On Tuesday November 18th, President George Bush arrived at Buckingham Palace for a three-day state visit, complete with red carpets, banquets and cannon salutes. Outside the palace gates, a huge security operation was under way. Some 5,000 British police officers were on hand to protect the president, along with the 700 or so secret-service agents Mr Bush brought with him. Certain parks and roads were blocked off, and snipers were visible on the royal rooftop.
The fact is that most people here detest George W. Bush and all he stands for. One anti-Bush campaigner has labelled him "the most unwelcome guest this country has ever received". It is not just Iraq. Nine Britons are caged up in Guantánamo Bay, an American military base in Cuba, having been captured in Afghanistan and Pakistan during America's anti-terrorist sweep, labelled as "non-combatants" and denied the usual legal protections (such as a lawyer). The president's support of Israel, his repudiation of the International Criminal Court and his disregard for the Kyoto environmental accords have also infuriated people in Britain as in the rest of the world.
The colossal power of the USA expresses itself as colossal arrogance, summed up in the so-called Bush doctrine, whereby America claims for itself the right to intervene in any country in the world whenever it deems that its national interests are threatened. The last straw was the invasion of Iraq, which a huge majority of people in Britain opposed. That is why yesterday, while Bush and Tony Blair were in Downing Street expressing their "iron determination" not to pursue the "war against terror", more than 200,000 protesters, mobilised by the Stop The War Coalition thronged Whitehall and Trafalgar Square with banners and placards against George Bush and the criminal war on Iraq.
But all this is lost on the reverend Tony Blair, who, as a devoutly religious man, is naturally very keen about wars of all kinds. As a very small man, he is also keen on appearing side by side with the Great and Good. He enjoys the company of billionaires, the Queen and, of course, his kindred spirit, that born-again Texan oil magnate and President of the USA (by the grace of God and a little ballot-rigging in Florida) George Bush. All the protests on the streets will not shake the bond between Mr Bush and Mr Blair. The prime minister insists that it is "exactly the right time" for his friend and ally to visit London.
Side by side with such illustrious company, even a very small man can feel like a Very Big Man. This syndrome is well known to schoolchildren. The school bully is always accompanied by a smaller boy who likes to walk beside him, since this makes him feel tough: "See who my friend is?" he seems to tell everybody as he swaggers around the playground. This is approximately the position of Britain in the world today, and especially of its prime minister. Compared to such an honour as this, what do the opinions of the people of Britain matter? Like George W. Bush, Tony Blair is a democrat, and, consequently, never pays the slightest attention to the opinions of the people. Speaking ahead of the march, our Tony said: "People have the right to protest and demonstrate in our country. That's part of our democracy. All I say to people is listen to our case as well. That's what a democratic exchange should be about." Translated into plain English, this classic example of Blairspeak means: "You can protest as much as you like, but I am the prime minister and I will do what I bloody well like."
This was (as the media never tire of informing us) the very first State Visit of an American President to the United Kingdom since Woodrow Wilson kindly dropped in for a brief stopover on the way to the robbers' den known to history as the Paris Peace Conference. Of course, many US Presidents have graced us with their physical presence since then, and it appears that Ronald Reagan even went horse riding with the Queen. But it seems that none of them qualified for the accolade of a STATE visit before George W.
It would seem a contradiction in terms that of all the Presidents of the USA (some of whom were fairly talented and interesting men) this great honour had to be bestowed on the present occupant of the White House. After all, George Bush could be accused of many things, but never of being talented or interesting.
The timing of the visit also raised a few eyebrows. It is well known that George Bush is not popular with the British people, and his war in Iraq is decidedly unpopular, a fact that was again demonstrated by the size of the protest demonstration. So why come just at this moment?
The real reason for the timing of this visit is that George W. is facing an election in the near future. This is another of those annoying overheads of Democracy. Like demonstrations, it would be nice to be able to do without elections. But since we must have them (because an awful lot of people believe that they can change something) it is necessary to take all reasonable steps to get elected. This includes STATE VISITS TO ENGLAND.
