Living on a Thin Line


Since its empire dissolved, the central question of Britain's national identity has been whether the country will be an extension of Europe or America. Not many people are willing to put the issue as baldly as that; it's easier for the partisans of a European superstate to present themselves as rebels against American domination, and for the partisans of American domination to present themselves as rebels against a European superstate. And of course there are the Tony Blair types who would rather not rebel against either. But there aren't many powerful voices for independence across the board.

I'm a pretty big Powell & Pressburger fan, but I wasn't blown away by their Colonel Blimp movie. Then again, what I saw was one of the shortened versions. Should I seek out the full 163-minute cut?

In tomorrow's election, Nick Clegg represents the Anglo-European wing of the establishment. In the words of Christopher Hitchens, "There's a whole sector of the British professional class that probably knows Tuscany and Provence better than it knows large areas of post-industrial Britain." Clegg, he writes, is their man:

Clegg worked for me in [The Nation's] New York offices while I was writing from Washington, so our direct contact was limited. What I chiefly remember, apart from his now-famous personal charm, was how "European" he was. His parentage was partly Dutch and partly Russian. He has since married a Spanish woman and has three children with Spanish names. And, of course, his party is the one most closely identified with the British aspiration to full British engagement in the European Union.

Those leanings might not always be apparent in a campaign that has largely focused on domestic policy, but they certainly manifest themselves when the talk turns to foreign affairs. Over at The Corner, Nile Gardiner has posted an item titled "Five Reasons Why American Conservatives Should Be Worried about Nick Clegg." Strip away the hyperbole (as when Gardiner calls Clegg "anti-American"), and the list boils down to this:

• Clegg wants an "end to what he mockingly calls London's 'subservience' to Washington."

• He is opposed to "default Atlanticism."

• He "has called for the scrapping of Britain's trident nuclear deterrent and is firmly opposed to the use of force against Iran's nuclear facilities as a last resort if sanctions fail."

• He "believes that Britain must give up key aspects of national sovereignty in Europe, including the pound."

• He is critical of Israel.

I don't find most of those positions as worrisome as Gardiner does, but set that aside. Four of those five stances amount to declaring Britain's independence from U.S. foreign policy. The other one amounts to relinquishing independence to Brussels. Q.E.D.