I'm in the Land of the Free, so why can't I mock Tony Blair?

Last updated at 22:45 02 February 2008

The Land of the Free is a lot less free than Britain's ancient monarchy. There is nothing like a dive into American politics to remind you that even the most successful republic in human history has its drawbacks.

Now, I am anything but anti-American. I loved living here in the States, I think the US Bill of Rights is a wonderful thing and wish ours was as good. I think Americans have much to teach us about manners. I am in awe of their optimism and their sheer competence, I envy their navy, and Lou Mitchell's in Chicago cooks the best breakfast in the world.

But having a politician as your head of state is a big mistake.

President George Bush

I am always baffled by British republicans who seem to assume that getting rid of the Crown will automatically make us more free. They should pay more attention.

It is not just that all American politicians are tainted by sordid scrambles for money.

It is not just that these liberated folk are so keen on dynasties - if Hillary Clinton wins in November, and holds on in 2012, the country will have been run by just two families, the Bushes and the Clintons, continuously for 24 years. Maybe Chelsea Clinton can take over next.

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times rightly jokes that this sort of thing is rather Pakistani.

Worse is the fact that there isn't all that much freedom to be against the government.

America has no Leader of the Opposition, no President's Question Time in Congress.

Critics of the Iraq War have had a much harder time in the US than they did in Britain - because the President is an elected king, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and the human symbol of the nation.

To argue that he is wrong about a war, or to laugh at him, is actually quite dangerous in certain places.

This is not because people agree with George W. Bush but because they see him through a haze of loyalty. It has been far easier for us to mock the ridiculous Blair creature.

A disturbing and peculiar side-effect of this is that British anti-war conservatives, such as me, have to be careful what they say about Mr Blair in the US.

Hard-hat workers and truckers, normally reliable Right-wingers, can turn pretty nasty if I dare to sneer at Blair over here, though in other circumstances, they would despise him as a weedy liberal.

He is included in the magic circle of loyalty that protects the president and all his friends.

I might add that if it hadn't been for the Bill of Rights - drawn up by people who knew that you should never trust politicians - America would now be well on the way to tyranny, thanks to measures worse by some way than those enacted by New Labour.

The hard, unbreakable clauses protecting free speech and jury trial, and guaranteeing freedom from arbitrary arrest, stood in the way of the paranoid surveillance society that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney sought to create after the 2001 terror attacks on New York and Washington.

The international disgrace at Guantanamo Bay, the disgusting "renditions" of suspects to Arab torture chambers, show what these people are capable of when there are no rules to stop them.

In Britain, I can be loyal to crown and country and still despise my government. In fact, it's often my duty. More important, so can soldiers, police officers and civil servants.

Get rid of the Monarchy and you will get rid of a guardian of liberty.


This is the swivel-eyed CND, Mr Parris ... not the WI

It's a dirty job, but someone has to say it.

I am sick of the canonisation of former Tory MP Matthew Parris by the liberal Establishment. And I'm increasingly tired of hearing his rather vicarish tones on the BBC.

As I've said before, they love a Conservative who discovers his softer side, and Matthew's decision to go public about his homosexuality made him persona grata in a big way with the Corporation.

I quite like Matthew because we used to exchange looks of mutual horror during Anthony Blair's ghastly speeches.

But, though he could see through Blair, he strangely cannot see through the equally phoney David Cameron.

And, like Mr Cameron, he seems to me to be providing a reassuring Establishment voice in which dangerously soggy liberal sentiments can be spoken.

Last week he presented a Radio 4 programme about the 50th anniversary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the swivel-eyed movement of pacifist dupes sprinkled with communist fellow travellers, who preached panic and fear when we needed calm resolve.

They worked hard to make the Evil Empire the only nuclear power in Europe.

They were proved totally wrong by our bloodless victory in the Cold War, but have never had the grace to say sorry.

One or two critics of this failed, discredited outfit were allowed on, but in general the whole thing was reverential, as if it were about some genuinely laudable body such as the Women's Institute.

And Matthew even pronounced "Aldermaston" with a flat Northern "a", in typical BBC anti-Southern style. They're obviously working on him.


The schools we want - and they hate

Small schools are better than big ones, a fact so obvious that fashionable education experts have denied it for years.

Recently even they pretended to admit that village schools needed protecting. But, of course, inflexible centralised regulation makes it harder for such schools to survive.

And so, like branch-line railways, rural post offices and village policemen, such schools continue to vanish despite the fact that people love them and they are good.

Regulation, and not just of schools, is more and more the modern version of nationalisation - crude, inflexible, unanswerable power wielded by people we cannot control or get rid of, often on behalf of the great Imperium of Brussels.

Someone or other praised Lady Thatcher again last week, but it really is time people grasped that we are in many ways a less free people than we were before she privatised everything, and that many of her actions helped to strengthen the power of the Left.

Parliament passes the law of Unintended Consequences about twice a week. Though, of course, it never means to.


Give Conway an office and a bus ticket

For those of you who think I should be nice about the Useless Tories, here's a small treat: I don't much care about Derek Conway.

If you decide that politics is not about ideas, but about scandals, then you will find that everybody has done something wrong.

As a great and corrupt American politician used to say when he asked his aides to dig the dirt on an opponent: "Between the nappy and the shroud, there's always something."

But there's a simple, obvious solution to the particular problem highlighted by Mr Conway.

MPs should be provided by the taxpayer with staffed offices at Westminster and in their constituencies.

They should also be made to travel by public transport.


The grisly new monster movie Cloverfield - I really don't recommend it, it will make you feel sick in several different ways - is a self-pitying nightmare spawned by the September 11 atrocities in Manhattan.

The mutilation of the Statue of Liberty and the hurling of its battered head into a crowded New York street simply don't make sense if the monster is just an unreasoning force of destruction, which it is for the rest of the film.

Too many Americans seem to think that they are unique in having had their cities attacked by malicious killers.

It is time they got over it, not least because so many of them used to give money to Irish terrorist front organisations, so helping the IRA bomb London, Birmingham and Manchester.

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