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“BoJo,” “Brexit,” and Trump

Over the past many decades there have often been intriguing similarities between America’s presidents and the United Kingdom’s prime ministers.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill was a conservative Tory and President Franklin Roosevelt a liberal Democrat, but both men came from aristocratic backgrounds and excellent educations and they shared an instinctive abhorrence of Nazism, and Churchill came to share the Cold War stage with President Dwight Eisenhower. Prime Minister Margaret “Iron Lady” Thatcher was an iconoclastic conservative Tory whose election paved the way for President Ronald Reagan’s equally iron-willed and controversial conservative Republicanism. Reagan was succeeded by the more cautiously conservative President George H.W. Bush at about the same time that was followed by Prime Minister John Major, a cautiously conservative tory with the same sort of establishment pedigree as his American counterpart. President Bill Clinton ended 12 years of Republican presidencies by promising a centrist “third way,” and he was soon joined by Prime Minister Tony Blair, who ended a long run of Tory residence at Number 10 Downing Street on a similar centrist platform.
Since then Republican presidents have sometimes had to get along with Labour Prime Ministers and Democrats have overlapped with Tories, but for the most part the Special Relationship persisted. Putatively Republican President Donald Trump often clashed with Tory Prime Minister Theresa May, who had a more refined style and didn’t share his nationalist instincts, but she’s lately been forced to resign, and will now be replaced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is about as close a copy of Trump as the United Kingdom can find.
Johnson has a longstanding reputation for making up facts that suit him and bluntly insulting anyone who disputes his version of the truth, he’s a Britain-first nationalist who shares Trump’s distrust of international alliances and institutions, he was born in New York City to a wealthy family, and he arguably has an even more ridiculous hair style than the American president. Trump had signaled he would have preferred the even more anti-European Union politician Nigel Farage, who campaigned for Trump during his presidential race, but we expect that he and Johnson will get along quite well at the upcoming economic summits.
Johnson first gained notice in Britain as a journalist, which is a marked contrast from Trump, but we think Trump would have liked his style. He was an anti-European Union crusader at a time when Britain’s entry into the economic alliance was a hotly debated issue. There were plenty of good reasons for Britain to retain its independence, including nosy regulations and open border policies and one-size-fits-all currency, but Johnson wasn’t satisfied with that and invented all sorts of fanciful tales about condom size regulations and other outrages, getting fired from the Times of London for falsifying a quote but later finding a home at the Tory-leaning Telegraph. He parlayed his popularity into eight controversial but not at all catastrophic years as Mayor of London, and then somehow wound in May’s cabinet as Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.
Britain’s limited involvement in the European Union remained a controversial issue, with the country eventually voting by a slim margin in a referendum to “Brexit” from the agreement. Negotiating the terms of the divorce proved difficult, however, and eventually brought an end to May’s prime ministership. The United Kingdom had wisely followed Thatcher’s advice to retain its Pound Sterling currency rather than accept the Euro that the poorer country’s were using to rack up ruinous debt and require huge bailouts, but it had agreed to accept some very stupid immigration rules and other annoying violations of its sovereignty, so there was ample reason to cut ties with the continent, but on the other hand EU membership also offered very lucrative free trade with the world’s third biggest economy. The EU naturally used that leverage to demand concessions that Johnson and Farage and Trump and other “hard Brexit” advocates resented, and May wound up resigning in frustration with her failure to please anyone.
Perhaps Johnson will have better luck with the negotiations, but the conventional wisdom of American and Fleet Street media is that he’ll have the same problems as May. His Conservative Party and the “Brexit” are both unpopular, Britain’s economy needs the EU more than the EU needs Britain, the country has lately been having its oil tankers seized and harassed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, a problem that will require North Atlantic Treaty Organization assistance, and much like Trump he’s widely regarded by the establishment types as a rank amateur who’s in over his ill-coiffed head. The anti-EU Trump has said he’ll reward Britain with a sweetheart trade deal if it makes a “Brexit,” but no matter how sweet it probably won’t be worth as much as free access to the far closer and nearly as large EU economy, and Johnson and Trump have some disagreements on matters ranging from the Iran nuclear deal to the importance of the NATO alliance.
Still, we wish “BoJo” and Trump the best of luck working it all out, as America and the United Kingdom have helped one another do ever since that unpleasantness back in 1812. In a couple of years there might a crazy left Democratic president and a crazy left Labourite prime minister who find themselves simpatico, and if so we’ll hold out work that doesn’t end badly.

