Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: The high price of being America's friend

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The Independent Online

They just don't get it do they? The Rt Hon MPs past and present, New Labour, Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, captivated that the US vouchsafes to acknowledge us, taps these little islands on the head sometimes, permits Britain to be its best friend. Blair lectures us on the dangers of anti-Americanism; Portillo, Menzies Campbell and others echo these warnings; and Viceroy Straw escorts dominatrix Condi to her colony in the North-west. There is no other way, they tell us. We must cling to the Atlantic alliance, be properly grateful for small favours put our way by the US.

Large numbers of Britons still bask in such slight attention from across the Atlantic, but there are millions of disgusted others who no longer want the special, weaselly relationship, even those, like me, who love New York, the Rockies, Hollywood, Disney, George Clooney, Saul Bellow, the waterfront in San Francisco and the Statue of Liberty. The old deal is worthless in new times. The familiarity granted is too conditional.

In return we must agree to approve of everything American, to enlist support for their bullying foreign policies and keep silent when there is blowback from the blazing nationalist hubris of the superpower even when the flames burn us. Or just irritate. Their embassy even refuses to pay congestion charges, because they own London, like they own the PM. It is senseless and humiliating and I am proud many British citizens are now prepared to say so.

Folk in Liverpool and Blackburn who demonstrated against the visit by Condi, whose voices were edited down by the mainstream broadcast media, represented a brave new force in the landscape. I only wish I had gone to Blackburn, disguised in a full burkha, and infiltrated the well-secured events where Straw and Condi met the people, Muslims in particular. I could then have questioned Condi, a black Republican daughter of Alabama whose family never understood civil rights nor Martin Luther King's struggles for justice and who today uses the rhetoric of freedom to justify illegal interventions and incarcerations and the murder of innocents. Trust me, she commands, without a tremor of self doubt, the untried inmates in Guantanamo Bay are terrorists. Why should we believe you Ma'am? Where is your evidence? "Yankee go home," I might even have shouted before being bundled away and charged under some Stalinist new law. If only.

It isn't only "radical" Muslims who get aggravated by the US/UK axis of power, which now makes both loathed abroad and the target of terrorist violence. I reckon the protesters spoke for at least half the population. In the Foreign Office and intelligence services, and among backbench MPs and Peers, you find increasing disquiet about the special bond. These anxieties cannot be ignored forever, if this is a credible democracy.

There are good geopolitical reasons too for us to assert our right to self-determination, to free ourselves from our old colony, which sought liberty and fought for it many centuries back. As China and India get more economically powerful, as the Middle East starts finally to move (hopefully) out of a culture of violence, as African countries gain confidence, as the European project moves back into gear, as human rights begin to deepen across the world, Britain has an indispensable role and a whole new future to open up for our coming generations. We can only meet this manifest destiny by breaking asunder the Atlantic alliance, in the most diplomatic way of course.

The Washington Post journalist Tom Reid understands how the shape of the world will change (and for the better) when there is "a United States of Europe that is not the United States of America" (in his book on the EU published in 2004). The pity is our masters are too craven and blind to see these possibilities.

When PR and journalism should meet

A hound dog (Rod Liddle), hawk (Melanie Phillips) and Miu Miu cat (Cristina Odone) are a making cacophonous din over what they brand "the backscratch club": Editorial Intelligence, recently launched by Julia Hobsbawm, right.

Many columnists, from right to left, including myself, are involved tangentially in the venture, which facilitates robust debates between institutions and the paid opinionated. For the above this is a cash for influence scandal.

Yeah, right, Matthew d'Ancona, the editor of The Spectator, Suzanne Moore and I are for sale for £250, the fee for EI panel appearances.

Now Liddle is dazzlingly intelligent, Odone a stunning name dropper, Phillips a passionate polemicist, but I would ask the first two to meditate on their own personal/political choices. Political journalism indiscriminately gathers the droppings scattered by party communications experts. That's not corrupt. Odone writes: "Last week Carole Caplin was modelling clothes for her favourite designer James Lakeland. By a complete fluke ... so was I". That isn't either. But we who engage with Hobsbawm's venture are.

You have been warned.

* 2007 is the bicentenary of the Slave Trade Act prohibiting the trafficking of Africans in the British Empire. Slavery itself ended 30 years later, but this act, campaigned for by Granville Sharp, William Wilberforce and others, began the process. We are rightly commemorating the moment and the more than 10 million Africans, stolen, manacled and transported. Already, though, some things just don't feel right. The abolitionists cannot be the main story - they rose because the evil existed, a British barbarity that made Georgian Britain. Churches, royalty, Oxbridge, banks and other businesses grew fat on the profits. What are they contributing to next year? Cash and contrition I hope, a public recognition of the whole truth and a huge monument to the slaves who inspired Wilberforce's finest hour.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

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