White House hates Michael," reported one senior Tory.

If Howard has shifted against Bush--and of course he claims not to have done so--then he is merely reflecting the views of his MPs. George Osborne, the Tory MP for Tatton (and definitely not of the Michael Moore persuasion), reports that John Kerry is significantly more popular than George Bush among both Tory MPs and Tory voters. Indeed, he thinks that Kerry would probably do better in the Tory shires and suburbs than he would do in Labour's urban heartlands. His fellow MPs produce a laundry list of complaints about the Texan in the White House, ranging from his decision to withdraw from the Kyoto treaty to his keenness on God to his general demeanor (he looks as if he "might wail at the moon").

In general, the Tory party's position on the Iraq war is almost identical to John Kerry's. It voted for the war after much grumbling about "crusades" and meddling in other people's affairs. And now the party is keen to exploit Tony Blair's embarrassments about everything from weapons of mass destruction to the abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib.

Unconvinced? Try Sir Max Hastings, a former editor of the Daily Telegraph and, for a time, one of Mrs. Thatcher's favorite journalists. In a recent column entitled "I hate George Bush" (at least you can't accuse him of burying the lead), Sir Max denounced American conservatives as "lunatics" and proclaimed that "every single bleak forecast about their follies has been fulfilled." To back up these arguments, Sir Max employed the full gamut of Moorist tropes--America is a land of gun-toting religious zealots; the Bush administration thinks that democracy can be marketed in the same way as Enron shares, etc.--before urging his readers to pray for John Kerry's victory in November.

MICHAEL MOORE conservatives can be found massing on both wings of the Tory party. On the left, the "wets" (as Thatcher called them) have always believed that Britain's destiny lies with civilized Old Europe rather than with the land of the Big Mac. The slightly elderly lions of this group include Ken Clarke, the bruiser whom wets regard as the best leader the Tories never had, Michael Heseltine, the man who brought down Thatcher, and Chris Patten, who is both the European commissioner for foreign affairs and the vice chancellor for Oxford University.

To a man the wets give the impression that they would be much happier with nice internationalist John Kerry than the Toxic Texan, and they have sniped at American foreign policy. Clarke was the only leading Tory to oppose the Iraq war. Patten fumes about the number of contracts in Iraq that have been awarded to Halliburton, and worries that American foreign policy is being too influenced by supporters of the Likud party.

The other wing of the party, the Little Englander right, is best known for its loathing of the European Union. But it is equally rabid about the United States, a prejudice that was kept under the surface in the Thatcher era but is now bursting out in its full glory. The patron saint of the Little Englanders, Enoch Powell, made no secret of the fact that, if he was forced to choose between America and the Soviet Union, he might have a hard job making up his mind.

The Little Englanders are the heirs of the 1930s appeasers who once proclaimed that they would not "die for Danzig." They regard the Iraq war as providing perfect proof of two of their most cherished principles. The first is that American conservatism is nothing more than neoliberalism in fancy dress. What is all this idealistic talk about spreading democracy around the Middle East? The second is that foreign entanglements--be they European superstates or Iraqi expeditionary forces--are a bad thing.

Dean Godson, the chief editorial writer of the Daily Telegraph--or "Daily Torygraph" as it is affectionately known--points out that these prejudices are being helped by electoral dynamics. The Tory party has increasingly been pushed back to its Little England strongholds--the rural shires and a few of the smarter gin-and-tonic suburbs. The average age of its party members is close to 70. These retirees don't regard al Qaeda as a threat to Shropshire or Surbiton; and they tend to associate America with such abominations as the Suez crisis and Elvis Presley rather than with the spread of human rights.

It is hardly surprising that conspiracy theories of the sort that Michael Moore peddles go down extremely well. Several Tory backwoodsmen peers have informed the House of Lords that American foreign policy is being run by a Likudnik cabal. John Laughland recently wrote an article in the Spectator, headlined "I believe in conspiracies," in which, among other things, he asked why "you are bordering on the bonkers if you wonder about the truth behind events like 9/11."

Indeed, when it comes to the United States, the British right and the British left often speak with the same voice. The Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror are at opposite ends of the political spectrum on everything from Europe to fox hunting. But when it comes to the Bush administration it is impossible to tell them apart. The Daily Mirror prints John Pilger's overheated prose about the evils of American imperialism. The Daily Mail regularly accuses America of being a "neo-colonial bully boy," and, in a breathtaking act of hypocrisy, it has even leapt to the defense of British Muslim detainees in Guantanamo Bay. The Spectator is becoming as antiwar as the New Statesman and has hired Andrew Gilligan, the man who was sacked by the BBC for falsely accusing Tony Blair of "sexing up" a government dossier on Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, as its defense and international editor.

