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Stop pretending Britain is America Sometimes things just aren't about us

Not Walthamstow (Diana Walker/Getty Images)

Not Walthamstow (Diana Walker/Getty Images)


June 28, 2022   7 mins

The year was 1927, and Lieutenant-Colonel Reginald Applin, DSO, OBE, was on the warpath. The Conservative MP for Enfield was a man of decidedly robust opinions. In his youth he had served in the North Borneo Armed Constabulary. In middle age he had fought in the Boer War and commanded an Anzac machine-gun detachment at Passchendaele. And now, as he rose to address the House of Commons, he could feel the old fighting spirit surging through his veins. The blood was up, the heart was strong, and Lieutenant-Colonel Applin was preparing to engage his deadliest foe yet — Americanisation.

Now, as the House fell silent, he reported that he had recently visited a “big theatre” in Regent Street, where he had seen a silent film called What Price Glory? It had been billed as a comedy, but Lieutenant-Colonel Applin was not laughing. Set in the trenches, the film had dared to joke about the lives of men at war. Worse, it had shown men flirting with French girls! Surely, he told his fellow MPs, his voice trembling with rage, this was “not the kind of thing we British people want to see”.

But then he contradicted himself. Shockingly, such films were, it seemed, the kind of thing British people wanted to see. He reached into his pocket and produced — yes! — an editorial from the Daily Express. Grimly he began to read: “The plain truth about the film situation is that the bulk of our picture-goers are Americanised to an extent that makes them regard a British film as a foreign film
 They go to see American stars; they have been brought up on American publicity. They talk America, think America, and dream America. We have several million people, mostly women, who, to all intent and purpose, are temporary American citizens
”

I’ve been thinking about Lieutenant-Colonel Applin ever since the US Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, apparently filling millions of Britons with existential horror. I thought of him when I saw the former tax accountant turned Corbyn economic adviser Richard Murphy tweeting: “Where the Republicans go the Tories follow. We take the right to abortion, contraception, gay rights and same-sex marriage for granted now. We shouldn’t. Very soon Tory think tanks will have their sights on all of them. Fascism is on the march.”

“Mad,” I thought. I saw that more than 3,000 people had retweeted this ridiculous prophecy, while another 10,000 had “liked” it, and I shook my head in despair. And then I saw another effusion, this time from the Labour MP Stella Creasy: “To every one of our American sisters, we are with you. We will not rest until your rights are restored
 You think what you see in America couldn’t happen here? Then you don’t understand who is organising in UK politics.”

Again I thought of poor old Lieutenant-Colonel Applin. And then, as if to complete the set, I saw that the Prime Minister had weighed in, too. “In a sense, it’s for the United States, it’s not for the UK,” Boris Johnson told CNN. Alas, he just couldn’t help himself: “But the Roe v. Wade judgement, when it came out, was important psychologically for people around the world
”

This isn’t another essay about Roe v. Wade. Like every single other British observer, I have nothing worthwhile to say about it. Why would I? I’m not American. And that’s what this column is about — not being American.

What is it, I wonder, that blinds so many ostensibly intelligent people to the fact that the United States and Great Britain are two different countries? “Where the Republicans go the Tories follow,” says Richard Murphy. But that just isn’t true. There are some similarities, of course; but if you’re hoping to win selection for a safe Tory seat by talking about ending abortion, outlawing socialised medicine and encouraging the high-street sales of automatic weapons, then I’ve got a nice padded cell for you. “We will not rest until your rights are restored,” Stella Creasy tells her American sisters. But what does that mean? How much influence does the Labour MP for Walthamstow have over the American judiciary? Can you truly measure something so small?

“You think what you see in America couldn’t happen here?” asks Ms Creasy. Well, I suppose it’s just possible that in the next few years we could completely change our political system, radically reshape the relationship between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, adopt a version of the US Constitution, develop a deeply religious political culture and set up a fervent anti-abortion movement — all of which would be the cue for our own Supreme Court to hand down a judgement allowing individual counties (Dorset? Wiltshire?) to outlaw abortion. Yes, I suppose it’s possible. It’s certainly no more implausible than a major British political party campaigning to throw out the 1967 Abortion Act — another thing that is clearly never going to happen.

Britain is not America. According to the most recent YouGov survey, just two in a hundred people — two! — think abortion should be illegal. What’s more, only 6% of people think access to abortions is too easy, compared with 8% who think it’s too hard, 47% who think it’s about right, and 36% who don’t know or don’t care. To repeat, Britain is not America.

We’ve been here before, of course. When a Minneapolis policeman killed George Floyd in May 2020, thousands of people defied Covid regulations to demonstrate in British cities, while The Guardian’s Afua Hirsch insisted that “the racism that killed George Floyd was built in Britain”. But in their racial politics and attitudes, as Tomiwa Owolade wrote last month, the two countries are completely different. The plain fact is that if you’re black and you’re British, your chances of being shot by the police are vanishingly small.

To point this out in progressive circles, though, is to identify yourself as the enemy. America’s struggles are Britain’s struggles, and only a fascist would deny it. “The prejudice that black people in America face is the same prejudice we face here. When one is hurt, we’re all hurt, because it could have been us,” a demonstrator told the BBC in the summer of 2020. You’d never guess that the two countries’ histories have been utterly different — or that most of our police are unarmed, so that actually it probably couldn’t have been us. Nor would you guess that there are, in fact, more than two countries on earth.

Do you remember the story of Victoria Salazar, the Salvadorean woman who was killed when a Mexican policewoman pinned her to the ground and broke her neck in the resort of Tulum? No, you probably don’t, because people didn’t march about it in the centre of Oxford. What about the 28 people killed during a Rio police raid on the Jacarezinho favela in 2021, or the 21 killed in another raid on the Vila Cruzeiro favela a few weeks ago? I don’t expect you remember them either. Why would you? “When one is hurt, we’re all hurt.” Yes, but only if they’re American.