The fact is that lately, George W.'s standing in the polls is not what it once was. What with all those American soldiers getting killed in Iraq and three million jobs lost in US manufacturing in as many years, and a huge budget and current account deficit, and a falling dollar, people are getting a bit restive. So why not cheer them up with a bit of good news for a change? Why not treat them - entirely free of charge - to a Hollywood Spectacular with George W. Bush in the lead role, Elizabeth Windsor as the leading lady and Tony Blair with a walk-on part? That will do wonders for the PR men!
The trouble is that they reckoned without the CROWD SCENES.
The red carpet treatment
Pretending (with admirable taste) not to see the cruder elements in George's calculations, the British establishment gave their distinguished guest a suitably warm welcome, complete with red carpets, pageantry and the Household cavalry. The whole British monarchy and Government was at the disposal of the golden boy from Texas, who flew into the Queen's back garden in a helicopter to avoid the adoring crowds that lined the roads waiting to treat him to a flying salad of eggs and tomatoes.
Finally, on Thursday, the real opinions of the people of Britain could be expressed. In a massive demonstration - the biggest ever seen in London on a working day - more than 200,000 angry people poured on to London's streets. Unfortunately, George W. could not see them, since the presence of 14,000 British police plus a sizeable escort of bodyguards (specially imported from the States in case the Limeys were not up to the job) kept them well away.
Realising that the State Visit would prove a little controversial, and that big protest demonstrations were unavoidable, the spin doctors in London and Washington had already prepared their "Line" in advance: in a Democracy people are unfortunately allowed to demonstrate. Since demonstrations cannot be legally prohibited, it is better to repeat constantly what a wonderful thing Democracy is, how people are even allowed to demonstrate on the streets and shout anything they like, because, at the end of the day, the bankers and capitalists and their political representatives will always decide what actually happens.
How George W. Bush was spared from a most disagreeable encounter
Meanwhile the army of police officers that occupied Central London busied themselves with defending Democracy and the Right to protest, as well as the US President's Right to Privacy and to Invade Iraq, by setting up endless rolling roadblocks, establishing the so-called sterile areas and generally ensuring that the people of Britain were kept about a thousand miles away from their "guest". Already on Wednesday 19th November, police lines were drawn across the Mall; anti-Bush activists were running towards the Queen Victoria Memorial, where others were hoping their cries would carry to the apartments where the Bushes are staying. No such luck!
Londoners, used to a more or less democratic regime, were astounded to see their city adorned with all the trappings of a not very well run police state. Outside Westminster Abbey armed officers patrolled the perimeter of the building. Metal crash barriers were erected all along roads leading up to the area, which was lined at 50-yard intervals with more police officers. Other squads of police checked drains and grids in the area to look for suspicious devices. Workers passing through Parliament Square, visitors to the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre close by and anyone visiting Parliament were stopped in their tracks. Groups of workers questioned and confronted police who told them the entire area was being sealed off for two hours "on orders" (nobody was saying whose).
It was as if the people of London had lost control of their capital, just as the people of Baghdad have lost control of theirs, in order that George W. Bush and his merry men could feel at home. The Independent put it rather well when it wrote this morning:
"And as the President's motorcade melted into the early evening gloom through the gates of Buckingham Palace, there was an overwhelming sense of Britons reclaiming their capital city."
The paper then went on to describe the methods used to turn London into a city under siege - by its guest:
"The Presidential convoy left the Palace and sped down The Mall, its armour-plated limousines snaking through Horseguards Parade like an ominous trail of black smoke. As if to underline the invasionary feel of the visit, forklift trucks had earlier dumped concrete crash barriers around the Abbey, and Westminster's normally busy Tube station was closed."