Why are so many British Tories singing from Michael Moore's song book? The obvious reason is Tony Blair. American conservatives may regard Blair as a reincarnation of Winston Churchill, but for most Tories he is the devil incarnate, a cultural vandal who is destroying great British institutions, from the House of Lords to fox hunting, in the name of nonsense such as "Cool Britannia." Tories resent Blair for showing more backbone in dealing with America's enemies, in the form of al Qaeda, than he showed in dealing with the IRA; some of them are also bitter at George W. Bush for bestowing the Churchillian mantle on a left-wing lightweight.

BUT THERE ARE DARKER REASONS for the Tories' embrace of Michael Moorism. One is social snobbery. The Tory Old Guard was much happier with Rockefeller Republicans, with the sort of people who were impressed by Oxbridge colleges and London clubs. George W. Bush represents an America where people actually believe in God, rather than treating religion as a convenient fiction, where people believe in business, rather than dismissing it as a rather grubby pastime, and where people believe that gun ownership should be extended to the masses, rather than confined to people who own grouse moors.

A second might be termed "imperial snobbery." The easiest way to get the chaps in the golf club guffawing is to ask what it would have been like if the Americans had ruled India. The British are convinced that they are much better at understanding "Johnny Arab" than the Americans. (A hint: The way to deal with Arabs is to coopt their local leadership rather than to blather on about democracy, something Johnny has never understood and never will.)

It is axiomatic in Tory England that the coalition's problems in the war on terrorism would melt away if only the British were in charge and the Americans playing second fiddle. U.S. military incompetence is now a running joke in the British press. Unnamed officers queue up to ridicule the Yanks for being heavy-handed in Iraq (look at the way American troops dress up like Darth Vader while the Brits wear berets); for not being brave enough to flush bin Laden out of the caves of Tora Bora (which the SAS would happily have done); and for having no idea how to police war zones (which the British learned how to do in Northern Ireland). Americans may be good at blowing things up; but they have no talent for the more subtle arts of war.

The last is Britain's traditional Arabism. Hostility to Israel is restricted to a Buchananite rump in the United States; in Britain it is widespread on the right (as on the left), with fans in the foreign office, the business world, and the upper reaches of the Conservative party. Middle England has thoroughly internalized the left's view of the rights and wrongs of Israel and Palestine, a view that is propagated daily by the BBC, the Church, the universities, and the influential "camel corps" in the foreign office. One of the most popular political programs in Britain is a radio show called Any Questions? that takes selected panelists to town halls across the country. The burghers of Tory Britain react to discussions of the Middle East in much the same way that radical students might in the United States. Denounce Israel as a WMD-armed rogue state and you are guaranteed cheers and applause; defend Israel and you are booed. Indeed, anti-Israeli sentiment is the only area where internationalist Tories are in clear disagreement with John Kerry.

British Tories react to charges of latent anti-Semitism from Washington with much the same fury as American conservatives do to whispers that Bush's foreign policy is run from Tel Aviv. After all, Michael Howard is Jewish; so is the shadow chancellor, Oliver Letwin, and so is Michael Rifkind, who might well be foreign secretary (again), were Howard to win the election. That would give the Tories a considerably more Jewish leadership than the Republicans; but the plain fact is that it would be considerably less sympathetic to Israel not just than the Bush administration but also than Margaret Thatcher's governments. Lady Thatcher idolized Golda Meir; it would be hard to find Tory MPs of any religious persuasion who would want to be seen shaking Ariel Sharon's hand.

In the end, looking for sinister motives behind the Michael Moore Tories is something of a fool's errand for American conservatives, because it misses the bigger point. In terms of right-wing parties, it is American conservatism which now looks the exception, not British conservatism. After all, the Tories' anti-Bush, anti-Sharon views are typical of educated rightists across Europe. Rather than being the woman who redefined British conservatism, Thatcher looks ever more like a momentary exception. While the Republicans have continued to move to the right, the Tories have slipped back to the center, proclaiming their allegiance to the National Health Service and cooling on the case for tax cuts.

One of the favorite images of Tories comes from the Second World War, just after the fall of France; it shows a British Tommy, standing alone on a sea-tossed crag, shaking his fist, with the caption: "Very well, alone." If you happen to sit next door to any Michael Moore Tories, you might well feel the same sentiment.

Adrian Wooldridge is the Economist's Washington correspondent. He is coauthor, with John Micklethwait, of The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America, just published by Penguin Press.


26 May 04,, 10:30
Like all effective and successful political parties, the Tories are capitalising on the strength of public opinion. In the UK there is unquestionably a widespread feeling that things aren't being done quite right in Iraq and that since we are there with the US, we should influence proceedings. The Tories may or may not believe in what they are saying but it certainly will strike a chord with a lot of UK voters. Not me however...

