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Monday, April 25, 2016 

Always bet on Boris going mad.

Peter Mandelson might not get much right, but when he does, he tends to hit it right on the head.  Speaking to the Graun last week ahead of President Obama's visit, he said: "With luck Boris Johnson will go mad again and say it is all part of a CIA conspiracy."

Which he didn't.  At least not quite.  No, Boris just chose to bring up Obama's being "part-Kenyan" as a possible explanation for why he hates us so and yet still deigns to tell us what to do.  He did this in the pages of the Sun, the newspaper owned by an Australian turned American who sees no problem in telling us Britishers how to vote not just in referendums, but in elections proper.

It was an odd weekend, all told.  Normal roles were reversed.  Usually it's the left that complains about America regarding Britain as the 51st state, or at least that was the case until Obama came along and rewired US foreign policy to a certain extent.  Generally it's the right that is pro-Atlanticist, for the very reason they dream of Britain detaching entirely from Europe, floating across the ocean and everyone through osmosis developing a disdain for our remaining social democrat foibles.  Instead the hissing from the right against Obama making a pretty vanilla case for staying in the EU was all but deafening, while the adulation from the left for a US president telling us what to do was embarrassing.

To suggest this was all a bit over the top when there's little evidence that Obama's intervention will have anything like the impact either side seem to imagine it will would have been to spoil the fun, it seems.  We do after all pretty much know what the two major motivating factors will be when it comes to voters making up their minds: the economy and immigration.  This is why the remain campaign has been banging on incessantly about how leaving the EU will lead us inexorably back to the days before we discovered fire, while leave focuses on little other than how remaining in the EU will inevitably result in every single Turk, Serb and Albanian coming to this country when they join (eventually, if they ever do) and then gain free movement (years after they join), laying waste to the NHS, schools, et al.  Michael Gove, who only last week was attempting to be slightly smarter than this, apparently felt the need to go back to basics after Bozza tossed his dead cat onto the table.

Boris's resort to the argument made most noisily by US right-winger Dinesh D'Souza, that Obama's heritage and especially his father are key to understanding why he "doesn't believe in American exceptionalism" obscured the fact that he made some very decent points about err, America's exceptionalism.  Like the refusal to sign up to the International Criminal Court, or the failure to ratify the UN Rights of the Child Convention, which the US had a major role in drawing up.  Of course, signing up to these institutions or conventions can be all but meaningless when some of the worst human rights offenders in the world are signed up and carry on executing children regardless, yet it's the message such aloofness sends.  Who is any US president to lecture us on our membership of the EU when America is one of the most insular, solipsistic nations on earth by choice, not by design?  It might not be Obama's choice, sure, but it is of much of the rest of the political establishment.  Obama's message was effectively one of telling us to accept our decline; that might be the most realistic option, and yet who would ever embrace such an option willingly?  It's self-evident nonsense that Obama has presided over an American decline, as well as an obvious dog-whistle, yet it's hardly coincidence the candidate promising to "Make America Great Again" still looks set to be the Republican going up against Hillary Clinton come November.

Indeed, there's a major refraction of America's role in setting up organisations and conventions only to reject them later in Theresa May's declaration today that we should leave the European Convention on Human Rights, rather than the EU.  You have to wonder if this is the first attempt at reaching out to the Leavers by Number 10, with the plausible May delivering the message, or if it's instead May still holding out hopes of becoming leader.  When you bear in mind that repealing the Human Rights Act and replacing it with a British Bill of Rights was in the Tory manifesto, something that makes no sense whatsoever unless you also withdraw from the ECHR, it's almost the next logical step.  Logical in as far as the HRA is going to be repealed; it isn't, as every time it comes up for discussion the can gets kicked further along the road.

May's decision to call directly to leave the ECHR does though make you pause.  Would the Tories be cynical enough to sacrifice the ECHR to attempt to heal the wounds left by the referendum?  It doesn't matter that the ECHR is a nuisance rather than a real blocking measure; the old perennials May mentioned of Abu Hamza, Abu Qatada and votes for prisoners are notable precisely because Hamza was sent to the US, Qatada was deported to Jordan (although more because Qatada himself became fed up with constantly being detained rather than May being victorious) and the government is intent on dragging its feet indefinitely on votes for prisoners.  May seemed to infer we could all but enshrine the same rights as in the ECHR/HRA and add to them, such as guaranteeing right to trial by jury, which the ECHR doesn't; in which case, why don't we just rename the HRA to the British Bill of Rights the Tories are so very keen on?  Presumably for the reason that our own courts would still stop the home secretary from doing whatever he or she feels like, which is the real reason governments of both left and right have come to loathe the ECHR/HRA.  It's not because of what it says, it's because judges dare to disagree with them on the basis of their interpretation of the law.

If nothing else it would set up a new battle between the EU over whether or not you do have to be signed up to the ECHR to be a member once you're already in.  And as Robert Harris pointed out, the major point of the referendum has been to give the Leave crowd something to bitch and moan about, despite having been those most vociferous in demanding it in the first place.  It's enough to almost make you want Obama here telling us what to do all the time.

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