Observations of an ex pat: A bad special relationship

The Anglo-American special relationship is growing closer—but not for the right reasons.

It has been founded on shared values, history, legal structures, trade, military and intelligence links and an unwavering belief in the democratic institutions which underwrite all of the above.

Today the democratic cornerstone is being undermined by the actions of conservative-minded political parties in both countries– America’s Republican Party and Britain’s Conservative and Unionist Party.

They have veered away from the responsibilities of political stewardship to the naked pursuit of power at all costs and tied their fortunes to personalities rather than policies. Both parties have adopted standard bearers (Donald Trump in America and Boris Johnson in the UK) who have become inveterate liars and slanderers.

Of course, in America, everything is bigger and better. And in the case of Donald Trump and his falsehoods, the former president is definitely in the world beater category. According to analysts at the Washington Post, he issued more than 30,000 lies during his presidency. And, of course, there is the “Big Election Lie” with which he is attempting to undermine the electoral system.

Boris Johnson is no slouch in the falsification stakes. But he goes more for quality than quantity. His Brexit lies were notorious. And as Prime Minister he regularly stands before the dispatch box of the House of Commons and rolls out statistics which Britain’s own Office of National Statistics immediately denies. But, of course, his most recent big lie was that there were no parties at 10 Downing Street during covid lockdowns. The police are currently investigating 12 such incidents.

The problem is that under parliamentary rules, MPs cannot call another member of parliament a liar; at least not in the precincts of the Palace of Westminster. To do so is a grave offence and results in temporary expulsion of parliament. Ian Blackford, leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party in the House of Commons, found this out to his cost.

Slander is also now a common tool of both party leaders. Boris Johnson recently stood in Parliament and accused Keir Starmer, Leader of the Opposition, of refusing to prosecute notorious celebrity paedophile Jimmy Saville. In both Parliament and Congress speakers are protected by absolute privilege which means that they can say whatever they want without fear of prosecution for libel or slander. The result was that Keir Starmer was cornered by an angry mob shouting “paedophile protector.”

Again, Boris is a long way behind Donald Trump in the title for world’s greatest slanderer and generally most offensive ever politician. Prominent on the ex-president’s target list are Joe Biden, both Clintons, Ted Cruz, all the Bushes, Senator John McCain, Mexicans, women, disabled people, Muslims, Republicans who have opposed him, Republicans who have not given him unflinching support, anyone who refuses to believe he won the2020 elections, all Democrats and anyone anywhere who has dared to issue a discouraging word about Donald Trump.

If one dares to point out Trump’s lies then they risk being subjected to threats of violence and even death by the violent faction of his army of supporters.

Which brings me to another similarity and difference between the two systems. The similarity is that the political parties behind Johnson and Trump have tied their political futures to the success of their leaders. This is because both have somehow managed to strike a rich vein of discontent with their respective voters.

Support for Trump or Johnson has spelled high office for their supporters. In the case of America, prominent Republican politicians who once refused to speak with Trump are now fawning acolytes. In Britain the public love affair with the scruffy old Etonian with the unruly blonde mop led to a whopping 86-seat Conservative majority in the House of Commons.

Now for the difference, the mechanism for removing a Conservative British prime minister is much easier than America’s impeachment process. It is called a “Vote of No Confidence.” If the House of Commons passes a vote of no confidence in Boris Johnson then he can either call an election or ask the Queen to find another prime minister. Either way, he will be leaving 10 Downing Street.

To secure a no confidence vote in a Tory prime minister, 54 conservative MPs must submit letters calling for his resignation. So far a number have been deposited with the 1922 Committee which monitors the issue. Exactly how many is a secret. A number of MPs have said they are waiting for the results of the police inquiry into the Downing Street parties.

But before that they said they were waiting for a report from civil servant Sue Gray. It is more likely that the big test will be local elections on 5 May. Johnson was chosen Conservative Party leader because he was seen as a vote winner. If the conservatives lose in May then his support will vanish.

As for Trump, the skies are turning black with the wings of chickens coming home to roost. But the property developer turned TV celebrity turned president turned ex-president has a history of avoiding the long arm of American law. If he succeeds again then The Donald is current hot favourite to return to the White House.

