A Bush win would be good for Anglo-US relations

In foreign policy I have always been something of an old unreconstructed Bevanite
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The Independent Online

In domestic politics, by contrast, I was an early follower of C A R Crosland. In logic there was no conflict in espousing both positions at the same time. In reality, however, this was a difficult position to maintain, at any rate for a practising politician in the 1950s and 1960s. Groups, whether in the Labour Party or outside, form themselves round individuals and whole bundles of often contradictory views.

In domestic politics, by contrast, I was an early follower of C A R Crosland. In logic there was no conflict in espousing both positions at the same time. In reality, however, this was a difficult position to maintain, at any rate for a practising politician in the 1950s and 1960s. Groups, whether in the Labour Party or outside, form themselves round individuals and whole bundles of often contradictory views.

If there is one crime worse than to be an extremist, it is to be unclassifiable. The careers of Lord Shore and Mr Bryan Gould, in their different ways (though both are opponents of the European Union), illustrate the point. Luckily I chose to write about politics rather than practise the trade. So in foreign affairs I have continued to be a follower of Aneurin Bevan without embarrassment, at least to myself.

One of the characteristics of Bevanism was a suspicion of the United States, as much in its external activities as in its internal organisation. In this respect Enoch Powell was a Bevanite, as was Alan Clark. It is a view of the world held by many people in this country. It has never found expression in a political party, in a government or in a prime minister. Even Margaret Thatcher, that most nationalistic of prime ministers, would have none of it. On the contrary: she missed no opportunity to lie on her back, waggle her paws and do amusing tricks whenever Ronald Reagan happened to be in the vicinity.

Oddly enough, the prime minster who behaved most independently of the United States was Edward Heath. This was because he saw Europe as an alternative rather than an optional extra to the Anglo-American alliance. Most prime ministers, with Lady Thatcher and perhaps Lord Callaghan as exceptions, have wanted both. Mr Tony Blair certainly does. He sustained Mr Bill Clinton over his bombing of an aspirin factory in the Sudan and comforted him over his spurting over Ms Monica Lewinsky's dress in the White House.

A test will shortly come for Mr Blair over whether he is prepared to support a European defence force separate from Nato. Such a force is - or was - disapproved of by the US administration. No doubt it will be something of a Fred Karno army: partly because of language difficulties, partly because its constituent elements, Germans apart, are not much good at fighting. The French last won a battle, at Austerlitz, in 1805. Curiously enough, it is they who most want to put the new show on the road, and Mr Blair will no doubt try to confine ourselves to a supporting role.

From our disastrous acceptance of the American Loan in 1945, the official view, the view of the political classes who transcend the political parties, has been that we are part of the Anglo-American alliance and, since 1972, of the European Union as well. Imagine my surprise, therefore, at the anti-American tone in all the broadsheets last week in their coverage of the presidential election. There was in it, I thought, something of the glee with which a form would view teacher sitting down on a soft Mars bar. It is, for instance, claimed loftily that it is iniquitous that someone should become president if he does not secure a majority of the popular vote.

Who are we to talk? In the election of 1951 Labour won 13.9m votes and the Conservatives 13.7m. But it was Winston Churchill who trotted off to the Palace with a majority of 17 behind him. In the election of February 1974 Labour polled 11.6m and the Conservatives 11.9m. Neither party held an absolute majority. Mr (as he then was) Heath refused to relinquish office immediately because he had won more votes, even though fewer seats, than Labour; tried to form an alliance with the Liberals; failed; and handed over office to Harold Wilson.

This operation took four days. In the United States it will undoubtedly take longer. That is because the voting system is different from ours. We elect a House of Commons from which the leader of the majority party, if there is one, becomes prime minister. In the US they vote for a president who is then chosen by an electoral college. The votes which each state casts in the college reflect the population of the state.

But the votes cast in the college do not reflect precisely the votes cast in the state. Except for Maine and Nebraska, winner takes all. In this respect the system resembles the old block vote at the Labour Party conference, so often and so rightly denounced by the forces of enlightenment. The difference between the Founding Fathers and the brothers from the branches was that the fathers did allow their citizens some say in the way their block vote was to go, even though (with the exceptions already mentioned) the vote was not split to take account of the division within a state.

A child of, I suppose, 11 could tell you that, in a tight contest, a two-tier system of a popular vote and an electoral college could produce an "unfair" result. I put the word in inverted commas because that is the system they use; they have lived with it over centuries; and they have people who can do arithmetic too. As well say that a rugby result was unfair when one team beat another 12-10 through four penalty goals against two unconverted tries.

Mixed in with the unedifying even if natural delight in seeing a big, rich, bullying uncle come a cropper is the frustration that Mr Al Gore will not certainly become president - and that Mr George W Bush will possibly hold the office instead. Mr Gore is the candidate of the political classes. Mr Bush is seen as a loose cannon or, if you prefer, as someone lacking a safe pair of hands.

It is many years since I heard the story of how C R Attlee hurriedly flew the Atlantic to persuade Harry Truman that General Douglas MacArthur must be instructed not to use the atomic bomb against China in the Korean War, and so saved civilisation. At the conference it used to be a hardy annual.

But in 1974 I listened to several conversations between James Callaghan and Henry Kissinger. They were in connection with the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. We allowed the Turks to get away with it, not only because we did not want our boys to be killed in a quarrel in a faraway country, but because the United States did not want to upset the susceptibilities of the Turks, in whom they had made a substantial defence investment.

"You provide the muscle, Henry, and we provide the brains," the then foreign secretary would yell down the telephone.

I never discovered whether these somewhat presumptuous words were actually winging their way across the Atlantic to the learned doctor or were being uttered in the Westminster air for my benefit alone. Six years earlier Wilson had boasted of his close relationship with Lyndon Johnson, or "LBJ" as he liked to call him, and even went so far as to denude an island in the Indian Ocean of its inhabitants to please the US - a crime that has only recently come to public knowledge.

Mr Blair has continued this course with Mr Clinton. It was thought that he could carry on uninterruptedly with Mr Gore. But the elevation of Mr Bush would change matters. Perhaps this would be the best thing that could happen for healthier relations between this country and the United States.

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