Is it pointless to stand against the tide of knee-jerk, unthinking, virtue-signalling Americanisation? If Lieutenant-Colonel Reginald Applin could join us now from beyond the grave, he might admit that it is. Even so, I think rolling news, the internet and social media have made things immeasurably worse, blurring the lines between America and the world, convincing millions of otherwise sane people that what happens in Tuscaloosa matters more than what happens in Towcester.

Here’s just one small example. When I heard Boris Johnson say that “the Roe v. Wade judgment, when it came out, was important psychologically for people around the world”, I decided to check. It’s hard to be sure, of course, but I’m pretty confident it wasn’t. Abortion had been legal in Britain since 1967, so why would anybody care about the US Supreme Court? The Times briefly reported the story on its front page, but that was it. The Guardian ran a slightly longer report, but there were no editorials, no exultant columns, no readers’ letters. Some other papers had a tiny news item, buried on an inside page. Most didn’t mention it at all. In Ted Heath’s Britain, it just wasn’t a story. Tell that to a BBC website editor in 2022, and they’d probably shake their heads in horror.

Does all this matter? I think it does. Obviously we can’t live in a national bubble: our public discourse has always been influenced by trends and events overseas, from Lutheranism in the early 16th century to Jacobinism in the 1790s. But the intense and growing obsession with America isn’t just a curious Anglophone quirk. It’s a poison infecting our public life.

Almost everything about political life in the US today strikes me as deeply unhealthy. The general tone, perfectly reflected in that Richard Murphy tweet after the Roe v. Wade judgement, is relentlessly hysterical. The stakes are always sky-high; every setback is a shattering defeat. Death and despair stalk the land; the very existence of the Republic hangs by a thread, and the world of The Handmaid’s Tale may be only a few years away. And your political opponents are not merely misguided, they are positively wicked. Evil conspirators — militiamen, abortionists, gunowners, critical race theorists — are plotting subversion and civil war. How can you compromise with such people? How can there be a common ground?

Perhaps, as the historian Richard Hofstadter famously argued, it was ever thus. The American colonies were born as a kind of apocalyptic fantasy: a shining city on a hill, safe from the corrupt crypto-Papists of 17th-century England. The Republic, too, began with a conspiracy theory, casting the kindly, avuncular, quietly anti-slavery George III as a monstrous tyrant. And violence — whether rhetorical or actual — has been part of American political life from the very beginning. The violence of the Puritan firebrand and the violence of the frontier; the violence of the wars against Indians and Mexicans, the violence of slavery and the violence of the Civil War. Violence was America’s past; perhaps violence is America’s future.

But Britain isn’t America. Why would we want to import their hysterical tone? We have plenty of issues of our own, of course; but they’re ours, not theirs. Our race relations aren’t perfect, but they’re among the very best in Europe, not that you’d know it from much of the media. Boris Johnson really, really isn’t a fascist, and the worst thing you can say about Keir Starmer is that he’s incredibly boring. And yes, we do take “the right to abortion, contraception, gay rights and same-sex marriage” for granted. But why wouldn’t we? Who’s threatening them? Does anybody seriously think Boris Johnson, of all people, is going to abolish contraception?

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t think the Roe v. Wade judgement matters. It does, but it matters for Americans. Sometimes things just aren’t about us. “You think what you see in America couldn’t happen here?” Yes, I do, actually. Let’s see who’s right.


Dominic Sandbrook is an author, historian and UnHerd columnist. His latest book is: Who Dares Wins: Britain, 1979-1982

dcsandbrook

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Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
1 year ago

As an American I don’t get it. What is the British obsession with American politics? Angry British lectures about American politics and culture are almost an online clichĂ© at this point. You seem to care more about the United States than the Commonwealth. I mean I don’t agree with everything about your politics and culture, but I cannot see why I should make a big deal caring about it or spend hours arguing about it on the internet. Especially since it does not affect me in the slightest and your entire political system is organized differently. Also while we are on the subject, why do you keep importing the looniest stuff from our politics that we cannot even stand? Black Lives Matter in the U.K. of all places? Critical Race Theory? Panic about legions of hidden neo-yatzee white supremacists? Fifty-seven genders or whatever it is now? Help me out here because it makes no sense.

Last edited 1 year ago by Matt Hindman
Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

I think there’s a desire for drama by the SJW types. There are a lot of activists in the US apparently miffed that they’re too young to have been involved in the Civil Rights movement, and who seemingly keep trying to manufacture a current need for another one.

Well, here it’s worse for them – there never was a Civil Rights movement for them to miss out on because we’ve never had racial laws to overturn. We didn’t have segregation, there’s been no slave on British soil for over a thousand years (and they were white). Our terrorists are brown and are also the main antagonists of racial crime, so there’s some frustration about that too.

‘Progressives’ have to pretend we’re America in order to get that frisson of faux-justified anger and strut their righteous stuff.

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
1 year ago
Reply to  Sharon Overy

Nailed it!

Alan Jackson
Alan Jackson
1 year ago
Reply to  Sharon Overy

Yes , but who are SJW types?

Malcolm Webb
Malcolm Webb
1 year ago
Reply to  Alan Jackson

Social Justice Warriors?

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
1 year ago
Reply to  Sharon Overy

That honestly sounds a lot like how I think the trans movement kicked off in this country. It seemed like it started in the early 2010’s. After the gay rights movement there was not much of anywhere for activists to go. Women’s suffrage had been achieved and women started to be seen as the equals of men. The Civil Rights movement had transformed the country. Gays and lesbians could live their lives without being beaten in the street. The activist crowd needed a new cause to take up. They just so happened to pick one that encompassed something like 0.1% of the population and they have been pushing hard for an increase in that percentage to justify their new crusade.

