17 NOVEMBER 2001, Page 70


Hostile reception

Michael Vestey

Some of Britain's finest fruitcakes appeared in Love and Hate, Where Britain Meets America (Monday), a hugely enjoyable Radio Four documentary. There was Saddam Hussein's friend, the left-wing Labour MP George Galloway; the often hysterically anti-American Harold Pinter; a peculiar Labour peer called Lord Desai, described as a 'respected left-wing economist' (surely a double oxymoron?) and a barking woman civil servant. Normally these are among the people one least likes to hear on the radio, but somehow their presence this time was pure bliss and one would not have missed them for the world. The programme, presented and produced by Stephen Smith, an American National Public Radio journalist, set out to explore the hatred of America that some people in Britain possess.

First Galloway, who swallows most of the lies put out by Saddam's regime, described his attitude to the US and the war against terrorism: 'America is a giant but its political class often seems to have the mind of a child. And a giant with the mind of a child is very dangerous, not only to those among whom he roams but to himself.' Then Desai, who seemed to resent having to sympathise with the victims of 11 September: 'When Americans die . . . we all have to stand up and take it, terrorism, very seriously. But lots of other people have died in terrorism and it's all right.' No it isn't, you silly peer.

Smith reminded us that, on the day before 11 September, Pinter had delivered a speech in Italy in which he described the US as the most dangerous power the world has ever known, the authentic rogue state. Goodness, I didn't realise that the US was more dangerous than Stalin's Soviet Union, Hitler's Germany and Pol Pot's Cambodia, to name but three. Pinter also expressed 'a profound revulsion and disgust' at American power. As for 11 September, he was 'not happy about it' and wasn't 'attempting to excuse it' which was jolly decent of him, I thought. However, 'I believe this act was historically inevitable . . . I'm just saying it is explicable if you look back on the domination of the world by the United States . Osama couldn't have put it better. I'd stick to the interminable pauses if I were you.

Then we heard the views of some women at a civil-service equestrian club in central London. Referring, presumably to all Americans, one told Smith, 'They're arrogant, insular and ignorant.' Warming up, she went on, 'The world is run for America by America. They're a clueless bunch of tossers.' Hearing this was quite useful as it reinforced my belief that the British civil service is of a generally low calibre. Smith found an American type of fruitcake, a writer for the New Yorker called Ian Fraser, who, post-11 September, was repenting his previous dislike of the English. Trying to explain his earlier feelings he said, 'They have kind of conceited accents . . I hated the phrase, the chattering classes.' Have you been to the United Kingdom?' asked Smith. 'I've been over it in a plane. I looked down. It looked like the world's oldest suitcase.' I hope he wasn't researching a magazine article about Britain.

Smith played the comments of the women civil servants at the equestrian club to three educated women at the Yale University Club in New York. The women, after Smith had helpfully translated 'tossers' into 'jerks', conceded there was a certain insularity among Americans and a paucity of international news on television. But one of them pointed out that if you travel for five hours in Europe you're likely to find yourself in another country. If you do that in parts of America you'll still be in the same state. One of them had lost her job as a corporate consultant as her clients had worked in the twin towers. Her firm, like other small businesses in Manhattan, had been forced to close and I cringed at that British civil servant's stupidity.

In this excellent and illuminating programme Smith seemed taken aback at the level of hostility he found, but one shouldn't really be surprised by the vein of anti-Americanism that runs through Britain and the rest of Europe, even after 11 September. It's been with us, largely on the Left of politics, for many years. It must be galling for socialist-minded people to observe the triumph of capitalism when their own favoured systems have either collapsed or are maintained only by force.

No country is perfect, of course, not even Britain (I don't recall hearing any sniping at the US healthcare system recently), but America, for all its faults, has committed the ultimate, unforgivable sin in the eyes of this programme's priceless assemblage; it has succeeded in creating and sustaining a dynamic, intensely energetic democracy without which we would now all be speaking German and wearing swastikas. The ninnies are just jealous.