How George W. Bush did not speak to the British Parliament
The article continued:
"Over-zealous police officers manning the barriers even prevented some parliamentarians from entering Parliament Square. In theory, only MPs and Lords were allowed access, and then only on foot and with a police escort. "The left-wing rebel Dennis Skinner was unamused to be refused entry. The MP was told by a humble PC that no one was allowed through because of the President's visit. 'That stops me going to work. I go every day, I was there until 2.45am last night, we have a big important vote today and because of this tin-pot cowboy Bush I can't go through'" he said. The copper laughed out loud. The Beast of Bolsover marched off clutching his plastic carrier bag to try another route."
Strangely, for this great admirer of British Parliamentary Democracy, the President did not address the House of Commons or the House of Lords. The reason is quite simple. He did not want a repeat performance of what happened in Germany, when he was greeted by a protest by left wing members of the Bundestag.
Here is a brief sketch of the President's busy schedule:
9 am WESTMINSTER ABBY
With astounding cynicism, the man responsible for the deaths of thousands of people in an illegal invasion of a sovereign state proceeded to participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the tomb of the unknown warrior in Westminster Cathedral. Hundreds of officers swamped the area around the ancient church where Mr Bush watched as two US soldiers laid a wreath to the millions killed in past wars, doubtless thinking of how to start new ones. He then met families of British troops killed in Iraq and told them they had not died in vain. But those he met were carefully vetted to exclude any possibly embarrassing situations.
Speaking afterwards, Mr Bush said he would continue to pray for the families. "Our nations honour their sacrifice. I pray for the comfort of the families. Our mission in Iraq is noble and it is necessary." The thought that the President of the USA remembers them in his prayers was no doubt a very consoling thought, though probably they would prefer to do without his prayers and have their sons and husbands instead.
We do not know whether the relatives put any questions to Mr. Bush, or whether they were satisfied with his prayers. A Ministry of Defence spokes-man refused to give details of the meeting. "He is meeting a representative sample of families - a cross-section of different services, ranks and causes of death." In fact, many of the families of soldiers killed in Iraq refused to meet him, blaming him for the deaths of their loved ones - useless and pointless deaths in this most useless and pointless of wars.
11am WITH TONY AND CHERIE AT NUMBER 10
The motorcade then snaked its way along the few hundred yards to Downing Street, where a sombre-looking President and first lady were warmly greeted by Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie, on the steps of No 10. Mr Bush threw a friendly arm around Mr Blair's shoulders for the benefit of the TV cameras. This is just the thing for the "folks back home!"
60 members of Amnesty International had assembled across the road in Whitehall to protest at the treatment of detainees in Cuba. Six demonstrators in boiler suits stood behind black metal bars in an attempt to recreate the scene at Guantanamo Bay. But none of this was visible to the illustrious guests or their hosts.
Inside Downing Street, the President and Mr Blair got together in a one-to-one meeting in the White Room. The latest intelligence from Istanbul came in as they discussed topics including Iraq, the Middle East peace process, NATO, the EU, world trade and the coming G8 summits.
Meanwhile, the first lady and Mrs Blair were watching schoolchildren performing scenes from Shakespeare in one of the state rooms. Also present were Tessa Jowell, the Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, and the playwright Tom Stoppard. Needless to say, they were all perfectly enthralled at being in the presence of Greatness - even in the shape of the President's Spouse. And after the plays, the four went on to lunch in another part of Downing Street, where (we are assured) the menu was identical to that offered to the President. After all, this is a Democracy.
12.15pm WITH THE GENTLEMEN OF THE PRESS - A DISAGREEABLE INCIDENT
In the ornately decorated Locarno Suite in the Foreign Office the only press event of the visit was held. In order to save the time of the journalists and spare the President's delicate nervous system the media briefing lasted just half an hour and included only six questions. In the interests of the "special relationship", they were split evenly, with three from Brits and three from Americans.
Mr Bush indicated that he still hoped to hand over power in Iraq to a new Iraqi government next year. He said that the terrorist attacks, not just in Istanbul but in Baghdad and elsewhere, were an "attack on freedom".
He said of the terrorists of al-Qa'ida: "They attack when they can and our job is to secure our homelands and chase down these killers and bring them to justice. We are dismantling the operating management one person at a time. We are in an international manhunt."
