During the two terms of Barack Obama’s presidency in the United States of America, conservative journalists and politicians in the United Kingdom often claimed that the former Illinois senator was instinctively “anti-British” because he failed to show due respect and deference to the UK. In April 2016 the then Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, rehashed a discredited claim in The Sun newspaper alleging that a supposed decision by the president in 2008 to remove a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office symbolised his deep-seated antipathy to Britain. Antipathy born out of Obama’s presumably “toxic” ancestry among the colonised peoples of the historical British Empire.
Some said it was a snub to Britain. Some said it was a symbol of the part-Kenyan president’s ancestral dislike of the British Empire – of which Churchill had been such a fervent defender.
Nigel Farage, the leader of the far-right UKIP grouping and the de facto head of the “Leave” side during Britain’s fractious Brexit referendum, echoed Johnson’s words.
I think Obama, because of his grandfather and Kenya and colonisation, I think Obama bears a bit of a grudge against this country.
Look, I know his family’s background. Kenya. Colonialism. There is clearly something going on there.
It’s just that you know people emerge from colonialism with different views of the British. Some thought that they were benign and really rather good, and others saw them as foreign invaders that kept people suppressed. Obama’s family come from that second school of thought and it hasn’t quite left him yet.
So it’s absolutely fascinating to watch unionists, the frequently xenophobic and hibernophobic nationalists of the United Kingdom, and those who act as their apologists or propagandists in Ireland, turn to similar tactics in order to obfuscate the UK’s culpability in the souring of diplomatic relations between Dublin and London. And to do so by insinuating that on matters related to the British, the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is animated by what some in that cohort might well describe as “bad blood” (and in more ways than one).
Take this extraordinary opinion piece from Ruth Dudley Edwards in the Irish Independent, who inexplicably continues to be given a platform in the national press despite her sympathy for those populist forces in Britain threatening to inflict political, economic and societal harm on this island nation through the chaotic withdrawal from the European Union of our newly isolationist neighbour to the east.
I think Varadkar’s behaviour is rooted in inexperience and a desire to prove himself a fíor gael [true Irish].
…its relevant that being a half-Indian gay man makes you a bit of an outsider. The phrase “more Irish than the Irish themselves” has been used in the past of incomers. Being half-English like Patrick Pearse, or born abroad, like James Connolly or Eamon de Valera, was a big motivator toward proving yourself as a nationalist.
If the motivations and aspirations, the thoughts and beliefs of the Irish-born Fine Gael leader can be traduced by his supposed status as an “outsider” in Ireland, what then of Ruth Dudley Edwards in Britain? Born and raised in middle-class Dublin, with Irish nationalism and Irish nationalists in her extended family tree, living and working among the conservative British press and intelligentsia for decades, befriended by hardline unionists and empire revanchists, hawking her polemical wares to influential clubs and think tanks in London? What drives her actions, her words, her loyalties when in the eyes of her critics she has purposefully become, like her former late husband Patrick Cosgrave, a self-styled “West Brit” and sycophant of Enoch Powell and Margaret Thatcher, more English than the English themselves?