Max Hastings

We want to see the back of Bush

Most Britons see George W. Bush as brash, ignorant and recklessly simplistic, says Max Hastings; but they should not believe that all will be well if John F. Kerry replaces him

The word ‘hate’ should be used cautiously, but most British people seem to hate George W. Bush. The Spectator’s YouGov poll this week — see panel opposite — suggests that only 11 per cent of British voters and about 13 per cent of MPs would welcome a Republican victory in the presidential election. A convincing 53 per cent say they would be either ‘unhappy’ or downright ‘miserable’ if the incumbent renews his tenancy of the White House.

There is exceptional British interest in this contest. About a quarter of poll respondents say they do not care about the outcome, but that leaves almost three quarters who profess to mind a good deal. There is no great enthusiasm for the challenger, simply a visceral belief that a world run by John Kerry would be a slightly less dangerous place.

Most of our rulers share this view. An overwhelming majority of MPs is rooting for Kerry, including apparently all the LibDems and Nationalists. The 71 Labour MPs who responded unanimously in favour of the Democrat do not include Tony Blair and his closest acolytes. For them, the departure of Bush would create wholly unwelcome uncertainties and embarrassments.

Yet who can be surprised by the Labour backbenchers’ view? Politically, the Iraq engagement and its accompanying deceits have been a disaster for their party. These have gravely damaged confidence in their leader, and involved the government in an unpopular entanglement of which no end is in sight, and which must cost votes in a British general election.

Students of American domestic policy might express surprise that Labour MPs are so unimpressed by this US administration’s profligacy, worthy of their own government. Bush has displayed a remarkable willingness to pour taxpayers’ money into social programmes, some of a most unconservative kind. Since foreigners do not benefit from this largesse, however, and indeed are largely unaware of it, most Labour MPs judge Bush exclusively by his foreign policy.

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