To Mr Blair's evident embarrassment, Nick Robinson, political editor of ITV News, asked the question many of his colleagues lacked the nerve to pose. Did the President understand why so many people in Britain appeared to fear or even hate him?
"I don't know that they do. All I know is that the people of Baghdad, for example, weren't allowed to do this up until recent history. Freedom is a wonderful thing," said George.
1pm WORKING LUNCH AT DOWNING STREET
After this extremely punishing schedule, Messrs. Bush and Blair and their entourages had worked up a healthy appetite. They therefore tucked a lunch of roast pumpkin, braised ham and double apple pie, all prepared under the supervision of a famous TV chef. It was here that serious talking took place between the two administrations, with senior intelligence chiefs and foreign policy advisers backing up their respective leaders.
2pm NATIONAL STOP BUSH DEMO STARTS
The demonstration left Malet Street on its way to Aldwych, across Waterloo Bridge, through the South Bank and on to Westminster. A total of 5,123 officers were on duty across the capital - the highest number on in the operation so far.
2.30 TACKLING THE KEY QUESTION OF THE MOMENT
It was now time to show the world the gentle caring face of Bush-Blair dynamic duo. Seated at the coffin-shaped table in the Cabinet Room, with Mr Bush alongside him the Reverend Tony Blair discussed the HIV/Aids crisis in Africa with an impressive array of health experts from Africa and Britain. "This is one of the key questions facing our world at the moment," he pointed out importantly, stressing the large amounts of money that both Britain and the USA are going to spend to resolve the "key question". What he did not stress so much was the fact that these sums of money - indeed the entire aid budgets of Britain and the USA - are only a fraction of the billions they have spent and are spending in the invasion of Iraq.
3.35 GOODBYE TO THE BLAIRS
The Prime Minister and his wife waved goodbye to Mr and Mrs Bush just minutes before protesters turned into Whitehall on the biggest weekday demonstration seen in British history. Before he sped off back to Buckingham Palace, Mr Bush told waiting reporters it had been an "absolutely spectacular" visit. Either by careful timing or sheer good luck, he didn't hear the chants of the crowd coming over Westminster Bridge.
5.22 THE TOPPLING OF BUSH
A sea of demonstrators noisily filed past the British parliament and Downing Street, the official residence of Prime Minister Tony Blair, to reach Trafalgar Square. Many ordinary Londoners on leaving work joined in the demonstration, including city gents in suits and ties. School students left their classes to demonstrate, and many people came from the provinces in buses. "Wanted Bush and Blair for war crimes," read one banner. "A killer comes to town," said another.
As a climax to the demonstration, an effigy of President Bush was toppled in Trafalgar Square, imitating the toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein when the coalition forces entered Baghdad. The tall bronze-coloured likeness - which portrayed Bush holding a missile saying "first strike" and with Blair in his pocket - was paraded at the head of the march before it was erected in Trafalgar Square. The papier-mache statue was dragged to the ground, where demonstrators jumped up and down on it, to the loud cheers of the crowd. In the statue's top pocket was a puppet with the face of a grinning Mr Blair. Tens of thousands more witnessed and cheered the toppling of the statue of the US President than were present at the toppling of Hussein's statue.
A spokesman said: "This phenomenal response shows the depth of feeling of the British public towards this visit." But not everyone shared this view. Precisely at the moment when George W. bit the dust, the first lady emerged from a tour of Faberge treasures at the Queen's Gallery at the Palace to claim that the protests against her husband's state visit had been smaller than expected. "We haven't seen that many protests," she said. "But we have seen many American flags and people welcoming us."
We do not know how many millions of demonstrators the First Lady and her husband had expected. They must think that they are even more unpopular over here than they are! Suffice it to say that the fact that more than 200,000 people turned out to protest on a Thursday afternoon is sufficient proof that the overwhelming majority of the people of Britain are opposed to Bush and his aggressive policies in Iraq and everywhere else.
