How much is Romney backed in Britain?

Most of the British public and political class – including many Tories – prefer President Obama to his Republican challenger, but Mitt Romney is not without fans among the British government.

Charles Dharapak/AP
In this photo from July 26, 2012, Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney meets with British Prime Minister David Cameron at 10 Downing Street in London. Despite a much criticized trip to London this summer, Mr. Romney has supporters among the British public and political class.

A visiting Mitt Romney stirred up a storm here last summer when he expressed concerns over Britain's readiness to host the Olympics – prompting a backlash that included a rebuke from Prime Minister David Cameron. So one would be excused for thinking that the Republican presidential candidate is without cheerleaders in the UK.

But they do exist.

They’re fairly small in number in comparison with those getting behind President Obama, whose reelection is favored by more than 70 percent of Britons and whose admirers include not just the left but many in the Conservative Party itself. 

The Romney camp in the UK include the expat Republicans who will be cheering just as loudly as those at home when they gather next Wednesday to watch the second presidential debate at the offices of a law firm in London’s upmarket Saville Row. Others include Mr. Romney’s recently uncovered "long lost" cousins in England’s northwest, where his ancestors lived for generations and converted to Mormonism before leaving for the United States in 1841.

But despite Mr. Cameron’s closeness to President Obama, passionate support remains for Romney among potentially influential sections of the British right, who are currently pressing for a deeper, sharper approach to British deficit reduction. To them, a Romney win would be a vindication of Conservative economic policy, as opposed to the Obama interventionism so often held up as a shining example by British advocates of a Keynesian approach to restoring growth.

Daniel Hannan, a Conservative member of the European Parliament and an articulate standard-bearer on his own party’s right wing, says he was rooting for Obama last time – but that two things have changed.

“For one, the US debt level is not just a domestic problem. It’s a global problem when the leading economy in the free world is $16 trillion in debt and is adding to that yearly... [it] threatens a shift in power globally. Now, I don’t know if Mitt Romney is going to get on top of the deficit but I know, as everyone else does, that Obama isn’t.”

“The other is that from a purely an Anglosphere point of view, Romney is much better disposed to the other English-speaking democracies than Obama,” adds Mr. Hannan, who argues that British support for Obama has not been reciprocated until recently.

He lists evidence such as the symbolism of Obama receiving from the last prime minister, Gordon Brown, an ornamental pen-holder made with the timbers of a Victorian anti-slave ship and responding with a box set of DVDs “including Die Hard 3, but not Die Hard 1 or 2.” 

Other sore points include the removal of a Churchill bust from the Oval Office, the president’s emphasis during a tour of West Africa on the “independence struggle” from Britain but lack of recognition for Britain’s role in ending the slave trade, the “invention of an imaginary company called British Petroleum, which hasn’t existed for 10 years,” and the way in which Hannan says the US has repeatedly backed the Argentine position on the Falklands Islands.

“Pile these things together and you think this is an administration that has a different attitude towards us than all the others going back a century,” he says.

Another vocal Romney supporter is the MP Liam Fox, Britain’s defense minister until he quit last October over his friendship with a businessman who posed as his adviser. He remains a major force on the party’s right, where he has been touted as a potential challenger to Cameron.

Mr. Fox, a staunch fiscal Conservative and his party’s preeminent "Atlanticist" told the Daily Telegraph in August that he has been able to pass in his ideas on economics and defense on to Romney’s core of policy advisers through the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank based in Washington DC.

"There is a willingness to deal with the debt issue, and people in Europe don't quite understand the difficulties that will be posed later in the decade if the American debt is not dealt with," said the MP, who met with several of the Romney campaign’s policy inner circle during the candidate’s visit to London.

"There's a great deal that Mitt Romney can offer in terms of economic management and there's a strong overlap in how we would see the strategic importance of reducing America's debt."

While Romney and Britain’s Conservatives are, mostly, at one on fiscal policy, there is nervousness among some Tories about the consequences of a Romney win after the "political crush" that Cameron is perceived to have had on Obama, the prime minister’s failure to meet Republican leaders during a US visit in March, and his attempts to rebrand of his party as one that embraced gay rights and loved Britain’s National Health Service. 

Such concerns may well prove unfounded, all the more so with senior Conservatives recently reiterating firm right-wing positions on issues such as crime and abortion.

In addition, they may be a fairly unusual political species but, according to the chair of Republicans Abroad UK, Romney supporters do exist in other British parties.

“In the last month I have spoken at fringe events on the US election at all three party conferences – Liberal Democrat, Labour, and Conservative – and at each one I have met people who [favor] Mitt Romney to the incumbent,” says Thomas Grant, a senior research fellow of Wolfson College in the University of Cambridge. “You would not necessarily expect to find that in all three parties, but there it is.”

In the meantime, Hannan envisions “another happy consequence” of a Romney White House.

“Never before have all the main English-speaking democracies been run by people who recognize that there is merit in having some kind of community among those countries,” he says.

“So if, as seems overwhelmingly likely, Tony Abbott is elected at some stage in Australia and if Romney were to win next month in the US, you would have something that you never had before, which is that in the core Anglospherist countries, all of the governments would be center-right and Anglospherist.”

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