Thursday 2 September 2004

And about time, too.

This has been on the cards for decades.

Michael Howard issued a blistering rebuff to George W Bush yesterday after the President barred the Tory leader from the White House as punishment for his attacks on Tony Blair over the Iraq War.

In a furious phone call earlier this year, Karl Rove, Mr Bush's closest adviser, told Mr Howard's aides: "You can forget about meeting the President. Don't bother coming. You are not meeting him."


Mr Howard's aides confirmed that Mr Rove had indeed sent a brusque message to the Tory leader. But they were quick to point out that Mr Howard had sent a robust reply. "He told us to tell Rove one word - Tough," said a senior aide.

Why anyone finds this surprising is beyond me. The British Conservative movement and the American Conservative movement have two things in common: being on the right side of the Cold War, and the word "Conservative". With the Cold War long dead and the gradual public realisation (thanks mainly to the Interweb) that "Conservative" has a markedly different meaning to Americans than it does to Britons, the traditional alliance didn't stand a chance. If it hadn't been the war, something else would have sparked it off.

The complete breakdown in relations between the White House and Conservative Central Office is all the more remarkable given Mr Howard's strong Atlanticist convictions. He has often said that his conservative politics were inspired by trips to the United States, and he is the founder of the Atlantic Partnership, which fosters links between America and Europe.

Look, what Howard and most other Tories think of as "strong Atlanticist convictions" are in reality nothing more than the ability to admit that America isn't entirely dreadful and to expect a big pat on the back for saying so. As Mark Steyn has pointed out on many an occasion (and, conveniently for me, he's just written about it again), it's extremely rare to find a Tory who has the faintest idea about American politics and yet rarer to find one who can even get their head around some of the concepts involved, especially when it comes to freedom. Tories talk about "the American education system" or "the American police system", not even realising that there are no such things: the USA, thanks to its rather brilliant federal structure, has a myriad education systems and police systems and taxation systems and every other governmental system you can think of: different ways of doing things adapted to the different needs of different parts of the country and the different desires of different populations — and all competing with each other. The Tory mind simply cannot understand this. When they talk about "adopting American policies", what they mean is that they're going to take one policy which they saw in one small part of the US and force it on everyone in the UK. They have absolutely no understanding of the underlying political freedom that allowed the policy to come about in the first place.

The British Conservative movement have always been authoritarian at heart, and Howard comes from its authoritarian wing. How he can describe himself as an Atlanticist is beyond me. The only way his politics could conceivably have been inspired by trips to the US is if he wandered around looking down his nose at everyone, thinking "Gosh, how frightfully uncouth. I must make sure none of this ever happens in Britain." While he's demanding Blair's resignation as Prime Minister on the grounds that he's unfit to lead and he misled Parliament, can we demand Howard's resignation from the Atlantic Partnership? It's very name is misleading — or, if it isn't, he's unfit to lead it.

Anyway, I'm really glad this has happened. "Tory" and "right-wing" have always been assumed to be synonymous in Britain, which has made it enormously difficult for anti-Tory right-wingers like myself to make our case heard. Dubya has, yet again, called a spade a spade, and people have noticed. The British public are now, finally, aware that a significant section of the Right (even if they are Americans) want nothing to do with the Tories. We don't just disagree with them over a couple of niggling policy details: we regard them as the enemy. And now, thanks to President Bush, we've got the perfect chance to make our case heard.

The only question now is: reform the Conservative Party or replace it? The latter's actually beginning to look easier.

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