POLITICS
27/07/2012 11:57 BST | Updated 27/07/2012 16:45 BST

Mitt 'Romneyshambles' Visit To London Turns British Conservatives Against Him

LONDON -- As an unspoken rule, American presidential candidates are not supposed to criticise the sitting president when abroad. Mitt Romney may have thought it would be a better idea to insult his foreign hosts instead.

Having questioned London's preparations for the Olympics, Romney's visit and attempts to stride descended into what quickly became christened by the British political press as a "Romneyshambles."

The term is derived from "omnishambles," a label increasingly applied to the British government's handling of the economy that has its roots in the political satire The Thick Of It.

The show's creator Armando Iannucci recently took the idea across the Atlantic in the form of Veep. And Romney's visit to Britain could easily be screened as an episode in its next series.

"Our head is with Romney, but our heart is with Obama," a Conservative cabinet minister told The Huffington Post UK on Friday. "Romney would be a fantastic CEO president, but in our hearts there's connection that we all have with Obama."

Prime minister David Cameron appeared less than impressed that after seven years of planning, and with just 48 hours until the opening ceremony, the Games and the Olympic spirt of his people were being questioned by the possible next leader of the United States.

"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," he said, in a barbed dismissal of Romney's handling of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games.

Romney's frantic attempts to row back on his earlier comments on NBC were compounded by further gaffes. His comments about the "backside" of Downing Street prompted childish sniggering from politicos, and his decision to casually reveal that he had met with the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service raised eyebrows -- not something visiting dignitaries are supposed to announce.

Politicians and media were not in a forgiving mood, including those who, in theory, should want him to win in November.

Conservative sports minister Hugh Robertson was jokingly asked whether Romney would be revealed as the man to light the Olympic flame on Friday night. "Probably not after today," he said.

A source in the Conservative Campaign Headquarters told HuffPost, "There are far-right parts of the Republican Party that don’t sit comfortably with the liberal parts of the Cameron Conservative Party -- although, to be fair, Romney's a sane part of it."

President Barack Obama's tour of Europe culminated in a speech to 200,000 adoring Germans in Berlin, yet Romney was subject to mockery by 60,000 Brits at the urging of the Conservative mayor of London at a concert in the capital's Hyde Park.

The high-profile Conservative MP Louise Mensch, who is married to an American, perhaps captured the mood of many when she said that despite sharing Romney's political beliefs, "no conservative patriot would expect another patriot to take insults to her country lying down."

"Insult my country, and I no longer care if you represent a sister party," she said on Twitter. "If I were American, I'd vote Republican, but Mitt, #fail."

James Chapman, the political editor of the conservative Daily Mail, said there was "serious dismay" among the British political elite at the Romney debut. "Worse than Sarah Palin" and "Total car crash" were two of the "kinder verdicts" he reported. Another verdit from Whitehall: "Apparently devoid of charm, warmth, humour or sincerity."

And Patrick O'Flynn, the political editor of the right-wing tabloid the Daily Express, tweeted, "Glad I suggested earlier in the week that Romney was a bit of a tool. Cos he clearly is. I hope Obama wins 2nd term. There, said it now."

The Sun, the UK's biggest-selling paper, screamed "Mitt The Twit," while Chapman's Daily Mail asked, "Who invited party-pooper Romney?"

The Independent reported: "Romneyshambles: Mitt begins his trip with swipe at London," while The Guardian concluded that Mitt had "fallen at the first hurdle" in his attempt to woo a foreign leader. The Labour supporting Daily Mirror went with "You're Rom, Mitt!"

The governing British Conservative Party has strong links to the Republicans, just as the Labour Party has links to the Democrats. But that has not guaranteed total support.

In 2008, on the eve of that presidential election, a survey by the Daily Telegraph found that of 113 Conservative MP's who responded, 91 had a preference for a candidate; 63 backed John McCain, but 28 favoured Obama.

Sir Malcom Rifkind, a former British foreign secretary who backed John Kerry in 2004, told the paper that he supported Obama because he thought the U.S. "needs change." And David Willets, who is now universities minister, said at the time that an Obama victory would restore "the world's faith in America".

A poll conducted by YouGov in February this year showed that 60 percent of MPs and 66 percent of Peers considered Obama to be best for British interests.

Only 16 percent of Conservative MPs and Peers believe having Obama as President would be best for British interests, with 39 percent favouring Mitt Romney. They were split heavily down party lines, with 16 percent of Conservative MPs and Peers believe having Obama as president would be best for Britain, with 39 percent favouring Mitt Romney

Of the UK general public, 46 percent personally favoured Obama to win, with Romney trailing at just 6 percent, and 42 percent undecided.

Tim Montgomerie, the influential and well-connected editor of the political website Conservative Home, said that while there had been "huge [Tory] swing to Obama" in 2008, they had been left disappointed.

And despite Westminster's frequent obsession with American politics, he told The Huffington Post UK that Romney had failed to ignite the passions of British Conservatives.

"I think there's been a cooling towards Obama from Conservatives, but there's not been a reigniting of enthusiasm for Romney or the Republicans," he said. "The situation is characterised by indifference. There's very little enthusiasm for Romney in Tory circles. We're so engrossed in our own challenges."

And he suggested that the prime minister would not be to worried about who won either way, despite Romney's Olympic gaffe. "Romney said something undiplomatic and then everyone overreacted," Montgomerie said.

"I think Cameron wins either way in November -- if Obama wins, it will be the first incumbent re-elected [since the economic crisis], and if Romney wins, it's a kind of austerity, free-market conservative who'll have won. Cameron doesn't have a lot riding on November's result."

He added, "We Tories have not got a dog in the race."

But a Downing Street source told The Huffington Post UK, "The warmth that was obvious between Cameron and Obama on the president's trip to the UK wasn't really on display yesterday when Cameron met Romney."

Perhaps British conservatives should not have been so surprised by Romney's comments. "England is just a small island," Romney wrote in his 2010 book 'No Apology.' "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."

He added, "And if it hadn't been separated from the continent by water, it almost certainly would have been lost to Hitler's ambitions."

No apology, Mitt? It's probably a bit late for one anyway, as far as many Brits are concerned. Just Poland and Israel to go.