It will feel good to be an Englishman in America again this week. When the natives hear my accent there will be little smiles and nods of appreciation. The parents at my daughters’ school will make friendly jokes about bringing back the colonies. They will inquire politely about the Queen and Sir Elton John. The really knowledgeable will ask about the ribs of David Beckham (though they might pronounce it Beck-Ham). Finally one of them will utter the words that explain it all: “I just love your Prime Minister.”
Yes, Tony Blair is here again and Britain’s stock, already high thanks to decades of warm feeling engendered by Winston Churchill, Brideshead Revisited, Margaret Thatcher and The Rolling Stones, will soar once again. It’s hard to overstate the affection in which the British Prime Minister is held over here.
Even Democrats, apart from a sour few who think that their new Labour counterpart has betrayed them, will mutter how they could have supported the war if only Mr Blair had been making the case. Indeed, there was a write-in campaign, so I’m told, to put Mr Blair’s name on the ballot in last week’s election. I don’t know how many votes he got, but I’d be surprised if he didn’t run Ralph Nader close in a few districts down south and out west.
But Americans are dimly aware, too, that Mr Blair is an isolated figure in Britain and Europe. They know that his respect and admiration for America, its policies and values, is not widely shared on the other side of the Atlantic. They sense that much of Europe is a very different sort of place.
Much has been made of that divide in the past week. European reaction to the election has been predictably angry and uncomprehending. It has cemented the view that America and Europe are headed on irreversibly divergent courses.
But I suspect that the events of the past week, and specifically the juxtaposition of President Bush’s re-election with the Rocco Buttiglione affair, in which the European commissioner was rejected because of his views on personal morality, demonstrate something else. America and Europe aren’t completely different, but mirror opposites, politically, socially, culturally. Narrow but decisive majorities on both sides of the Atlantic are pushing the two sides farther apart. In America, traditionalists and believers in moral values are squeezing the secular moral relativists until their agnostic pips squeak. In Europe, it’s the latter who have the upper hand; the religiously observant who feel besieged.
So here’s a modest proposal.
Why don’t the US and Europe orchestrate an enormous migratory swap? All those Americans who feel that they can no longer live in a land of pious, life-respecting, unilateralist, flag-waving patriots should be encouraged to migrate to Europe, where they will reinforce the majority for the secularist elites. Europeans who feel increasingly alienated in a continent in which any mention of Jesus provokes sniggering derision and where ideas such as marriage, family and faith are regarded as bigoted and fuddy-duddy should move to America.
It would be a win-win, as they say here. Europe would benefit. Gone would be all those tiresome sorts who stand in the way of European unification. The American cosmopolitan elite is firmly in favour. They would like nothing more than to create a peace and love-pursuing, multilateralist, European super-nanny power.
Some things in America wouldn’t change much, New York would be as cosmopolitan as ever; there would be the Irish, the Poles, the Italians, European Jews. Only they wouldn’t spend their time sneering at the rest of the continent. San Francisco might lose some of the more racy aspects of its character, which would be a shame. But there is always a price to pay.
Culturally, Europe might be the net gainer. Most of Hollywood would relocate to Cannes. That might not go down well with the French but they would get used to it. The old Continent would also get all those novelists and rock stars. Bruce Springsteen could write plangent ballads about never being able to get a plumber in Tuscany when you want one. Michael Moore could turn his distorting lens on the glories of the Brussels bureaucracy. And they could all happily keep the BBC going for generations.
In America, we might be left with only Mel Gibson and Arnold Schwarzenegger. But would we really need anyone else?
Economically, the picture would be mixed. George Soros could give back some of the money he made when the pound fell out of the ERM by paying European levels of taxation. The US might lose some of its Silicon Valley stars. But think of the demographic advantages. The displaced Europeans would be the procreators. The US would enhance its population growth and its long-term economic prospects. With abortion and gay marriage actively encouraged in Europe, the chances are that the old Continent ’s senescence would accelerate rapidly.
Politically, Europe could have the United Nations — they could station it where its spiritual soul is already — hard by the Quai d’Orsay. In return, America would get the Vatican. What better place to put it than the City of Angels, perhaps on the site of the old Paramount Studios.
There are other advantages. America would become a pre-eminent football nation; European pop music would become tolerable. But there would be some dislocations, of course.
In America there would have to be some constitutional changes. The ban on foreigners from becoming president would have to be lifted. Not least to reflect the fact that the Democrats’ desperate search for the elusive perfect candidate would be over. The one man who combines respect for moral values, genuine piety, a firm belief in the virtues of US foreign policy and an ability to appeal to the masses of Middle America would be available, and frankly, at a bit of a loss, on the wrong side of the Atlantic.
There would be no need for a write-in campaign. Tony Blair would be on the ballot. And he would win in a landslide.