Why we like the Americans more and more

Share this article

SINCE George W Bush became president, we all hate Americans now, right? Wrong. Dead wrong. And even, I would suggest, dangerously wrong. Despite reports about a rise in anti-Americanism in Britain, and despite the way in which many British people seem to regard President Bush as either a figure of fun or the leader of the world’s most dangerous Rogue State, British people continue to like and respect Americans and American values.

According to a MORI poll published in the past week, Americans are now liked by more people in Britain than at any time in the past three decades. Four Britons out of five - a whopping 81 per cent of us - agree with the statement "I like Americans as people". This is a big jump from the 69 per cent who agreed with those views in 1989 and 1991 and the mere 66 per cent back in 1986, when the Cold War was in its dying stages and Ronald Reagan was still president. Today, only 11 per cent of us admit to disliking Americans as people.

But the poll is even more interesting when the details are spelled out. The British seem more or less evenly split when asked whether we can learn a great deal from the US. Half of us agree, 44 per cent disagree. (Personally, I think we can learn endlessly from America - including how to do things better than they do - such as regulating out-of-control business practices in Enron and Arthur Andersen.)

Yet despite this affection, only one in five of us would actually like to be more American, and only one in four would be content to live in the US. When asked which is more important to Britain: the continent of Europe, the US or the Commonwealth, then British people are clear-sighted. Europe is regarded as most important by 50 per cent of us, America by 29 per cent and the Commonwealth 19 per cent. The Commonwealth retains the affections of older Britons, but not the youngest among us. The MORI survey also notes that it would not be Britain if there was not a class divide. Those in middle-class occupations tend to think Europe is more important. Those in working-class occupations tend to think the US is more important.

So what can we conclude from all this? The big picture would appear to be that the British people have their heads screwed on - as usual. We have a very clear perception that whoever happens to be in power in the White House, and whatever we might think of individual US policies towards Iraq, Israel or the environment, America is a country that we like enormously. Second, even those of us who love America still prefer our own small corner of the globe. And third, whatever reservations we might have about the EU, the British assume that the destiny of these islands is intimately connected to that of the continent of Europe. MORI’s American-born chief in London, Bob Worcester, draws his own personal conclusion.

"The moral to this story," he writes, is: "Don’t believe everything you read in the Guardian."

STILL on the subject of polls - and on not believing everything you read in the Guardian - I note in Monday’s edition of that august newspaper a rather idiosyncratic interpretation of important polling results. A Guardian/ICM poll found that there has been a seven-point shift in support in favour of military action against Iraq. At the beginning of this month, 32 per cent of British people approved of a military attack. Now the figure has jumped to 39 per cent. Amazing. But what is even more amazing is that this, the biggest shift in opinion recorded on the subject, was buried by the Guardian in the middle of an article which began on a completely different tack.

"Two-fifths of British voters remain opposed to military action against Iraq," the Guardian analysis of its own poll begins. Curious. The first eight paragraphs are devoted to what has not changed. The figure which has changed dramatically is in paragraph nine. A mysterious oversight, no doubt, in failing to give prominence to increasing British public support for US policy.

MEANWHILE, a relative brings me a cautionary tale from the world of British amateur golf. This week, he and his friends were ready to tee off at a small golf club when an elderly fellow-golfer arrived, took his new set of clubs from the car and placed them on his trolley in the car park. Then the old man went into the club house to change. As he did so, another car came into the car park. A man opened the boot , threw the golf clubs inside, and drove off. Police investigating the theft immediately recognised the car from CCTV footage and set off to arrest a familiar local drug addict and petty thief.

As an innocent in these matters, I am not sure how you would go about converting a four iron, putter or pitching wedge into heroin or cocaine, but I assume there must be some kind of rate of exchange.

Gavin Esler is a presenter on BBC News 24.