Dana I
Dana I
1 year ago
Reply to  Sharon Overy

so perfect

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

A starter list for you:

  • The US media industry is the worlds biggest and noisiest
  • We have a common language
  • Twitter is US based – and generates salacious content
  • Most U.K. journalists are lazy
  • Real journalism is harder/costlier than “parroting”
  • Most U.K. phone content users are intellectually lazy
  • UK youth are trained to find reasons to hate the U.K.
  • Virtue signalling is fashionable in both countries
  • the BBC embodies all of the failings listed above
Last edited 1 year ago by Ian Barton
Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

I would add
We don’t have a right wing party so nobody is seriously pushing back against this nonsense.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Good list.
I would add social media in general.
Instagram for example is exceptionally US focussed as a great portion of the major accounts and others are US focussed culturally.
I don’t think this can be underplayed – as most people of my generation (as a mid-millennial) and younger imbibe this stuff daily. Even through casual use.
Almost everyone I know follows many of the same or similar accounts – most of them are light hearted and based on jokes/memes but nearly all are US centric.
I can only imagine what this does to the minds of 12-13 year olds and upwards as they grow up on this

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

perhaps the problem is that nu britn and the US have some of the lowest levels of education, outside the top echelon, of any democratic countries, replaced by internet subject worship?

Matt M
Matt M
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

And who can forget the Guardian organising a letter-writing campaign to persuade the voters of Clark County, Ohio, not to vote for GWB?
But I think that gives us a clue to your question. It isn’t Brits that obsess about RvW or G Floyd or “white supremacists” or the Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare. It is left/liberal, Guardian-reading, BBC-watching Brits. Conversations on internal US policies don’t feature heavily in the pubs of Lancashire, only at the dinner parties of Islington and Brighton.

Last edited 1 year ago by Matt M
Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt M

Strangely, and to my great distress, a heated conversation about Roe v Wade did happen at a recent social gathering I attended (very far geographically and politically from either Islington or Brighton.)

My argument exactly mirrored this article- “why are we even talking about this, it’s another US issue, relentlessly given air time by our execrable media to sow further anger and division.”

Dana I
Dana I
1 year ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

omg…this must be positively crazy making. It is insane enough in the US where I have to frequently say things like–“I’m honestly not that concerned about what Mississippi does. I don’t live there. Its culturally very different from my state of Colorado. And I can’t spend a tremendous amount of mental energy worrying about state law in a place that 1200 miles away where I don’t have a vote.”

Jon Barnes
Jon Barnes
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt M

“It isn’t Brits that obsess about RvW or G Floyd or “white supremacists” or the Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare. It is left/liberal, Guardian-reading, BBC-watching Brits”. As the article says, “your political opponents are not merely misguided … How can there be a common ground?”. Look at theright-wing Daily Mail website, which fills its front page with US celebrity clickbait. The UK media as a whole, regardless of its political leanings, depends very heavily on US culture and politics.

Matt M
Matt M
1 year ago
Reply to  Jon Barnes

Yes that is true Jon. Daily Mail readers are very interested in American celebrities but i suspect less so in US public policy. Though maybe these things – celebrity culture and politics -are merging to become one.

Iris C
Iris C
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt M

Too true! I find it impossible to watch or listen to BBC News nowadays because it only gives their staff’s point of view – balance is a thing of the past.
Foreigners telling citizens how to vote always backfires. President Obama’s bid to support David Cameron and “Remain” is an example of this from the British side…

Richard Abbot
Richard Abbot
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

From my perspective US politics is more interesting because they are still fighting, whereas Britain gave up and succumbed to the progressive disease a long time ago.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Abbot

You really don’t follow USA domestic politics and current affairs then.
I do, and I have intervened occasionally in my wee way over the last 15 years or so (god bless the internet) both in the USA and the U.K., and the cultural woke extremism in the USA is exponentially worse than in the U.K.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Abbot

…also when the American Civil War II starts we will have a lttle background: unlike WW3 where so little of Ukrainian and NATO madness is known resulting in a simplistic, uninformed view of it.

Robert Quark
Robert Quark
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Because the US is cool. At least, that’s how many here perceive it. Weirdly it took until I saw footage of a group of UK students doing a flash-mob, collapsing on the floor, mewling, “I can’t breathe!” for the penny to drop. I asked myself, what on earth are a bunch of UK students doing getting involved over an extremely localised issue like this? But that’s the point. Compare our hot button news topics over here, lately, by way of example: The NI Protocol. Will Scotland vote no to independence, yet again. GP waiting times are growing. Barristers and railworkers are on strike. When you set that against guns, mass murder, police violence, toxic religion, abortion bans, it really does bear no contest, unfortunately, for many, especially the young.

Last edited 1 year ago by Robert Quark
Mark Thomas Lickona
Mark Thomas Lickona
1 year ago
Reply to  Robert Quark