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and the author of “The Encyclopedia of the Cold War” and the recently published “America Made in Britain” that has sold out in the US after six weeks but is still available in the UK.

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20 Comments

  • I can’t help worrying what the immediate and long-term future holds for my children and grandchildren, when politicians with the records of the likes of Johnson and Trump manage to convince so many people to support their lies, misinformation and general incompetence, what does it says about the society we live in today? let alone the immediate worries regarding Ukraine.

  • An enjoyable, yet clear and precise summary of our political misfortunes – on either side of the Atlantic.

    Of course the cost of standing for election in US limits the choices to those backed by the largest corporations and corrupt party management – in the UK continuos internal wrangling in the Labour Party tends to prevent real talent from rising to the top and, so far, has allowed the PM to escape a just outcome.

  • Brad Barrows 12th Feb '22 - 12:59pm

    @Barry Lofty
    I don’t think the problem is related to the society we live in today – it is a fundamental weakness of democracy that people can be persuaded to vote in ways which we may find completely shocking. For example, Adolf Hitler won a plebiscite held on August 19th, 1934, designed to consolidate his power – what is shocking perhaps is that even allowing for some degree of voter intimidation and perhaps some falsified vote totals, the reported 90% yes vote on a 95% turnout does suggest that a strong majority of the population was persuaded to vote in his favour. Democracy at its worst.

  • [Johnson’s] Brexit lies were notorious.

    Most of the “lies” came from the remain campaign. Here’s a few…

    1. That “The UK has secured a special status in a reformed EU”. It transpired that the EU hadn’t been reformed at all – there were a couple of minor concessions – later quietly dropped.

    2. That our membership only cost “£5.7 billion a year” (BSE site). In 2020 our net cost was nearly double at £11.1bn (excluding numerous “off-budget” payments).

    3. That we’d suffer an “emergency budget” if we decided to leave. There was no such budget.

    4. That the Treasury Forecast for the two years following a vote to Leave, so-called “Project Fear”, was objective. It turned out to be wrong by £100 billion — 5% of GDP — and almost a million jobs.

    5. That EU trade deals would take many years to replace and as a “third country” we would not get such good terms. 97% were rolled-over in 18 months, apparently because we “cut and pasted” the same EU terms.

    6. That exports to the EU would fall on leaving the ‘single market’. Exports to the EU rose 20.3% from £32.1bn in Q2 2016 to £38.1bn in Q2 2021 (Source: ONS).

    7. That “up to 950,000 UK jobs could be lost” if we left. (CBI cited on BSE site). Job vacancies are now at record levels.

    8. That “the average wage would fall by £38 a week if we left” (TUC cited on BSE site). Wages are still rising, especially for HGV drivers.

  • Barry Lofty 12th Feb '22 - 1:28pm

    Brad [email protected] I accept what you are saying but maybe having read a fair bit about the rise of the Nazis ‘ I have a fear about how people are reacting to these modern day politicians and as you say it is worrying how easily we are persuaded by them.

  • John Marriott 12th Feb '22 - 1:39pm

    @Jeff
    I see you withdrew your comments on another thread regarding ‘Holocaust deniers’. OK, you reckon that Brexit is the best thing since the invention of sliced bread and I would defend your right to have your opinion. I just don’t share it. Equally I never thought that the U.K.’s membership was utopian either. However, this isn’t really what Mr Arms’ article is all about. If it was about anything it was surely about our country’s position in the world.

    I’ll just give one example and it involves our new Foreign Secretary’s recent visit to Moscow. What a pathetic display of irrelevance it was. Sergey Lavrov played her like a fiddle. She was totally out of her depth. Compare that with the way Russia treated the approaches of Macron and Biden. The writing was on the wall at Yalta at the end of WW2 where FDR and Stalin more or less sidelined Churchill.

    You can select all the statistics you like to prove your point. They do not alter the fact that, when push comes to shove, the U.K. is largely ignored. At least we are still part of NATO, so we haven’t entirely thrown away all thoughts of cooperation with our European allies. As for that special relationship producing a trade deal to die for with the USA, we are still waiting for them to make the first move.

