April 9, 2001
Fighting the way through the smog caused by the world’s biggest barbecue and worrying about contracting foot and mouth has kept me active all week. Of course, this does not mean that Britain is not open for business, far from it. If you like killing or burning livestock (or both), we’re paradise at the moment. Our Mr. Blair is going to America and promising that our charming ruddy-cheeked farmers would love tourists walking through their fields, so trample away. Just remember that farmers are one of only two segments of the civilian population still armed, and I don’t know how many Americans come to see the Yardies. What was I going on about? The thing I am supposed to be writing about is this spy plane.
It’s fairly hard to write about the spy plane with any interest. Now I know that 24 Americans are (at the time of writing) held hostage by the Chinese. I also know that there is a lot of expensive military hardware, which will be appearing in Toys R Us in six months time. I also know that the editorial director of Antiwar.com takes a very dim view of anti-Chinese jokes (in my defence the last joke was not actually funny, so it would be an anti-Chinese failed joke). I know plenty of other things that should make this important, but its not. Therefore, I am going to write a whole column on why I’m not writing a column on China and spy planes.
In the end the legal status of the South China Sea is not the business of the British (or the Americans, but it’s not really my business to tell them that) because it's so far away. Yes, that is the sum of my argument. Can they launch an invasion from the South China Sea? No. Can they choke our sea-lanes from the South China Sea? No. Do we even have any forces over there? Not yet. The South China Sea is nothing to do with us. This brings me to the (Manchester) Guardian and William Hague, leader of the Conservative Party. These two British institutions have remarkably little in common. William Hague, the leader of the British Conservative Party, has a genius level IQ and Guardian writers do well if they manage to put on a matching pair of socks in the morning. William Hague is in favour of hanging and against the Euro; the Guardian is in favour of abortion and against the royal family. William Hague will be judged to be a failure if he doesn’t attract ten million voters in June, the Guardian will judge itself a success if it attracts half a million readers. However, they have one thing in common, they think that this spy plane affair matters to Britain. The other thing they have in common is that they are totally wrong.
Britain, it is said by Mr. Hague, has to support America at all times. America, says the Guardian, must always listen to Britain. At least the first of these two can be done, even if it is not wise, whereas the second proposition is rather hard for the British to enforce. The only voice of sanity was the usually hopeless Daily Star. Unlike the other "red top" (i.e. low brow) tabloids, the Daily Star does not have a well-defined political identity, like the loyally pro-Labour Daily Mirror or the free-market Eurosceptic Sun. However, in this crisis it shone out. From its usual haze of soft porn, showbiz news and saturation sports coverage it actually managed to say the only sensible thing that can be said about this crisis. William Hague was wrong (forgive me for not quoting it verbatim, I do not take the Star) for saying that we must back the Americans, this fight is none of our business.
So why are British Conservatives so prone to backing Bush in everything? Firstly, it is good politics, as it points out that Blair is not in tune with the new Administration in Washington. This matters to a Labour leader who is concerned about not upsetting middle class apple carts. There is also a natural desire to co-operate with your ideological partners and American and British conservatives are for different reasons remarkably similar. However, there is a less helpful, and more substantive thing lurking an idea whose time will not come the Anglosphere.
The Anglosphere is the big idea on the British right, and it is a substantial idea amongst many American conservatives. It is the idea that English speaking countries should band together, a sort of Commonwealth-plus. This would go for trade, with Britain, Australia and New Zealand being welcomed into NAFTA; and enhanced defence co-operation. It would also mean Britain getting involved with American quarrels and America getting involved with British quarrels.
In the short term, this is a rather beguiling prospect for a Eurosceptic Brit. Closer relations with America clearly make more sense than closer relations with Europe. In fact, Europe offers no real similarities to Britain other than geographical proximity and racial similarity. The first is a nonsensical argument for closer union, while the latter is downright sinister. Investment patterns show common law English speaking jurisdictions invest in each other far more than they do their neighbours. To the extent that there may be trading advantages, the Anglosphere has a point. However, the biggest advantage that the Anglosphere offers is that it is an attractive alternative to Europe. Britain has lost its bottle, and feels that it cannot make its own way in the world. However nonsensical it may be for the world’s fourth largest economy, it needs a comfort blanket before it weakens its ties with Europe. That comfort blanket is America.
There is a massive problem with the Anglosphere, and that is that it tries to impose culture and political philosophy where it does not belong, in strategy. Strategic interests are not the same as cultural links. There will be times when the strategic interests of America and Britain coincide, clash or simply do not interest one party. The American desire for cheap oil and the British export of that oil are one of the interests that clash. Britain is ignoring her economic interests by helping to keep Middle Eastern oil production in diverse hands. The spy plane is an example an area where Britain has no interest. An excellent analysis of the Anglosphere is in the realist periodical The National Interest, written by its editor Owen Harries (a Welshman working in America if that is of any interest). The argument, presented far more fluently than mine, is that states are "cold monsters" that have strategic interests independent of cultural affinities.
British conservatives could use the idea of an Anglosphere. It is a useful weapon in the Eurosceptic armoury, and it is amusing to watch pro-Europeans lambaste Eurosceptics for their "isolationism" one minute while bemoaning their pro-Americanism the next. The centre-left have mastered the art of post-consumption cake possession. There may be some arguments for trade, immigration and investment links as even Pat Buchanan argues. However no shared inheritance of parliaments, law or language will mean that Britain has any interest in the South China Sea. British conservatives should realise this. Leave the illogical assumptions to the Guardian reading crowd.
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