It’s the reason the whole world loves a Western. And imagines the entire US is the Wild West. Because, in a way, it is. We are a culture predicated on violence. To be precise, on revolution. No higher drama (nothing sexier!) than revolution and more revolution and endless revolution/reinvention (trans-humanism, anyone? Never have to worry about climate change again! Plus our new bodies will never get saggy and gross! Buns of steel, amirite? C’mon, who doesn’t want to be Iron Man forever???).
Poor US “conservatives.” What are we conserving? What, really, is the “good fight” over here? The battle against a spiritual cancer we ourselves (qua Americans, if not qua “Christians”) continue to relentlessly engineer with the other hand (and spread to the world). A cancer of anthropological vacuity that has only pleasure and money left as working substitutes for meaning. No law, finally, but the will. Would any “good Christian” over here dare blaspheme against the primacy of will-power, e.g., the “American dream,” i.e., of enterprise unfettered (e.g., by namby-pamby “moral” considerations, a.k.a. “externalities”)… leading to riches untold???
An ancient sensibility was that law was a teacher. What does our Constitution teach? Nothing, actually. Justice Scalia once told the pioneer class of a now-enervated “conservative” law school: “Do not expect to find the values you cherish enshrined in the Constitution of the United States.” Not marriage, not family, and certainly not “God,” whatever that is. No, all that’s in there is the one thing that was on the Founders’ minds: Sex. Bc men duh. Lol jk. Protection from government (read: the Crown, a.k.a. “tyranny”), so they could be free (e.g., to accumulate all the wealth the Crown would have made impossible when the Somerset case finally caused slavery to become illegal all the British colonies). The Constitution is, by design, content-free, because content would mean faction would mean disunity could mean the Crown takes back control. Let there be nothing. So we the people (by which we mean, the owners) can do anything. SJWs are only the latest negation-weapon of the ruling class elites.
My only question lately is: Is the deep-$tate alliance between the US and the UK hand-in-glove or glove-in-hand? In other words, who’s the real money here (or rather, who’s been the real money)? Did poor abolitionist King George find himself thwarted by greater forces than some upstart colonists? Are the UK deep-$tate actors in fact distinct from and underminers of the monarchy and what it stands for (e.g., God, allegedly)? Does MI6 no more answer to the Crown than the CIA answers to the President? As always and everywhere, follow the money. It’s the only other possible master. And for all our indomitable will, we Americans (just like everybody else) are still wanting one.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
1 year ago

Well put.. follow the money is the bottom line!

Diane Merriam
Diane Merriam
1 year ago

Follow the money works in about 90% to 95% of the cases. Leave open the possibility that any given case might be motivated by something else.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
1 year ago
Reply to  Robert Quark

Do you think an English invasion of a UDI Scotland and a bomb-blasted hard border in Ireland will redress the balance?

Tanya Kratz
Tanya Kratz
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Well said, Matt. And, I would add, their seeming obsession with our second amendment. I can’t imagine caring in the slightest what some other country’s gun laws are.

Last edited 1 year ago by Tanya Kratz
Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
1 year ago
Reply to  Tanya Kratz

If I was European, I would be less worried about guns in America and more worried about some of those Javelins, next generation MANPADS, or plastic explosives “going missing” from the Ukrainian warzone. Just saying.

Michael Kellett
Michael Kellett
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Yes, i agree with you wholeheartedly. And I also wish that your president, Ms Pelosi and various other members of Congress felt the same way about UK events relating to Northern Ireland. They’re sod all to do with them or with anyone else in the USA.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
1 year ago

Incorrect assessment there I’m afraid! Political power in the US cannot be won without the American-Irish vote. The state with the smalest “Irish” population has almost 10% Irish (they consider themselves to be Irish) while the largest is over 20%. The American party that pisses off its US-Irish voters (they tend to take a simple view btw) is very unlikely to win an election. So to say the NI protocol has “sod all” to do with US politics is to misunderstand a very powerful and highly active political force there.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

It is indeed a shame that only the zaniest from the US seems to reach East New England: sorry Great Britain! I agree Row v Wade is not a serious threat to the British way of life. However, look at Kim Kardashian! Now there’s a real threat!
But when it comes to matters sexual queen Victoria said it best: “If they don’t do it in the streets and frighten the horses” who cares?
Notwithstanding, there is a tendency for things American to be taken up in the UK but they are largely confined to banalities adoopted by sad empty folk.. so, again: harmless.

John Murray
John Murray
1 year ago

Great article! As an ex-pat living in the United States for over twenty years now, I cannot convey the sheer level of cringe I experience watching news from the UK with Brits LARPing as Americans on the telly. I went full grumpy old man shouting “your police don’t have guns! you’ve all got healthcare! they don’t cut your unemployment if you were on the dole too long!” at the Sky News channel during the George Floyd extravaganza.

Rosemary Throssell
Rosemary Throssell
1 year ago
Reply to  John Murray

I have lived here for 17 years and refer to myself as an immigrant. Funny that.

David Forrester
David Forrester
1 year ago

It’s really good to see Dominic articulate this issue which has been annoying for ages.

Joff Brown
Joff Brown
1 year ago

How much influence does the Labour MP for Walthamstow have over the American judiciary?
Absolutely none. She is merely virtue signalling to her tribe.

Richard Parker
Richard Parker
1 year ago

Amen to all of the above comments and great article: pithily sums up my thoughts on the matter. Neither I nor my American friends can fathom this necessity to take on all the sturm und drang of stateside media outlets. LARPing indeed: please let’s stop.

John K
John K
1 year ago

And most Brits have no idea that the USA is actually 50 countries , each with its own congress, senate, supreme court etc etc. The matters controlled by the Federal government are actually quite limited, and most if not all the States are very determined to keep as much as possible decided at their level.
The Federal Government never took the time to translate Roe v Wade into federal law. In parallel, the Democrats have never faced up to the fact that the Republicans don’t play nice any more and haven’t for 3 decades, and have let themselves get completely outflanked and outplayed..
This is the consequence.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 year ago
Reply to  John K

Just like almost all Americans don’t know that Northern Ireland and Scotland are part of the U.K. and not army occupied colonies of England.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

NI was army occupied not too long ago and when Scotland declares UDI will England invade do you think?

Richard Stainton
Richard Stainton
1 year ago

It’s the same with the NHS. Any moves to reform it will lead to hysterical shrieks of privatisation and the left referring you to the expensive cruelties of the American healthcare system. As if there aren’t other healthcare systems in the world, many of which are superior to the NHS.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
1 year ago

“Where the Republicans go the Tories follow. ”
And then proceeds to regurgitate Democrat party patented falsehoods and scare mongering.

