View from abroad: British students hope for a Bush defeat

OXFORD, England – As Election Day approaches, students across the Atlantic Ocean are hoping that Sen. John Kerry ousts President Bush from the White House.

The Oxford Union, one of the oldest and foremost student debating societies in the world, overwhelmingly rejected a motion to re-elect Bush Thursday evening.

Although the 176-year-old Union holds no formal sway, the energy and forcefulness of students’ speeches and attacks on Bush’s policies underscored the extent to which England’s youth feels alienated by Bush.

An audible moan emerged from the 500-plus students crammed into the Union’s cavernous debate chamber when a speaker advocating Bush’s re-election mentioned America’s and the England’s sincere efforts to bring “freedom and liberty to the people of Iraq through the current conflict.”

Eruptions of applause followed after Oscar-winning actor and speaker Richard Dreyfuss declared in a speech, “People who are incompetent should be fired … and this president is incompetent.”

Even David Trimble, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and Northern Ireland’s first minister, failed to convince students of Bush’s “courageous leadership.”

Many British students at Oxford University have a keen interest in the election because of the profound effect it will have on their own country’s foreign policy.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s support for the war in Iraq is an issue that seems to define the precarious nature of current Anglo-American relations. England, with 8,500 troops in Iraq, has the largest armed forces contingent in the Middle East country aside from the U.S.

“Americans think we support Blair and we support the war … This is just flat out wrong,” said George Davies, an Oxford student and reporter following the election for one of the University’s two student newspapers, The Cherwell.

The Guardian, a British daily, reported that 46 percent of Britons opposed the war at its onset in March 2002; by July 2004 that number increased to 56 percent.

On Oct. 18, between 20,000 and 100,000 students and other Britons participated in a mass demonstration in London’s Trafalgar Square to protest the war and demand that Blair remove British troops from Iraq.

“The war is not achieving anything,” said Sapana Agrawal of London during the student portion of Thursday evening’s Union debate. “Someone has to do something. Someone has to get rid of George W. Bush.”

While some have suggested that the overwhelming opposition to the war throughout Britain might hamper Blair’s upcoming reelection bid, others said the present state of British politics will save him.

The two leading opposition parties, the Tories and Liberal Democrats, have largely failed to benefit from the unpopularity of the Iraq war.

“The war is an unmitigated disaster, but Blair will survive, particularly because there’s really no strong opposition,” Davies said.

No matter how strong the ties between Bush and the prime minister seem to be, most Oxford students are harsh critics of the president.

“The British people support America, but they don’t support George Bush. At best, people see (him) as a joke. At worst, he’s a war criminal,” Davies said.

Despite the contempt some Britons hold for Bush, many said they believe Americans will find it difficult to choose Kerry on Tuesday.

“In talking to (a few Americans) it’s quite apparent that (Americans) aren’t so much voting for Kerry as they are voting against George Bush,” said Joe Manning, a first-year student from Salford, a city near Liverpool and Manchester.

“I mean, I don’t know all the facts, but it seems like many Americans aren’t voting for Kerry because they believe he has the power to change things, but because they believe he won’t screw things up quite as badly,” Manning continued. “The choice seems really negative, not about hope.”

In the end, many British students said they are concerned about how the results of the presidential election will impact the historically strong U.S.-Britain relationship.

Some think a Bush win on Nov. 2 will push the U.K. closer to the rest of Europe.

Davies said, “Our alliance will remain, but our suspicion of the (U.S.) will grow.”

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