  • Chris Moore 12th Feb '22 - 3:23pm

    @Jeff: you say our membership of the EU in 2020 had a net cost of 11.1 bn.

    We left the EU on 31st January 2020.

    The House of Commons Library figures give an average net cost of 7.7bn for membership for the years 2014-18.

  • Chris Moore 12th Feb '22 - 3:31pm

    It’s also good that you’ve accepted the fact that the existing free trade deals we had as part of the Customs’ Union were more than acceptable.

    Sadly, we have had to complicate trade with the EU to get to exactly where we were before we left in terms of free trade with the rest of the world.

    Many of the economic drawbacks of Brexit could be avoided by going back into the Customs’ Union.

  • Matt Wardman 12th Feb '22 - 4:54pm

    Thank-you for the piece, a little overegged though I think some of it is.

    This has signs of being quite the bunfight so I’m going home for my tea 🙂 .

    Though I note that my house price hasn’t collapsed, and unemployment has not gone through the roof.’ And that our economy is rebounding more or less in lockstep with the fastest recovering major Eurozone econonomy – France. Though you won’t find it mentioned on France24, which is too busy telling us how badly Germany and Spain are doing by comparison.

  • Michael Cole 12th Feb '22 - 4:56pm

    Tom Arms: Totally agree with you.

    You say: “Which brings me to another similarity and difference between the two systems. The similarity is that the political parties behind Johnson and Trump have tied their political futures to the success of their leaders. This is because both have somehow managed to strike a rich vein of discontent with their respective voters.”

    Could there be a more fundamental similarity ? That both systems have a binary FPTP electoral system leading to a two-party duopoly, resulting in an electoral choice between the lesser of two evils.

  • Brad Barrows 12th Feb '22 - 6:12pm

    @Michael Cole
    “…resulting in an electoral choice between the lesser of two evils”.
    Or, as Bob Hope one quipped, “…the evil of two lessers.”

  • Michael Cole 12th Feb '22 - 6:40pm

    @Brad Barrows 12th Feb ’22 – 6:12pm

    “…resulting in an electoral choice between the lesser of two evils”.
    Or, as Bob Hope one quipped, “…the evil of two lessers.”

    Very apt.

  • Kyle Harrison 12th Feb '22 - 8:24pm

    The thing about Trump is, the Republicans have been becoming ever more irrational and ideological for decades… The Tories, even if you don’t agree with Toryism, has been led by fairly moderate leaders in the case of Cameron and May and even Boris is pursuing fairly centrist policies… Boris is a flawed personality and I think he should go now but the Tories are likely to elect a centrist sort when he goes i.e. Rishi Sunak, Jeremy Hunt, Penny Mordaunt etc… Boris- ism not likely to hang around the Tory Party. The Tories picked him because of desperation to move the country on in 2019 and get Brexit over the line. Trump and his style of politics I think is a much deeper thing in the US.

  • Parliament needs rules around veracity while MPs need security around their words if spoken in good faith. An independent body that can rule on words spoken in parliament and impose sanctions if necessary would help to regain public trust. Public interest as with the media seems a reasonable defence.

  • Steven Whaley 13th Feb '22 - 5:44pm

    I’m not sure that Conservative MPs are viewing the local elections as a test for Boris Johnson. I suspect that a poor Conservative result is already baked in and that none of the potential leadership challengers want a leadership contest this side of those elections – I’d go as far as to say it wouldn’t surprise me if certain characters who want to be PM are trying to talk MPs out of submitting letters until the elections are over.

  • Chris Moore 12th Feb ’22 – 3:23pm:
    @Jeff: you say our membership of the EU in 2020 had a net cost of 11.1 bn.

    We left the EU on 31st January 2020.