Double Edge
21 Nov 11,, 00:23
Was searching the board for something else and happened upon this thread whose article I found to be enlightening. Explains a lot about British conservative positions vice american conservative ones. Can identify with the authors perceptions here of the Brits. The article uses Bush & the Iraq war as the anchor, an extreme event to be sure, but it works well to bring out the differences.

It amazes me how stark they can be across the pond when considering adherents of the same idealogical position. Trying to understand american conservatives from a british conservative lens can produce strange results as will the opposite.

gunnut would be amazed or (maybe horrified is a better term) to know that conservatives in the UK could ever identify with Michael Moore :biggrin:

Btw where is Leader these days ?

21 Nov 11,, 00:31
Seven year old necro - wow

Crappy article...

21 Nov 11,, 00:40
gunny would be pleased

21 Nov 11,, 01:11
DE just wants to liven things up and keep the gunny on his toes.

The fringe benefit of seeing dead kittens and possibly Celine is just icing on the cake...

21 Nov 11,, 02:03
Back off guys, thanks to Double Edge I've learnt a new word: panjandrum.


21 Nov 11,, 05:12
Its old news that UK conservatives are sometimes to the left of a US leftie. Two different worlds.

21 Nov 11,, 08:39
Back off guys, thanks to Double Edge I've learnt a new word: panjandrum.


Not as marvelous as its WW2 namesake.


21 Nov 11,, 08:42
Its old news that UK conservatives are sometimes to the left of a US leftie. Two different worlds.


That sort of assumes a fixed set of 'left/right' positions. As I've said elsewhere, there are libertarians & statists all over the political spectrum & sometimes they look a lot more alike on certain issues than you might expect.

21 Nov 11,, 10:13
Well necroing has some use:-

Not as marvelous as its WW2 namesake.

I just learnt what the dog is saying - obviously :- "$h!t, $h!t, $h!t, $h!t, $h!t, $h!t, $h!t!"

dave lukins
21 Nov 11,, 12:27
With a tad of refinement we could use the panjandrum for mine clearing in A'stan ;)

21 Nov 11,, 12:53
What you gonna do?

Autonomous Minesweeper with implemented rocket launchers? :biggrin:

Double Edge
21 Nov 11,, 14:22
Seven year old necro - wow
Am looking at the ideas underneath rather than the events.

One of the points that the article makes is Michael Moore is influential abroad in forming perceptions about the US. This has not changed AFAIK.

Crappy article...
Why ?


That sort of assumes a fixed set of 'left/right' positions. As I've said elsewhere, there are libertarians & statists all over the political spectrum & sometimes they look a lot more alike on certain issues than you might expect.
I don't know how to express this in a way that does not come across as trite or in a way that does not make you think DUH.

For the bolded bit i'd have thought one could expect some sort of agreement on international issues. The positions dont have to be fixed but idealogically there should be some common ground at least.

This article is showing that no such assumption can be made. Its all very country specific.

You cannot take people that would identify as right of center in their own country from different parts of the world, sit them around a table and expect them to agree on international issues. They may agree on the theory but not in the practice of said theory. Add a parameter of national interest to the mix and all bets are off. What basis is there to critique or advocate for the idea.

Identifying oneself as right-of-center is meaningless in an international context. It requires a country qualifier to clarify the position. You then have to adjust for the relative position in relation to your pov.

A further point to add is that ideas that work well in one country cannot be introduced in others because the environment & culture are different. There is no basis to advocate a 'foreign' idea because detractors would say well thats country x's way of doing it. So its difficult to counter on the basis of merit.

For me ideas are just that, not wedded to one culture or country. But this article makes me question that way of thinking.

21 Nov 11,, 16:24
Necro isn't always bad... this is a perfectly legitimate (IMO) "look back" on political perceptions that are 7 years old. An old thread like this is like a time capsule, one of those things you bury to be dug up and examined at a later date.

21 Nov 11,, 20:10
one of the interesting things is that david cameron has always been considerably more comfortable with obama than any of Labour's leadership.

21 Nov 11,, 20:27
The author falls down in that he concentrates on the conservatives. The disdain expressed toward the US isn't political, it's cultural.

Double Edge
21 Nov 11,, 22:59
Culture is a God like attribute that cannot be questioned or reasoned with.

21 Nov 11,, 23:06
The author falls down in that he concentrates on the conservatives. The disdain expressed toward the US isn't political, it's cultural.

Them Yanks keep forgetting Mickey Mouse,Donald Duck and the rest are for children,not grown-ups.Also that Coke sucks and McDonald is crappy food.Even blue jeans are overrated.:biggrin:

22 Nov 11,, 00:25
Hey, we got David Hasselhoff and that's all that counts.