Gareth Chadwick
Gareth Chadwick
1 year ago

Thank you Dominic Sandbrook for articulating this issue so well. I’ve estimated that over the past 10 days, at least half of the lead headlines on the BBC News website have been lazily regurgitated US stories with little relevance to the UK. Today being a good example.

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
1 year ago

It’s like discussions about the NHS. To the Guardian, and a surprising number of readers elsewhere, the only possible alternative is the US. Similarly, only one country exists as an alternative to the UK on abortion. I was thus surprised to read that in France and Germany abortion is not allowed after 14 weeks. Assuming this is the case, why aren’t the media flooded with anguished articles about those anti female brutes?

William McKinney
William McKinney
1 year ago
Reply to  Anna Bramwell

In Europe only the UK (24), Netherlands (24) and Sweden (18) permit abortion later than 14 weeks. The average of the remaining 35-odd countries is 12 weeks.

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
1 year ago

And once abortion becomes less of a political wedge issue, US states will likely converge on similar numbers where abortion is tolerated. Every since Roe it became about national politics, each side claiming virtue.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
1 year ago

I think you mean abortion on demand? Abortion is permitted later than 12 weeks in some circumstances in several countries.

Don Butler
Don Butler
1 year ago

“The plain fact is that if you’re black and you’re British, your chances of being shot by the police are vanishingly small.” True. But given the size of the US population, one could say the same here. Especially among “unarmed” blacks. The ignorance on this issue is astonishing; and useful for those who lie for a living.

Simon Tavanyar
Simon Tavanyar
1 year ago
Reply to  Don Butler

As I recall the 2020 USA figures, police shooting unarmed people, 24 whites and 14 blacks in that year. Out of a population of 350,000,000. More likely to be struck by lightning, etc. “Yes but there were MORE blacks than whites if you consider the overall population ratios!” – Yeah, but 14 total?

Richard 0
Richard 0
1 year ago

Great article. Thank you, DS.

Christopher Peter
Christopher Peter
1 year ago

Dominic, thank you for articulating so well basically what I’ve been thinking for some time. The obsession and outrage in the UK over the Roe v Wade decision is just deeply strange. Contrary to the ludicrous Richard Murphy quote, there is no evidence whatsoever that what’s just happened to challenge abortion rights in the US is even remotely likely to happen in the UK, even if the Tories really were agitating to do so (which of course they are not – by the way, Richard, who legalised gay marriage?). But then, I suppose a “Corbyn economic adviser” must be a native of Cloud Cuckoo Land by definition, so this is probably quite low down on his list of reality-defying convictions.
But then of course, as you say, we saw something very similar with the George Floyd hysteria, where – against all sense and evidence – it was repeatedly and stridently claimed that the UK was the same (or worse) as the US. And too much of the media just went along with it, when they should have been challenging this patent nonsense.
Amazing to think how many people behave as if the UK is the 51st state of the US, in terms of both how much they think US affairs directly affect us and how much influence we have over them. And these are very often the same progressive types who otherwise bemoan Americanization or accuse the Tories of tying us too close to the US (example: the mooted UK/US trade deal).
It’s not like we don’t have enough problems of our own in the UK – we really don’t need to import America’s too!

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
1 year ago

Macron has denounced many of the US imports as bad for the French. Nothing new there.

Davidsb .
Davidsb .
1 year ago

Christopher –
Contrary to the ludicrous Richard Murphy quote….
It’s not entirely clear whether the word ‘ludicrous’ in your sentence above relates to ‘Richard Murphy‘ or his ‘quote‘.
So I’ll just assume it relates to both possibilities.

S A
S A
1 year ago

In fairness, Roe v Wade is useful to see why we want to avoid the American approach of using judicial activism for political process.

We have copied this trend to an extent, we ought to reduce that.

Beyond that it is not relevant to the UK.

R Wright
R Wright
1 year ago

If you ignore Twitter it is possible to avoid hearing a peep out of our hysterical cousins across the pond.

Joff Brown
Joff Brown
1 year ago
Reply to  R Wright

The problem is that the vast majority of the UK media rely solely on twitter for their news.

Douglas H
Douglas H
1 year ago

Very good comment. The Economist had a good editorial in this a couple of weeks back. I find this obsession with the US infuriating and bizarre 
 and I’m from North America!

I suspect most British journalists secretly want to live in New York or San Francisco, and feel wretchedly inferior to those who do actually live over there. All I can say is: keep that fantasy to yourselves, guys

Jo Nielson
Jo Nielson
1 year ago

As an American- I really did think it was weird when British people were marching in support of BLM, given that British cops don’t carry guns and the race issue play out very differently there. Also, I think that British people should take heart that the majority of Americans really just want abortion laws in line with our counterparts in Europe and Britain. The abortion advocates on our country are very extremist when it comes to the idea that the majority of Americans support abortions up until birth. They tried to pass that versions of that law in VA and NY and people just weren’t having it. A lot of us just don’t think time limits on getting an abortion is unreasonable or unrealistic. I say this as a prolife conservative woman.

I get that abortion isn’t going to be illegal, except in the most fringy of places. But communities should be given that right to decide and debate that for themselves. I can choose not to live there. The way they talk abortion seems to deny the multitude choices we have as women. The calendar didn’t just revert back to 1973 on Friday. Many 21st century norms and beliefs are still in tact.

And the freak out by Progressives and others just doesn’t match the overwhelming support of birth control in Christian and conservative circles. I get the impression that a lot of Progressives don’t actually interact or know any conservatives or Conservative religious people, except to say (or scream) that we are dumb regardless of the issue. I hate the characteristics of the boogie man they are portraying too, but I also know that it’s a fake character they are describing.

