She travelled with George Bush on the 2004 campaign trail and was very emphatic about one point: he is not a stupid man. He's a devout man, a pragmatic man and a man who is both loyal to his team and heavily reliant on them for the intellectual heavy-lifting, but he's not stupid.
When he was elected president there was a crisis of legitimacy because of the means by which he rose to power. No matter which side of the political divide one stands upon, that election was a disaster. The newspapers here made great sport of it because hey! foreigners making a mess of stuff we do all the time! silly things happening! Not to mention the fact that Bush mangles the English language in funny ways. That's meat and drink to both tabs and broadsheets. Schadenfreude is our business.
As a result of this crisis of legitimacy and because George Bush was uniquely underqualified to take on the role of international statesman, having barely set foot out of the US, some bright spark at the White House decided that a state visit to Britain would be just the thing.
I'm here now to tell you that I and about eight million of my fellow Londoners would like to kick that man's arse for him.
When this was arranged, before the Iraq war, it must have seemed like a good idea. Relations with Britain were decent compared with the rest of Europe, though the government was professing its disquiet about the number of international agreements on pollution, the environment and the framework of international law that the Bush administration had just torn up. The war in Afghanistan could be declared done, with comparatively little loss of American life, and there remained a solid hardcore of sympathy with America over the atrocity of September 11 (the one thing which hasn't disappeared, still).
Presidents visit Britain all the time, but very few opt for a state visit, in which they are the Queen's guest in her role as head of state. There is pageantry, pomp and photo ops galore. It would show Bush as the American head of state, brushing shoulders with royalty, and for some reason, the American media seems to love that stuff. (We're stuck with it, but America actually gave the Duchess of York a career.)
This is an honour which is not extended to every president, but then not every president of the most powerful country on Earth feels that they need that kind of legitimation from a somewhat washed-up and gossip-obsessed kingdom with delusions of grandeur.
Some of the people who have fancied tea at Brenda's followed by a ride in Brenda's carriage with Phil and the Corgis include such illustrious humanitarians as Nicolae Ceaucescu of Romania and his ghastly wife, the Zairean madman Mobutu Sese Seko and Jiang Zemin.
The last president who took a state visit was not Clinton, or Bush Sr or even Obi-Ron
Petals are not what they want to throw at George Bush.
As a consequence, there are going to be some very ugly pictures in the next few days, as anti-war and anti-globalisation protesters declare partytime on the streets of London. They're going to topple an effigy of Bush in Trafalgar Square and march round and round shouting amusing slogans.
It's really, really hard to underestimate the loathing that the mere mention of George Bush's name evokes in almost everyone I have met. It's not so much him as what he stands for. These are some of the things he is blamed for in Britain. Some of it is scapegoating:
Firstly, the demonstration of the impotence of every other country in the face of a military machine that is exponentially larger and more technically advanced. Which America can't help, because it is bigger and more powerful and that's just the way it is, but it does get up the demonstrator's noses;
Secondly, the Bush administration's complete disregard for the institutions it helped set up and is now appealing for help to and its refutation of agreements in international law which will only contain offenders if the world's biggest power also signs up to them;
Thirdly, the hypocrisy of requiring smaller, poorer countries to sign up to punishing free trade agreements which open their markets to western multinationals while simultaneously imposing tariffs on steel in order to buy votes in America's industrial heartlands;
Fourthly, a war prosecuted in flagrant disregard of international procedures which appeared to be working and the blatant goalpost-shifting and, in the case of Blair, LYING, which later went on to justify that war;
Fifthly, a pro-Israeli bias which acts as a roadblock to peace because it privileges an Israeli leader who is a war criminal and a prop for the expansionist Israeli religious right. Arafat is the bigger problem in himself, but the fact that US policy so nakedly favours Sharon lends Arafat legitimacy when the best thing that could possibly happen is that the Palestinians throw that crooked old terrormonger out of office;
5a) The fact that when Europeans repeat criticisms of Ariel Sharon which have been levelled at him not only by Palestinians but by Sharon's own generals, they are called "the worst of anti-Semitic old Europe";
Sixthly, that Bush favours an agenda which is aggressively rightwing, prescriptive and religious, which is something that people here just can't get their heads around;
Seventhly (is there such a word?) that Bush dragged Blair into a war that the vast majority of the public did not want unless there was UN backing, as a figleaf of an "international coalition" and now there's no clear path to extricating the troops that are dying or recouping the vast amount spent;
Eighthly, that when this state visit was being planned, vast legions of the thick-necked Carls of the US security services tried to insist on shutting down central London for three days. Because we wouldn't possibly mind shutting EUROPE'S LARGEST CITY AND A MAJOR FINANCIAL CENTRE SO THAT DUBYA CAN GET HIS PICTURE TAKEN WITH THE QUEEN IN HER LOVELY GOLD COACH. WITH REAL GOLD ON IT. They also tried to insist on shutting down the central London Tube network. Uh, NO. A no-fly zone is fair enough, as are guards, metal detectors and surveillance but the rest? No.
Ninthly, and this is precious, the Carls tried to get Brenda to fortify Buckingham Palace. Observe my lack of surprise that she said no. Presumptuous gits. Then they tried to insist on stopping protesters from taking the traditional protest route down Whitehall, all against the advice of the Metropolitan Police;
Tenthly, the Carls will be armed with fuckoff massive guns. Words cannot stress how much this strikes the large bell that tolls "wrongness" inside the average Brit head, but given that there are many mad bastards with al-Qaida sympathies in London, this is probably inevitable. However, the fact that the Carls asked for diplomatic immunity if they shot someone, really *really* pissed people off.
Eleventhly (and I *know* that's not a word), there's much bad feeling in the north-east that the US has sent its decommissioned warships, which are full of asbestos, toxic chemicals and other such goodies, to be broken up in Hartlepool shipyards. The prime minister is taking Bush up to his constituency which is in the north-east.
Twelfthly, that it is going to cost this country five million quid in policing and other costs SO THAT GEORGE CAN GET HIS PICTURE TAKEN WITH THE QUEEN
Thirteenthly, that Bush dragged Blair into the war and we can't get rid of our prime minister until 2005, so we're going to SHOUT VERY LOUDLY at *your* stupid guy until Tony gets how angry we are at him.
Wow, that was incoherent. But I feel oddly better.