27 Jul 2012

From bad to worse: Mitt Romney’s London gaffe fest

He insulted his British hosts before he even arrived – and was mocked by London mayor Boris Johnson in front of thousands. But this isn’t the first time Mitt Romney has bashed the Brits.

Romney in London (reuters)

Oh dear. The man who wanted to use the London Olympics to boost his image back home has ended up a complete mockery: earning himself a new Twitter hashtag in the process – #Romneyshambles.

Most travelling political leaders might think twice before insulting their hosts on the eve of a major visit. But Mitt Romney did not stop with merely questioning Britain’s readiness to stage the Olympics: he was also forced to distance himself from another diplomatic snafu over a reference to a shared “Anglo-Saxon heritage” between Britain and the US.

Poor Mitt was barely through the door of 10 Downing Street when David Cameron was poking fun at his prized stewardship of the Salt Lake City games: “We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world. Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.”

England is just a small island…it doesn’t make things that people in the rest of the world want to buy. Mitt Romney, ‘No Apologies’

And London mayor Boris Johnson wasn’t pulling any punches either. Addressing a 60,000 strong crowd at a huge concert in London’s Hyde Park, he proclaimed in initimable style: “There’s a guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know if we are ready. Are we ready? Yes we are!”

Back in the United States, news of Mitt’s gaffe-strewn visit hasn’t gone down well. Senate majority leader Harry Reid said Romney had not just embarassed himself, telling the Huffington Post: “It’s not good for us as a country – it’s not good for him – but as a country, to have somebody that’s nominated by one of the principal parties to go over and insult everybody.”

Cue a hasty attempt at damage limitation, as Romney appeared on CNN’s Piers Morgan show to insist that he and his wife Ann really, really DID like the British – and thought the Olympics would be just “terrific”. Honest.

Home from home

The East coast tycoon tried to emphasise his British ancestry, reminding viewers that his great-great grandfather hailed from Preston: “I’m married to a girl from Wales, and I’m a guy from Great Britain. So I feel like this is home too, I guess.” That didn’t really convince anyone.

As Foreign Policy’s Joshua Keating helpfully points out, Romney hasn’t been polite to his ‘homeland’ in the past. Here’s a passage from his 2010 book, ‘No Apology’: “England (sic) is just a small island. Its roads and houses are small. With few exceptions, it doesn’t make things that people in the rest of the world want to buy. And if it hadn’t been separated from the continent by water, it almost certainly would have been lost to Hitler’s ambitions.”

Way to go, Mitt. It’s just as well David Cameron hadn’t read your book before your meeting at Number Ten, or you might have had to rename it “Grovelling Apologies”. And we haven’t even got to the opening ceremony yet. The #Romneyshambles saga just gets better, and better.

Felicity Spector writes about US affairs for Channel 4 News