Garrett R
Garrett R
1 year ago
Reply to  Jo Nielson

I have to strongly disagree with you. As one who grew up among conservative Christian communities and resides in one of the most conservative Congressional districts in the country, this notion that abortion should be local politics is pure fantasy.

Yes YOU have a choice to live elsewhere but many do not. Many states are seeking to prosecute their own citizens for seeking services out of state, which is a direct violation of your notion that abortion will be local. Mike Pence and Mitch McConnell have both floated national abortion bans, which I presume you will nobly disagree with.

Furthermore, are you prepared to defend the right of states to force 11 year olds to carry a child to term that was a product of rape? Because that’s what you’re going to have to do.

Many Christians do not support birth control. They want abstinence only education (still the law in Dade County, home of Miami). They are extremists and will not stop until there is a national ban on abortions. This is not hysteria. They admit as much. You’re deluding yourself.

Jeff Staines
Jeff Staines
1 year ago

US foreign policy often matters a great deal elsewhere in the world. US domestic policy simply doesn’t.
It’s not just Britain, though. Western Europe in general laps this stuff up. I still remember the funereal atmosphere in my Berlin office the morning after Trump’s 2016 victory. “Democracy has failed”, said one German colleague. No such dramatics the day after any German federal election.

Tony Taylor
Tony Taylor
1 year ago

God knows what Lieutenant-Colonel Reginald Applin, DSO, OBE would have made of “could care less.”

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony Taylor

Or the inversion of the meaning of the word ‘protest’ into its opposite. For those unaware (surely very few in this learned forum) it means ‘to testify in favour of something’.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Arnold Grutt

I find the phrase “to protest one’s innocence” useful in this regard!

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Quite. That’s the only case I can remember which I often mention in such discussions. However I think the battle is lost now, as in the case of the formerly very useful word ‘gay’ for whose older meaning there is no real one-word synonym (it has to be a phrase or compound these days, none of which fully conveys the same sense or meaning).

Michael Reardon
Michael Reardon
1 year ago

The Guardian, Times etc now have a strong US paying public looking for a western European Liberal position on US life. And eg in Guardian we have op-ed columnists based in US ,writing about US in a ‘ coming to a country near you ‘ tone. Never columnists living in Berlin or Madrid mind you ! Personally I think.BBC has better world perspective courtesy of World Service. But as for Twitter ….its one big USA universe other than coverage of sports not big in the USA.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 year ago

I read the Washington Post and the ignorance of its journalists about the U.K. is too profound to describe in words.

David Yetter
David Yetter
1 year ago

Yes, please ignore this on your side of the Pond. In the long run, the repeal of Roe simply makes America normal again: policy governing the regulation of abortion will now be decided by the elected legislatures (of the several states, since that’s where medicine is regulated) even as it was decided that way in the UK, every nation of the EU and every other country with an elected legislature on the face of the earth.
It is grimly amusing that the Dobbs case was brought to object to a Mississippi law which was more permissive than the laws governing abortion in Denmark, Belgium and Germany. Had our pro-abortion absolutists not challenged it, the strict ban “trigger laws” in a lot of states would not have gone into effect, and doubtless a lot of states would have simply copied it, giving what most Americans actually want: a European-style regime governing abortion, permitting it early (Mississippi allowed until 15 weeks gestation, the listed countries only all 12 weeks), but restricting it to circumstances where continuing the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother after that.

Last edited 1 year ago by David Yetter
D Oliver
D Oliver
1 year ago

Excellent piece. It seems to me that Richard Murphy is implicitly acknowledging the enormous influence of American liberal culture on his own tribe by claiming that his local political enemies are entirely aligned with US Republicans. One need only look at the changing Pride flag and imported woke excesses to see that US liberal culture is dominant. As DS points out, the opposite is true with respect to US right wing culture. But try telling Mr Murphy.

Robert Kaye
Robert Kaye
1 year ago

““The prejudice that black people in America face is the same prejudice we face here. When one is hurt, we’re all hurt, because it could have been us,” a demonstrator told the BBC in the summer of 2020. You’d never guess that the two countries’ histories have been utterly different — or that most of our police are unarmed, so that actually it probably couldn’t have been us.”

George Floyd wasn’t shot.

Bill W
Bill W
1 year ago

A good piece and corrective. Thank you Dominic Sandbrook.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 year ago

What this article illustrates is that there’s a wave of narcissistic sanctimoniousness crashing over the Anglosphere. Australia and New Zealand also suffer from this mind-disease. It is the result of indulgent parenting and therapeutic education. These people receive a psychological high by publicly harming others they consider evil. It is the very epitome of a slave morality from ancient times and one not fit for people who have the privilege of growing up in enlightened Western nations.

S A
S A
1 year ago

A lot of the escalation was the West Wing. Lots of British politicians became excited about US politics when they visited.

The West Wing was consumed by political obsessives who then want to inject themselves in to a story line like a small child does. They a re like a 5 year old carrying a stick, putting a pillow case around their shoulders and declaring themselves a knight of the round table.

It is a little sad seeing people in their 40s and 50s who behave like a small child.

