United States Popularity Among British Hits New Low

The United States has paid a high price for Iraq, in men, in money and in popularity. A recent survey by YouGov – the Internet based polling organisation shows that the United States has become the most unpopular of ten listed countries, including the European Union, with the British audience.

Four countries have a positive or neutral rating with the British people.  Japan and Germany, the enemy powers in the Second World War have positive ratings of above 10 per cent.  The next two countries are France and Brazil, which hover around the zero mark.  The European Union, often regarded as intrusive and bureaucratic by the British people, comes just below zero, not popular but not deeply unpopular.  Two ex-colonial nations stand at minus 10 per cent.  They are India, which has remained a member of the British Commonwealth, and Egypt.  The lowest three countries in terms of British attitudes are China, with a net negative of about 18 per cent, Russia with a net negative of 24 per cent and the United States with a net negative just over 30.

It does seem bizarre that the “special relationship” should have deteriorated to the point at which the British are putting Japan top of the list and the United States bottom, even below China and Russia.  The main reason is undoubtedly the unpopularity of the Iraq war.  Yet there is no great difference between British attitudes and those of American Democrats; there is a surprising similarity between old England and New England.  If Britain had ever joined the Union, there would be four new States of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland – perhaps on the precedent of Virginia and West Virginia there might have been two Irish States, with four Senators.  That would not greatly matter, as there are normally more than four Irish Senators in any case.  All these additional States would normally vote the Democratic ticket, though England, like New York, would occasionally elect a rather liberal Republican.

No one can yet be sure that the United States will choose a President in 2008 in whom the European Union, including Britain will have new confidence.  There is a real cultural problem in Europe’s relationship with George Bush.  Europe does not understand Texas, and, for the most part, Texans do not understand Europe – or even visit Europe very often.  Europeans tend to be suspicious of machismo, particularly when it is played out on an international scale.

This is not a suspicion confined to Europeans.  After all, Americans were always resentful of the arrogance of the old British Empire.  That goes back to the period of King George III, whose mother instructed him at the nursery: “George be a King.”  The pity is that Condoleezza Rice is now consulting Britain and the other allies.  If the United States was perceived as arrogant in President Bush’s first term, the State Department is now seem by diplomats as increasingly cooperative and reasonable.

Most British people who take international affairs seriously would not stress the negatives in their view of the US.  But they would – and do – stress the need to repair the damage.  They want better relationship with the United States.  They know, and value, America.  Japan is a welcome ally, but not their number one country.  Yet they wait to see whom America will elect in 2008.  They doubt whether President Bush will restore the friendlier America of the Reagan years.

William Rees-Mogg
for Markets and Money

William Rees-Mogg
Leading political editor William Rees-Mogg is former editor-in-chief for The Times and a member of the House of Lords. He has been credited with accurately forecasting glasnost and the fall of the Berlin Wall – as well as the 1987 crash. His political commentary appears in The Times every Monday. His financial insights can only be found in the Fleet Street Letter, the UK's longest-running investment newsletter.

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