It comes to something when you're being trolled by Barry Manilow.*
A question from the BBCs Jon Sopel at yesterday's White House press briefing aroused the derision of the diminutive 70s lounge singer, who was then moved to describe the entire country as "embarrassing". This, bear in mind, from a man who brought the world "Copacabana."
And while I yield to no man in my admiration for Manilow's up-tempo Latin stylings, it came as a bit of a shock to realise that he possesses an instinctive analysis of the geopolitical power shift which occurred when Joe Biden moved into the White House, and the bust of Winston Churchill had moved out.
Sopel, for the record, asked the question about its removal with his tongue fairly firmly in his cheek, but, as with Liam Byrne's much-lamented note about there being no money left, it's probably a joke that was better left un-made.
Because there are a surprisingly large number of people in the upper echelons of British right-wing thought who take this sort of thing very seriously indeed. The cult of Churchill is a subject probably worthy of a blog in its own right, but suffice to say, the eviction of St Winnie (for a bust of Cesar Chavez, no less) is, in the eyes of a certain sort of angry Englishman (and they are always English, and always men) a mortal insult which bears witness to US-UK relations being in the deep freeze now the man memorably insulted by Nigella Lawson as a "bitter orange tart" has exited stage left.
This is, needless to say, froth. I'm only writing about it because I'm a bit bored and I've half an hour to spare. How Joe Biden chooses to decorate his office is a matter of less import to me than pretty much every other topic on the face of the Earth. Apart from motor sport. But, predictably, the permanently outraged battalions of the more troglodytic branches of the British press weren't about to let this particular teacup pass by without causing a storm in it.
Churchill's likeness in bronze has previous here. It was Obama's removal of it which provoked Boris Johnson's notorious remarks about him being "part-Kenyan", a slur which the Biden camp has made clear they haven't forgotten. When Trump moved it back in, the Churchill cult celebrated this as proof that the right sort of chap was back in the White House, the British right generally being more comfortable with rapacious profiteers than they are with black people.
Trump's defenestration, on the other hand, has set them all of a quiver. Biden, they know, will be far more difficult to deal with. Trump merely ignored us, Biden will work constructively with the EU, for a tiny island caught between two of the world's largest power blocs, that is an uncomfortable situation. Particularly when your Prime Minister went out of his way to insult his mate. Biden has also made it clear that he regards Irishness as part of his heritage, and we all know that the 70s UK boarding houses had signs that said "No blacks, no dogs, no Irish." The Telegraph opined hopefully that his Irish heritage might lead him to look more kindly on the UK, proof that nobody at that paper has ever so much as glanced at a history book.
In short, they're fretting a bit. The Farages and Rees-Moggs, the Goves and the Raabs. I doubt Johnson's fretting, he'll be breezily imagining that all he has to do is have a chat to the chap and he'll soon see what a jolly good sort he is. But those with a scintilla more self awareness are spooked, to the extent that even the removal of a bust can induce an attack of the vapours.
Seriously, what is it with Tories and statues? Honest Bob Jenrick's been all over the place declaring war on "the woke mob" who want to "tear down our heritage", a natty bit of misdirection which allows him to present himself as the defender of all that's noble about Merrie England while not actually having to do anything (your reminder that total number of statues torn down so far by the "woke mob" stands at 1 (one), and that was put back up in a museum). I do find myself wondering where Jenrick's fearless defence of "our history" was when the decision to take down the statue of Jimmy Savile was taken, presumably heritage only applies to historical rapists.
So when Manilow characterised the question as "tragic", he was pretty much bang on the money. No confident country would give two hoots, in the same way as the person who's over their ex doesn't obsessively trawl their social media. This benighted plague island, though, that's just shot itself in the foot and is dimly becoming aware that that was a bad idea? Well, maybe we're not quite so confident as our Government's trying to sound.
*It was actually a chap called Barry Malone, but that doesn't really work for the purposes of the joke, still, transparency and all that.