Friday, December 16, 2005

Does the US run Britain?

On this mornings 'Today' programme, they discussed 'Who runs Britain'. They've discussed a number of possibilities so far, and this morning, the candidate was 'The United States.'

A variety of explanations were showcased, including

  • The power of US corporations,
  • the US control of the Nuclear deterrent,
  • the 'Americanisation' of politics (presidential politics, the proliferation of lobbyists),
  • the fact that our cleverest thinkers are attracted over the pond to better paid jobs
  • the personal 'special relationship' (Thatcher / Reagan, Bush / Blair etc)
  • our ability to influence US politics means that a convergence is in the UK's interest

Charles Powell was more relaxed that I would be about the influence of the US. He concurred strongly with the last of the bullet points (above) - that we leverage our influence and it effects our positions accordingly.

But he also took the view that the UK agreed with the US about Iraq - and that it wasn't an instance of the UK being forced to swallow the US line - a view that I'd largely share.

Our own Mark Seddon disagreed, of course. He believed that the UK would become closer to European foreign policy - particularly following an apparent divergence over issues like the alleged plan to bomb Al Jazeera, or a perception that the US is more relaxed about the use of torture in intelligence gathering.

Powell was very interesting though. He explained - almost as an aside - that the links at different departmental (as opposed to ministerial) levels have been very deep for a long time.

While he didn't say it specifically, I think he was disagreeing with Seddon about our prospects of moving closer to Europe. To my ear, Charles Powell’s explanation was very compelling.

And, for those of us that would like to see the UK move closer to our European partners than to the US, I think Powell (inadvertently?) made the case for a more sophisticated politics. One in which politicians – and their independent sources of intelligence and policy-making – will need to be promoted.

The huge conservative power of the civil service in this country is massively underestimated (IMHO) and largely ignored in political debate. It is a shame that the people who make the most noise about radical change spend so long focused on the drama of ‘politics’ as it is presented by Westminster village-bound journalists. On Bush and Blair, rather than Sir Humphrey and the in-and-outers of the Whitehouse.

(You can here this recording for yourself – click on the ‘Listen Again’ link to the 16th December programme on the Who Runs Britain page of the Today programme site)

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