8.00 RETURN BANQUET WITH HER MAJESTY
In line with state visit protocol, Mr and Mrs Bush hosted a reciprocal dinner for the Queen at Winfield House, the American ambassador's residence in Regent's Park. We trust that they had a good meal and that their digestive systems were not unduly troubled by the little reception committee of more 200,000 people shouting defiance outside.
As Bush raised his glass to Queen Elizabeth II, several people tried to jump a fence into the gardens neighbouring the ambassador's home. Two men were handcuffed and searched before being bundled into police vans. A group of 20 cyclists then drove up to police barriers blowing whistles and chanting anti-Bush slogans. But the President and his guests were safely protected behind high walls and an impenetrable barrier of Security Service goons from this regrettable manifestation of popular democracy.
The good thing about all this is that it shows the people of America and the whole world that Tony Blair - Bush's pet poodle - does not speak for the people of Britain. It shows that there are not one but two Britains, and that the two are separated by an unbridgeable abyss.
On the one hand there is the Britain of the super-rich exploiters, the speculators, the Maxwell brothers, the champagne Charlies and their female equivalents, the Royal Family who live handsomely for doing no work at the public expense, the Conservative Party and the New Labourite clique around Tony Blair (who are one and the same), the Britain that has dinner with the Queen and the other wealthy parasites at the public expense and spends millions of taxpayers' money on welcoming George W. Bush which should have been spent on hospitals and schools. This is the Britain most of the world sees.
But there is another Britain: the Britain of the working people who have seen a steady erosion of their rights and living standards, the unemployed, the single parents struggling to live on a pittance, the young couples who cannot afford a roof over their head. These are the majority who, among other things, oppose Britain's participation in military adventures started by the likes of George Bush.
By his actions in slavishly supporting every twist and turn of the Bush administration, Tony Blair has dragged his country into a military adventure in Iraq, opposed by the big majority of the British people. He has needlessly exposed his people to bloody attacks by fanatical madmen. This fact was dramatically underlined by the suicide bombings directed against British targets in Istanbul. Bush and Blair, with staggering cynicism, attempted to use the bloody events in Turkey to justify their invasion of Iraq, when it is clear to everybody that this has played into the hands of al Qaeda, destabilising the Middle East and providing bin Laden with an army of new recruits.
While bragging and boasting about our alleged "special relation" with the most powerful and aggressive state on earth, Tony Blair bows and scrapes before the American President and slavishly accepts his dictates. In return, the President occasionally gives him a pat on the back, as one does for a faithful lapdog. The two countries' "special relationship" does not, however, stop Washington from ramping up steel tariffs or ensure fair trials for Guantánamo inmates.
After his recent meeting with the heads of British industry, Mr. Blair was under pressure to make progress on US steel tariffs. But on serious issues such as US protectionism on steel, which affects the jobs of British workers, the lapdog was given a well-aimed kick in the teeth. By way of compensation, on Wednesday, Mr Bush's secretary of state, Colin Powell, hinted that the British prisoners might be released to face trial in Britain. This is the diplomatic equivalent of throwing a dog a bone. However, it is something of a poisoned chalice because such a trial, if it were held in Britain, would be a serious embarrassment to the government.
The Economist concludes: "As for Mr Blair, who is already suffering in the opinion polls, his unapologetic closeness to Mr Bush could backfire." Yes, it can, it will, it already has. The behaviour of Tony Blair and the right wing carpetbaggers who have hijacked the Labour Party disgusts many thousands of Labour Party members and trade unionists. They showed their disgust by participating in the massive protest demos against Bush. These are the real people of Britain - the people who creates its wealth through their labour and who do not like to see the name of Britain hauled through the mud by those who speak in its name.
In the coming months and years these people will find more effective ways of expressing their disgust - by participating in a mass revolt against the right wing that has disgraced the name of Labour in the eyes of the world. Let us purge the British Labour movement once and for all of the middle class careerists who are Tories in disguise! Let us return to the ideas, policies and programme of socialism!
London, 21st November, 2003.