Bush To Face Mixed Welcome

We're about to become an unwilling backdrop to your next presidential election campaign.

You see, American Presidents have been coming to London for nearly a hundred years. Woodrow Wilson made a visit in 1918. More recently, remember Jimmy Carter getting an ovation in Newcastle, Ronald Reagan riding out with the Queen at Windsor and Bill Clinton causing the hearts to flutter on the streets of London?

But all of these were, as our diplomats say, informal visits. Next week Mr. Bush will make the first ever State Visit by an American President to this country. He'll be hosted by The Queen. There'll be lots of military uniforms and hoopla, brass bands and saluting. And if security allows, he'll get to drive through the streets of London up to Buckingham Palace with Her Majesty.

I said, 'if security allows' for a very good reason. Most of these visits pass without Londoners noticing them. But this one is different.

All Police leave has been cancelled for the period of this visit. Half of London will be closed down. The President will be wrapped in a cocoon of security, probably unaware of the fury that he arouses.

And why? Because George Bush and this visit makes the placid, rather apolitical British, angry. Next week will see many in this country desperate to show Mr. Bush just how deeply they disagree with him. Not with the American people, but with your President.

It isn't just the unfolding tragedy in Iraq that worries them. It's the President's simplistic, and to our mind downright dangerous, outlook on the world. His apparent contempt for other cultures, his failure to recognise international conventions, his rewriting of history.

So don't be surprised if you turn on your TV next week and see hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in the streets of London, protesting against your President and his frighteningly single minded view of the world. A man without the charisma of a Reagan or a Clinton, without the ferocious intelligence of a Roosevelt or the skills of an Eisenhower. But a man with a mountain of cash, using us as a colourful backdrop to his next election campaign video.

For The Queen, it must be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, having to host President Bush must be a bit of a chore; on the other, all the publicity is bound to take some of the heat off her son, Prince Charles, who has his own issues at the moment.
By Simon Bates