A British Tea Party: History Inverts Itself

How's this for historical irony: there's a tea party movement starting in Britain.

Daniel Hannan, a British member of the European Parliament (the parliamentary body of the EU) appeared on Fox News Friday afternoon to explain to Neil Cavuto that he's organizing a tea party protest in the U.K., and that he's spoken with some tea party leaders in the U.S. (from the purportedly 15-million-strong group Tea Party Patriots, a major player in the conservative grassroots tea party movement in America) over the phone.

"The argument is the same, Neil. It's the same in Britain, it's the same in America," Hannan said. "...How we are going to get out of this debt crisis...it's not by taxing more, it's by spending less."

Hannan says the British tea partiers will be drinking tea, rather than throwing it into a harbor.

During the portion of the interview I caught, Hannan was not asked, nor did he offer, any thoughts on the Stamp Act.

The levels of historical reflection here are, admittedly, difficult to wrap one's head around. The tea party movement is so distinctly American, in its support for pure laissez-faire capitalism and free enterprise and its explicit appropriation of the language and tropes of Americanism. The movement is rife with talk about the founding fathers--though, let's face it, so is everything in American politics.

Europe is a liberal place, by our standards, but it's not terribly uncommon for British activists to aspire to the New World's brands of ultra-small-government conservatism. The Conservative Political Action Conference, held last weekend in Washington, DC, featured at least one British speaker on the big stage, who praised Ronald Reagan as sincerely (if not quite as effusively--then again, it's a known fact that the British are genetically more subdued) as the conference's American speakers.

From the portion of the interview I saw, it was difficult to tell whether the irony was mostly lost on or enjoyed by Hannan. But, again, we all treat irony differently.

British tea partyism is intriguing, partly because it so overtly contradicts the ethos of overthrowing British subjugation, partly because of how the American tea party movement is so proudly American and so proudly rejects European political trends, and partly because it forces this question: is the copy of a copy as sharp as the original...especially in a place that's so inhospitable to the pure-free-enterprise, no-government-involvement philosophy, and when it flies so hilariously in the face of the 230-year-old first draft?

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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