Paddy O'Plenty
Paddy O'Plenty
1 year ago

In fairness we ordinary people do need to pay very close attention to what goes on in US society. Not because we must ape it and slavishly follow their political disputes but because the people who run the UK — people who are not right-wing conservatives, no matter what the name of the social-democratic/democratic social party is that has been nominally in office for the past 30 years — ape and slavishly follow US political disputes, and then use them to socially engineer British society.
Thus on immigration, race, sexuality, reproduction rights, transgender, policing, and countless other issues the British liberal-leaning political establishment, media, judiciary, civil service and especially education system will pick up and run with issues that are hotly contested in the US and use them to hammer through their own agenda with a general British population that has absolutely no interest in them or for whom they are not relevant.
Our police are — generally — not gunning down hapless black residents, we aren’t that bothered one way or another if the woman next door has an abortion, we couldn’t give a hoot if the eccentric geezer down the street likes to dress up in ladies clothes, we pretty much gave up going to church sometime in the last century, slavery is not ingrained into the very history of our state from its beginning, we generally assimilate immigrants well but would rather they come in legally and not in the form of an invading armada.
But because these are hot-button issues in America we are suddenly forced to address them by the media, government, employers and education system.
What happens in the US today is a pretty good indicator of what our media and political establishment will be forcing on us tomorrow, so we need to pay attention, pay very close attention indeed.

Malcolm Knott
Malcolm Knott
1 year ago

The Left loves scare stories about the Right, for example, ‘They plan to privatise the NHS in the next 48 hours.’

Last edited 1 year ago by Malcolm Knott
Michael Kellett
Michael Kellett
1 year ago

Mr Sandbrook, thank you! Your article should be required reading for every BBC, Sky TV and Guardian producer and editor. And they should be compelled to abide by its principle now and for evermore.

jennifer williams
jennifer williams
1 year ago

Britain is not the only country where this is happening, as has been pointed out by commenters below……I live in Canada…..and we are frustratingly influenced by the same rhetoric!

Maureen Finucane
Maureen Finucane
1 year ago

The Rt Hon Peter Bone, Tory MP was on the radio bleating about being Pro Life. I suspect there are many of his colleagues who share these views. Then you have the MPs on the Labour side who stutter when asked to define a women. Ask them how it feels to be a woman in Texas right now?

Christopher Peter
Christopher Peter
1 year ago

Peter Bone is allowed to have those views, isn’t he? Granted it’s not a majority view in the UK, and so abortion is very likely to remain legal here. But I believe we’re allowed to hold different views and debate them.

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago

Good on Dominic. I didn’t know he had it in him

David Frost
David Frost
1 year ago

“You think what you see in America couldn’t happen here?”
It’s difficult to imagine how the House of Lords could suddenly discover that the right to abortion isn’t found in a constitution the UK doesn’t have.

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
1 year ago

And if, “as the historian 
 argued, it was ever thus,” those old and satisfying, perhaps smug, American superstitions and admirable plain-speak about themselves and their world are straining against the confines of the natural soft shields of cultures worldwide that become punctured in any case by the quick-and-easy internet in your pocket. The modern, progressive ideology takes on a hysterical tone to make its call rise above the cacophony of competing pop culture, pop music and all the rest. And it can just take one incident, never mind event, to gain momentum and dominance: to become the talk of the town: worldwide, as it turns out! And there are enough people, receptive to the hysterical tone, who are tired of all the noise in the capitalist universe, even if they won’t admit it, but who gladly see the benefits of taking up a cause. And they’ll want to dominate you.

The Roaring Twenties, The Jazz Age: it’s not as if Lieutenant-Colonel Reginald Applin DSO, OBE, MP, NBAC, ANZAC, was likely unaware of by 1927 what was happening within Britain regarding the intrusion of American ways into British tastes. No doubt decades earlier bawdy British music hall had given rise to American vaudeville by the l880s. The lieutenant-colonel had kept his counsel, maybe, then saw one film at the pictures and was vexed more by his fellow audience’s enthusiasm, at the possibly packed “big theatre”, for the narrative than by the narrative itself. Possibly. When, subsequently, he arose to address the House of Commons on this annoying oddity in changed habits and tastes, he was no more guarded than a Hollywood film producer who decided if a movie was going to run with an audience. Will they like it? Does it represent us as a people? Money and taste did sometimes run together.
But the power of the moving image (and sound when it would come) was obvious. America could be moved by it. And it could move America, vice-versa.
It’s obvious now in the internet age how the saturation of imagery on a topic can exclude all else in a short day.

The beginning of Prohibition in America in 1920 came around as a result of a campaign by the anti-liquor parties as hysterical in tone as anything today. The prohibitionists planned to take their mission around the world. Had they had television and the talkies, they surely would have exploited them. As far as I know, no European or western country took up the prohibitionists’ cause in the early 1920s: no campaign to ban the demon drink took hold, and perhaps Prohibition was looked upon rather nonchalantly as a curious oddity by European newspapers.

But given the right conditions, new mores and ideologies can spread very quickly, especially today.

In America today, there’s the bad news crowd and the good news crowd. It seems that bad news and good news alternates between them. So now the pro-Lifers have good news. Just like the Prohibitionists in 1919. Perhaps the pro-Lifers look forward to an astonishing 63 million lives saved over the next fifty years. And if so, then surely so many talented people will spring from that 63 million (the population of the UK). People like designers, guitarists and saxophonists, doctors, pilots and sculptors, for example. Is that not something to get excited, even hysterical about? A flood of talent emerged in the Jazz Age, the Roaring Twenties, well before many of the rights we take for granted today came along.

What sort of Twenties are the 2020s shaping up to be? I don’t think there is any knee-jerk, unthinking, virtue-signalling Americanisation. There is undoubtedly Americanisation going on: but Americans are a passionate people prone to leading themselves up or down the garden path. They see other westerners as complacent. Europeans and what not. Like the lieutenant colonel aforementioned, the Americans question themselves – and may often contradict themselves. They want the best for themselves: an admirable aim. Don’t mistake their being all over the shop as being detrimental to their society.