— Bud Norman

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The Iron Lady, R.I.P.

Lady Margaret Thatcher died on Monday, and it seems that all the great ones are now gone.
Greatness is subjectively measured, of course, but only the most bitter partisan would deny that Thatcher was among the rare leaders who achieved it. One need only look at Great Britain in 1979, when Thatcher became Prime Minister, and then again when she was unceremoniously betrayed by her party in 1990. Thatcher took charge during the “Winter of Discontent” of an economically and spiritually impoverished country with chronically high unemployment and inflation, where the iron grip of the labor unions had denied the people almost everything they needed to live and then the grave diggers went on strike so the people couldn’t even die, and she left with the country so invigorated by rapid growth and innovation that it somehow summoned enough of the old stiff upper British lip to play a crucial role in winning the Cold War and liberating millions from Soviet tyranny. As measured by results, rather than the fashionableness of her methods, Thatcher’s record is one of greatness.
Perhaps the most telling measure of her greatness was the loathing she inspired in those who objected to her methods, a red-hot hatred that endured to her dying day judging by the ungracious send-offs from the left. One cannot turn a country around without offending the entrenched interests responsible for its decline, and the woman dubbed “The Iron Lady” was not hesitant to give offense to the labor unions, academic establishment, bureaucracy, and the yobbo welfare wastrels who stood in the way of her necessary reforms. The inescapable fact that Great Britain prospered from its rediscovered freedoms only intensified the hatred, and ultimately that hate triumphed.
According to the legend Thatcher’s dominating personality eventually alienated even those with in her own party to the point she was tossed aside for John Major, who offered a more moderate version of Thatcher’s red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism much as George H.W. Bush pursued a “kindler, gentler” version of her soul mate Ronald Reagan’s conservatism. That led inevitably to the Prime Ministership of John Major, who offered a “third way” that much resembled the concurrent “triangulation” of Bill Clinton in America, and eventually to the same old statist stasis. Great Britain’s current leaders are arguably more conservative than America’s, but reluctantly so, cutting back on the governmental behemoth only by the necessity of a few decades more of socialist rot than America has yet endured.
The triumph of the revisionists was brought home by a barroom conversation a while back when a pink-haired young woman at the next stool declared that “The only good thing Margaret Thatcher ever did was screw up the British economy so bad that punk rock happened.” It was her mistake to speak such nonsense within earshot of us, as punk rock and Lady Thatcher are both subjects to dear to our hearts, so we pointed out that the Modern Lovers had made the first punk rock recording in America in 1973, the definitive punk rock band The Ramones had formed in 1973, also in America, and that The Sex Pistols had been the first British punk band after forming in 1975, The Clash started up in 1976, and every seminal British punk outfit was already on the scene by the time Thatcher took office as a result of the same Labour Party-induced calamities that had fueled the music’s improbable rise. We further noted that under Thatcher’s leadership improved so dramatically that by the time she left office the United Kingdom music scene was dominated by peppy pop bands with up-to-date haircuts, and insisted that if she was determined to hate Thatcher she should blame The Iron Lady for Wham!
Only slightly embarrassed by her ignorance, the young woman confessed that she had gleaned a different impression from popular culture and her schooling. There was no doubting it, as Hollywood and academia and the rest of the opinion-making establishment are peddling notions of greatness based on the fashionableness of the methods rather than the results, and thus the real Thatcher legacy must be denied. A somewhat more informed friend admitted shortly after Thatcher’s death that he hadn’t given her much thought for the past 20 years or so, a somewhat more respectful attitude, but given Thatcher’s prescient warnings on the Euro and other matters of current importance it’s a shame that she was so often ignored. No one on the international stage comes close to Thatcher’s greatness at the moment, as much as the times demand it, and she will be missed.

— Bud Norman