Born in the USAThe Americanisation of Reactionary Politics in the UK
From dark money think tanks to health privatisation, the influence of the American right on British politics is greater than we think, says Rachel Morris
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As a nation we’ve gone from running America, to being at war with it, allied to it, in a ‘special relationship’ with it, to consuming its wares.
Gum and stockings were the WWII thing; jeans, burgers, peanut butter and TV are more recent imports. The Cadbury’s chocolate of childhood tastes sort of the same, but you get less for more, and it’s shinier – more ‘perfect’ and more American, because it’s American-owned now.
Britain has turned its back on Europe, though we haven’t landed in the lap of America, even if that was part of the Brexit plan. The trade deal that was supposed to mitigate our economic losses hasn’t materialised. Donald Trump was part of that plan, but a win for Joe Biden in 2020 put a stop to that.
Yet the Americanisation of British politics was further propelled by Brexit – via the dark money that lurches from one side of the Atlantic to the other. And you can spot it by watching the reactions of some parliamentarians to recent, regressive American political developments.
When Roe v Wade was overturned last week, Conservative MP Scott Benton retweeted – though subsequently deleted – a Republican Party tweet celebrating the reversal of US abortion rights. During the 2019 General Election campaign, Benton’s opponent raised his links to the homophobic, anti-abortion faith group Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC).
Benton said that he was no longer linked to SPUC, because as a gay man he remains anti-abortion but supports same-sex marriage. SPUC is British, but received more than £72,000 between 2020 and 2022 from US donors using an agency to make the transactions opaque.
Conservative MP Danny Kruger told the House of Commons that he “disagrees with those who think that women have an absolute right to bodily autonomy in this matter”. His colleague, Peter Bone, told LBC that he’s disappointed the BBC uses the term ‘anti-abortion’ rather than ‘pro-life’.
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries has in the past said that she wants to stop clinics from giving abortion counselling. Conservative MPs Richard Drax and Jacob Rees-Mogg have promoted ‘pro-life’ ideas in Parliament. As revealed by Byline Times, Conservative MP Rehman Chishti is being paid £22,400 a-year to work part-time for a religious pressure group in the United States linked to anti-abortion, anti-LGBTIQ efforts
There are more evangelical Christians in Parliament, or those who adopt their positions, than many realise.
Emboldened Opposition &a Galvanised MovementWhat the End of Roe v Wade Meansfor Abortion Around the WorldSian Norris
This serves as a reminder that, in 2019, 99 MPs voted to keep abortion illegal in Northern Ireland. It isn’t the ‘wedge issue’ here that it is in the US, but some seek to make it one. Simply remarking on American rulings draws it further into our discourse.
The same conglomeration of dark money-funded ‘think tanks’ and their adherents who backed Brexit are fuelling imported culture wars, such as promoting ‘woke’ as a pejorative, and arguing for reduced reproductive rights: these include the Adam Smith Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA), Net Zero Watch, the New Culture Forum, Turning Point UK, and Young Voices UK.
Some huddle under the opacity and respectability of being registered with the Charity Commission while promoting reactionary American values via Fox News-lite platforms such as GB News and TalkTV. None of these organisations or outlets are elected – they are arguably unknown by most except on the fringes – yet they have an enormous impact on our discourse, and perhaps even our laws.
As Peter Geoghegan, author of Democracy For Sale, has written: “Britain’s politics looks increasingly like America’s, with private money buying ever more access and influence inside the corridors of power”.
Some such money is – at least indirectly – dollars, provided via right-wing funders like the Charles Koch Foundation, which helped to sponsor the notorious pro-herd immunity ‘Great Barrington Declaration’, and the Mercer family, that funded Cambridge Analytica.
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Imprisonment-for-profit is another import. Private prisons were introduced in Britain in the 1990s and there are now 14, managed by outsourcing giants like G4S and Serco.
The credit scoring system used to filter people wanting to rent property is an American practice barely seen here before the year 2000.
And education is being commodified – with British students competing with their American cousins over their comparative levels of post-graduation debt. Free or heavily discounted tuition, meanwhile, is still commonplace in the EU.
Domestic schools are gradually being converted into academies, still state-funded yet independent of local authority control. Hundreds of ‘multi-academy trusts’ (MATs) run thousands of such schools, the idea being that high-performing ones will help struggling ones. But in some cases, unqualified management has proved corrupt and education has been badly impacted, a normal outcome of American-style marketisation and self-regulation.
More than 70% of secondary and 27% of primary schools are now academies, despite limited evidence of higher standards. MATs are often run by businessmen and hedge fund managers, not education experts, with public funds invested in high pay rather than facility improvements.
One Nation Under GOP
In healthcare also – a lodestar of collectivism in a fragmented Thatcherite consensus – GP surgeries and some of our data are now owned by American companies, while trusts face strikes by privately-employed staff who receive less pay and fewer holidays than NHS colleagues.
The NHS will shortly become an umbrella brand for 42 separate ‘Integrated Care Systems’, that will allow private health company representatives on their boards. Privatisation and profit is creeping into our cherished NHS, without popular awareness.
One of the most divisive tropes in the US, especially under George W. Bush and Donald Trump, is accusing those you disagree with of being unpatriotic. This age-old authoritarian polarisation has become fully clothed in the stars and stripes in the culture war era.
In Westminster, both Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Attorney General Suella Braverman have launched their own ‘patriotism’ campaign in recent weeks to justify their ludicrous Brexit provocations, while Labour is repeatedly accused by Boris Johnson – himself born in New York – of ‘talking down’ Britain.
If you’ve experienced the USA’s size and diversity, flag-grabbing makes sense. In some ways, it’s the only thing holding the country together.
Despite the UK having a different profile entirely, this trend is on the rise here too. No politician seems able to appear in their office without multiple union jacks on display. The bigger, the better.
How is the modern media environment emboldening people who want to destroy popular social justice campaigns for their own personal gain?
Post-Brexit, the UK isn’t bound by EU regulations on workers’ rights, safe data, or a healthy environment. Charter cities, known here as ‘freeports’, are seen as a way of delivering tax-free, low-rights, non-transparent commerce. Chancellor Rishi Sunak, a disciple of American Professor Paul Romer, who tried and failed to start charter cities in Honduras, keeps popping off to meet with US interests. Sunak held a US green card, allowing permanent residence there, until last year.
Rees-Mogg wants to see a forest fire of regulations, grounded in Ayn Randian clean slate libertarianism and late stage vulture capitalism. Dominic Raab is seeking to introduce a British ‘Bill of Rights’ – the US Bill of Rights contains the first 10 amendments to the US constitution – potentially usurping the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci described the Americanisation of Europe as, “the gradual infiltration of the conviction that we moderns, practical and unscrupulous, must despise everything that does not concern our immediate profit”.
And if you think ‘it’ can’t happen here, watch Kate Andrews, the American-libertarian former director of the IEA (now economics editor of the Spectator magazine, formerly edited by Boris Johnson) banging the drum repeatedly for privatisation on the BBC’s flagship political programmes.
The IEA does not declare its funding sources, yet its current and former staffers are propelled into the public limelight – key actors in our contrived, Americanised culture war.
Perhaps most insidious of all, the Conservative Party appears to be adopting the playbook of the GOP in curtailing voting rights for the marginalised and disadvantaged. As Republicans gerrymander seats to artificially create a perpetual right-wing majority, the British opposition believes that millions of voters – those least likely to vote Conservative – could be disenfranchised under Johnson’s plans.
We must declare independence from creeping Americanism, before we’re too cooked to jump.