Dana I
Dana I
1 year ago

Yes, it is very frustrating to see Britons and Euros so eager to involve themselves in the domestic dramas of the US. For one thing, it serves tremendously to ratchet up the discourse within the US. For many of our beloved hysterics, the idea that they’re being embarrassed on the world stage is what makes the stakes so high.
There is another really unfortunate knock on effect that I observe: Britons and Europeans often don’t really understand the structure of American governance, particularly that is it highly federated. Typically things are not legal or illegal “in America.” Criminal code is almost entirely at the level of the state, as are the vast majority of our institutions. But in the conversation about US domestic politics that is heavily influenced by the European worldviews, this reality gets entirely forgotten and we have Americans (particularly on the Left) crying for European-like policies that don’t appreciate our federated system or even the sheer size and diversity of this country compared to France or, for God’s sake, Denmark. No, the Danish model, whatever it is, is not directly transferrable to the United States. It is highly unlikely that “America” will have socialized medicine or even universal healthcare any time soon, but your state very well could. Massachusetts does. But the American left is stuck on the idea of campaigning for universal healthcare at the federal level, because it simply *must* be like whatever their imagining of Denmark is.
At any rate, good article and it’s worth noting that this cuts both ways.

Malcolm Webb
Malcolm Webb
1 year ago

Great article. Testament to why I read Unherd.

Ian McKinney
Ian McKinney
1 year ago

A wonderful piece, very few as good as DC Sandbrook on a rant!

Bryan Dale
Bryan Dale
1 year ago

Britain and America are different countries but they share a common language, history and the common law. Culturally, the two countries along with other former colonies will always have close cultural ties.

Mark V
Mark V
1 year ago

indeed

MJ Reid
MJ Reid
1 year ago

People identify with the USA because we share a language, therefore the USA is familiar. Although geographically we are Europeans, they are foreign because they don’t speak English. And we don’t like different. Add in the media we all receive on a daily basis in terms of TV and films from the US, is it any wonder that so many think we are simply another state in the good, ol’ US of A!

Damian 0
Damian 0
1 year ago

There are no high street sales of automatic weapons in the US.
Automatic weapons are almost impossible to get hold of in the US
You are confusing automatic weapons with
semi-auto weapons and there’s a huge difference.

Robert Eagle
Robert Eagle
1 year ago

“How much influence does the Labour MP for Walthamstow have over the American judiciary? Can you truly measure something so small?” Thanks for that couple of lines that made me crack a smile on a gloomy day.

David Lewis
David Lewis
1 year ago

Let us not forget that the 1967 Abortion Act is a typical British fudge. The Act does not allow women access to abortion of their own volition. It allows termination of pregnancy only if ‘two doctors agree that

..’. For the first 20-odd years of the act women’s GPs were asked to signed the dreaded form as the ‘first doctor’. I always resented having to take moral responsibility for this decision but did so because I respected that it was the lesser of the evils available. Signing the form became even more painful when it became clear that my wife and I would be childless. Please can we bring pressure to bear to amend this act?

Primary Teacher
Primary Teacher
1 year ago

This obsession in the U.K with everything American has being bothering me for ages. It is great to see I am not alone in thinking this. As a teacher I see this obsession in the classroom everyday but not just from the children: staff members and people much higher up in the educational food chain are also infected with the same phrases, buzz words and politics.
I was fortunate enough to spend some time in the early 2000s in a variety of educational establishments in middle America as part of my PGCE. I came away from that understanding that the two countries are so different in so many ways. I just wish every teacher had the same opportunity.

Lance Stewart
Lance Stewart
1 year ago

Just an observation: I noted the remark from some Woke individual about how we all take our support for freely available abortions, “gay” rights, etc, etc as guaranteed . No, even in a country where such view are thrust into the faces of people with normal, traditional beliefs, and every effort is made to establish them as standard, compulsory and exempt from criticism, the bulk of the population does not accept them – much less cherish them .

Ana Gomez
Ana Gomez
1 year ago

It happens in other countries too. America is contagious.

edward crim
edward crim
1 year ago

Most of us Americans wish Britons and all other Europeans would keep their opinions to themselves. We’re happy to entertain you, sell you things, show you around the Land of the Free, feed you when you visit, and help you defend yourselves from each other, but we left you because we didn’t want to BE you (or because you were eager to be rid of us, as in the case of Georgia). We particularly (and by we I mean, of course, sensible Americans 😉 don’t want your royal family, though we will be polite about their comments regarding our 1st (and 2nd) amendment rights.

Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
1 year ago

I was mostly with you until “the worst thing you can say about Keir Starmer is that he’s incredibly boring”.

No, the worst thing about Starmer is deluded his Trilateral Commission atheistic, materialistic, communitarian globalism which knows no bounds to the scope of its moral claims and which, if this narrow-minded clever stupid person gets anywhere near power, could result in the soft totalitarianism that has creeped up upon and around us tightening its icy grip.

Jad Adams
Jad Adams
1 year ago

On 9 July 2019 a total of 100 Westminster MPs voted to keep abortion illegal in Northern Ireland. There were five attempts to restrict the terms of the 1967 Abortion Act between 1975 and 1990. The most serious, the Benyon Bill (1976-77) was defeated after a concerted and very energetic campaign (I was there). Right wing ideologues over here will attack reproductive rights whenever they get the chance and in whatever way they can, they are given impetus by the US example – they are not copying it.

Christopher Peter
Christopher Peter
1 year ago
Reply to  Jad Adams

And all the attempts you describe were debated and voted upon, and rejected. That’s the way a democracy works. Or are you saying that these things should never be debated? That “reproductive rights”, as you euphemistically describe them (whose rights? not the unborn child’s, clearly), are so sacred and unassailable that no-one in a free democracy, should ever question them or seek to change them? Whether or not they’re “right wing ideologues” (I might call you a “left wing ideologue”, if I believed that demeaning and caricaturing people who disagree with you is ever fair or helpful).