    ‘In 2020, the UK effectively paid for EU’s largest subsidy: €12.4bn for Poland’:
    https://facts4eu.org/news/2021_jul_subsidising_poland

    Many British people wrongly now assume that as Boris “got Brexit done” in January last year, the UK has no longer been paying annual contributions to the EU from that date. This is – sadly – not true. […]

    In today’s report we look purely at 2020 – the year the UK supposedly left the EU. The figures below come from the EU Commission. […]

    UK’s net contribution to the EU budget : €12.88 billion (£11.1bn GBP) […]

    The murky world of the EU’s finances

    Perhaps one of the most newsworthy elements for the public has been the basic question: “What is the size of the UK’s net contribution to the EU’s coffers?”

    Unfortunately this has always been understated in the official figures because all the summaries have failed to include the UK’s payments into the EU’s massive “off-budget” funds. […]

    These ‘off-the-books’ funds are substantial. However, for the purposes of this report we have NOT included the UK’s contributions to the EU’s off-the-books funds and are reporting solely on the official EU budget numbers. The UK’s actual payments to the EU will therefore be higher than we have shown.

  • Chris Moore 12th Feb ’22 – 3:23pm:
    The House of Commons Library figures give an average net cost of 7.7bn for membership for the years 2014-18.

    That figure appears to have been massaged down by including “off-budget” receipts from the EU, but not including the (much larger) “off-budget” payments to the EU.

    Here are the Treasury’s official figures for our “net pubic sector contributions”…

    ‘European Union Finances Statement 2020’:
    https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/european-union-finances-statement-2020

    The UK’s net contribution

    Table 3.A shows the UK’s gross payments, rebate, public sector receipts and net public sector contributions to the EU Budget for calendar years 2014 to 2020. The figures for 2020 include estimates. Figures for earlier years are outturns.

    Net public sector contribution (£ million) [from Table 3.A]: 2014: 9,779. 2015: 10,763. 2016: 9,625. 2017: 8,909. 2018: 8,919. 2019: 9,408. 2020: 12,583.

    That’s an average net cost of £9.6bn for the years 2014-18 (excluding “off-budget” receipts and payments).

  • Jeff , You made an initial claim of 11.1b; Chris Moore suggested 7.7b..You now post 9.6b so why not call it a ‘draw’?

    BTW..instead of playing with debatable numbers why not look at miles of trucks into Dover, empty shelves and the ongoing ’emergency calls for lorry drivers, farm workers, carerers, etc., etc,?
    They are the true ‘benefits’ of Brexit..Oh, and BTW don’t forget the latest Brexit ‘wheeze’ of asking ‘Sun’ readers for advice on what to do

  • expats 20th Feb ’22 – 4:14pm
    Jeff , You made an initial claim of 11.1b; Chris Moore suggested 7.7b..You now post 9.6b so why not call it a ‘draw’?

    I stated the EU Commission’s published net cost for 2020 of £11.1bn (€12.88bn). I correctly said this was nearly double the “£5.7 billion a year” on the remain campaign’s web site.

    …why not look at miles of trucks into Dover, empty shelves and the ongoing ’emergency calls for lorry drivers, farm workers, carerers, etc., etc,?

    Recent occasional queues are primarily due to a large increase in volumes as economies reopen after Covid coinciding with the number of ferries being reduced due to annual maintenance. Petty-minded French bureaucracy has contributed – another reminder of the wisdom of our decision. Any empty shelves would be due to supply shortages resulting from Covid. Job vacancies are mostly due to the rapid rebound after Covid – other countries, such as Germany, have similar shortages of drivers. In any case, being outside the EU doesn’t preclude us recruiting staff from abroad. The relaunched Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme does just that. Many people argue that it’s better to pay staff a decent wage to attract new recruits and encourage employers to invest in automation.

    ‘Dover: TAP deployed as heavy freight volumes reported’ [1st. February 2022]:
    https://news.rha.uk.net/2022/02/01/dover-tap-deployed-again-as-eurotunnel-busy/content.html

    ‘Dover update: freight traffic “free flowing”’ [11th. February 2022]:
    https://news.rha.uk.net/2022/02/11/dover-update-freight-traffic-free-flowing/content.html

  • @Jeff 20th Feb ’22 – 11:51pm

    Thank you for that information..

    ‘Passing out parade’..Proud mum, “Look at that; our jeff’s the only one in step”

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