Michael Moore: 'You need to show that the people of Britain don't support Bush'

The Monday Interview with the author and film-maker

By Ian Burrell, Media and Culture Correspondent

17 November 2003


You would have thought it would take something more extraordinary to trigger an outburst of unabashed US patriotism in the maverick film-maker Michael Moore than a traffic jam on the M6 outside Walsall. But after more than half-an-hour of the quintessentially British pastime of going nowhere on the motorway, Moore's gaze fixes on the free-flowing opposite carriageway.

"If you guys only drove on the other side of the road, that's the problem here," he says. "The American side over there is going by us at 70 miles an hour and we are stuck here." Moore is laughing but his good humour barely conceals a concern that the British public will be gripped by a similar inertia this week during the state visit of his President, George Bush.

The baseball-capped popular icon of Western opposition to the Iraq war is touring British cities, hoping to be the "advance guard" for mass protests against Mr Bush, who arrives in Britain tomorrow. "It's up to the British people to do their job in letting the American people know the British people don't support this war," Moore says.

The author of the best-selling critique of corporate America, Stupid White Men, says one of the "many lies" told by the US Government about the Iraq war (alongside claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and helped plan 9/11) was the suggestion that "the British are with us on this, the British are our allies and our friends".

This claim, Moore believes, will be reinforced if the President's state visit is allowed to proceed as the meticulously stage-managed event he believes is being planned as part of Mr Bush's strategy for winning next year's election.

"It is a photo-opportunity. With the Stars and Stripes and the Union Jacks flying in Pall Mall and the whole royal thing he is going to be treated to, this is all about trying to shore him up for next year," he says.

The President's London photo-opportunities, he hopes, will be tarnished. "That can happen only in one way, and that's a very large physical presence in the streets of London, letting the American people know the people of Great Britain do not support this war and do not support George Bush," he says. "It has to be done in a graphic way, in a physical way; it can't just be said. It has to be done with the images that will be sent back to America because the American media will be there with Bush."

Mr Moore, and his sister Anne, are heading for Cambridge where he is to address the Cambridge Union Society. The night before he was in Manchester. After Cambridge, he will drive back across the Midlands to an event in Warwick that evening, and the day after he is in Bristol at lunch-time, and Brixton in London at night.

It is an extraordinary schedule, not arranged by the Stop the War Coalition but by Blackwell's, the bookseller, and Penguin, the publisher. Moore may be trying to rally the anti-war protesters but he also hoping to shift a few copies of his book Dude, Where's My Country?, which sold a million copies in America in three weeks and went straight to the top of the British best-sellers' list.

He has been astonished by the response of the British public to what is essentially a book promotional tour. "We have been jokingly referring to this as the first stadium tour for a book," he says, after 3,000 people turned up at the Manchester Apollo the night before.

It is perhaps no surprise his "readings" have been reviewed (mostly favourably) as if they were stand-up performances, particularly when he has chosen to use venues such as the London Palladium. "Penguin told me that, with the exception of Edinburgh, every venue was sold out before they were able to take out a single advert," Moore says. "They said, 'Word got around that you were coming and the phones started ringing off the hook'."

But the author's popularity has brought with it cynicism. One commentator referred to Moore's audience as "fawning"; another suggested those who liked his work held a "black-and-white view of the world in which lefties like them are goodies and everyone else (especially Americans) stupid".

Certainly the sheer numbers who turn out for his shows, buy his books and cinema tickets for his Oscar-winning film Bowling for Columbine suggest that he has mainstream appeal. During his visit to Europe, he is filming part of his next movie project Fahrenheit 911, The Temperature At Which Truth Burns which, like Dude, Where's My Country?, explores the relationship between Mr Bush and Osama bin Laden.

He says: "It's essentially about Bush and 9/11 and things that are not being discussed, in terms of what was going on with the Taliban and the Bush administration, what was going in with the Saudi royal family and the Bush administration, the potential connections between the Bushes and the Bin Ladens for the past 25 years, then, after 9/11, how this event and the deaths of these 3,000 people have been used as a smokescreen for Bush to get his right-wing agenda passed." The President's policies, Moore believes, are feeding an anger towards all things American that is discernible at his live events in Britain.

And he describes Tony Blair as the "rug" that needs to be pulled away from under the feet of the American President. His audiences, he thinks, are "afraid of saying the words 'Tony Blair must go' because they are afraid of what that means in terms of what he might be replaced with".

The media mogul, Rupert Murdoch, may believe the new Conservative leader Michael Howard is a potential prime minister but Moore does not. "People seem to be very afraid the Tories could come back into power. I have tried my best to ridicule that notion. They need to trust that the people in this country don't want to go back to those old days."

The fears, Moore believes, are an indication of the lack of depth in the ruling party. "It's a comment on how ineffective people feel the Labour Party is. It seems filled with a lot of wimpy, spineless people afraid to criticise their leader or stand up to him."

The paralysis in criticising Mr Blair, he says, must not be extended to the US President and allow the London visit to be portrayed as the coming of "the conquering hero". He said British people must abandon their workplaces and schools to come to London and show their opposition to the war.

"It will require a sacrifice because it's 2pm on a Thursday and you've got to travel across the UK and you may have to take off work and you may have to take off school and it will be inconvenient," he says.

"But I assure the crowds that their inconvenience will be far less than the sacrifice made by the 53 British soldiers who have died in this criminal undertaking."

He suggests every effort will be made to ensure protesters are kept out of sight of Mr Bush. "You are going to have to do a fake and a dodge to get around these barriers set up to deny you your right to freedom of expression. That still is a British right, isn't it?"


Born: 23 April, 1954, to Irish-American parents in Davison, suburb of Flint, Michigan.

Education: Davison High School from 1968.

Ran for Flint school board in 1972, among youngest in the US to win election to public office. University of Michigan, Flint.

Career: Journalist for weekly newspaper Flint Voice. Editor of Michigan Voice; editor of Mother Jones magazine (1986); Roger & Me, (1989, producer); Pets or Meat: The Return to Flint (1992, producer); TV Nation (NBC, 1994); Canadian Bacon (1995, producer); Downsize This! Random Threats from an Unarmed American (1996, writer); The Big One (1997, producer); The Awful Truth (1999); Stupid White Men (2001); produced Bowling for Columbine (2002).

Family: Married to Kathleen Glynn. Has a daughter, Natalie