David Cameron is right: The special relationship will withstand these storms

It is the politics of the kindergarten to suggest that a momentary squabble over BP or the Lockerbie bomber might destroy decades of ideological kinship between Britain and America, argues Tom Rowley.

David Cameron
David Cameron has warned Britain not to fret about the special relationship Photo: EDDIE MULHOLLAND

The couple’s relationship had soured. One was described as “frantic” to organise a reunion, desperately fighting to keep alive a flame that had long since burnt out. The other was equally keen to avoid any meeting, scurrying off embarrassedly when the pair accidently met in the kitchen. To the world they said their relationship had never been better; to their friends the cracks were all too apparent.

This was not last night’s Eastenders, but the way in which Barack Obama’s briefer than usual meeting with Gordon Brown last September was berated by the media. The “special relationship” was in mortal peril, we were told, after the President of the United States had apparently engineered to demonstrate his disapproval of Brown’s actions in a show of amateur dramatics that would have disgraced the lowliest of touring theatre companies.

That episode plastered over and, nine months on,David Cameron has flown out to meet Mr Obama for a crisis meeting amid speculation that the special relationship is at its lowest ebb yet.

As our American friends would say: get real. “Special” is not a synonym for “placid”.

For more than 60 years the UK has enjoyed a close relationship with a country that shares far more than its language. The nations are joined by an overarching worldview that can broadly be characterised as liberal, even if the British Left would despair at being grouped together with the religious reactionaries of the Tea Party movement.

But that is not to say that they have not disagreed. It is the politics of the kindergarten to suggest that a momentary squabble over a specific policy might destroy at a stroke decades of ideological kinship. Both sides know this, but find it politically useful to play up to the theatre of the bilateral meeting, by being seen to win “concessions” from the other side that are in reality piddling marginalia when compared to this broad consensus.

Indeed, the relationship was under far more pressure in the immediate post-war years - the time the press lionises as a honeymoon phase, when Winston Churchill first praised “the special relationship”. In fact, tempers were certainly tested in London when, bankrupt after six years of fighting, America called in its war loans immediately. Economist John Maynard Keynes was despatched to the US to humiliatingly beg for the loans to be extended - and returned with a long list of American demands. Today, Keynes would scarcely have got to the airport before press headlines would gleefully chronicle the strain on the special relationship.

The partnership endured similar supposed life-or-death tests during almost every post-war premiership. The toadying sycophancy towards Washigton exhibited by Tony Blair was the exception, not the rule.

Britain is manifestly not the only important strategic ally of the US, a country whose GDP is six times that of the UK and more than twice even that of its nearest rival. But America embodies a particular view of freedom - both economic and political - to which the UK largely subscribes. There will always remain scope for the two countries to work closely together in both of their interests while that consensus remains.

Cameron’s emphasis on the long-term over temporal spats should therefore be welcomed, as should his pragmatic willingness to admit to Britain’s “junior” role in this partnership.

At last we have a Prime Minister at ease with history, who understands that it is ridiculous to assert supposed equality with a country that dwarfs our resources - while underlining that being the underdog does not mean playing the poodle, as Mr Blair too frequently forgot.

So, reading coverage of Mr Cameron’s visit tonight, expect disagreements over BP and vigorous discussions about al-Megrahi’s release. Just don’t expect this to have the slightest impact on international relations - to the world stage, they are mere noises off


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