Alex Massie

David Cameron & the Special Relationship

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The FT's Philip Stephens gave the traditional fretting over the future of the Special Relationship a novel twist yesterday: Tory hostility to the EU threatens the transatlantic relationship too. Actually, there's something to this. But this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Foreign Policy's David Rothkopf summarises how the London-Washington axis may look if Cameron is elected next May:

U.S.-U.K. history and cultures are such that the relationship will always be different from that we have other countries. But it seems quite possible that with an unsentimental post-modern president in the White House who seems destined to have a chilly partnership with the odds-on favorite to be the next Prime Minister of the U.K. the special relationship will be considerably less special in the future than it has been at any time in recent memory. 

This too seems quite possible. Cameron is, I think, instinctively an Atlanticist (and much more of one than is Obama) but, like like the American president he is not a sentimental politician. The idiocies of our press are such that he will have to jump through all the hoops marked "Special Relationship" or risk endless articles speculating on the now-ruined health of the once vibrant "Special Relationship" but in truth it would do everyone some good is we recognised that time necessarily weakens bonds forged in 1941. And by the time Cameron moves into Downing Street - if he does - more than 20 years will have passed since the Berlin Wall fell. There'd be something wrong with a relationship that didn't change with the passing years.

That doesn't mean we are going to be at odds with the Americans. Nor does it mean that the security, intelligence and signals co-operation between the two countries is going to end overnight. But there's something humiliating about the press's obsession with the American president and whether a British Prime Minister doesn't just have a good relationship with him is actually the President's Bestest Friend in the Whole Big World. The way much of our press carries on you'd think that Harold Wilson should be retroactively branded a race-traitor for his failure to land us in the Vietnam war.

Indeed, it seems quite possible that historians a century from now will view Tony Blair's post-9/11 actions and willingness to go to war in Iraq not as the principled actions fo a committed liberal interventionist but as the crazed meanderings of a man focussed on one thing above all: staying close to the Americans and being their Top Pal. When he might have been expected to be looking to the national interest, Blair was besotted with remaining in Washington's good books and everything could be sacrificed in the puruit of that goal. And, of course, quite a lot was.

As I say, that's only one interpretation. But times change and countries move on. The relaxed British view has always been that while the Americans may flirt with the Germans or contemplate mending fences with the French, in the end, when there's a crisis, they'll always come back to good old Britannia. Well maybe and maybe Obama will discover this too.

Still, Stephens is right to think that Official Washington would prefer Britain to be inside the EU tent and the extent of British "influence" is to some extent determined by the extent to which Britain acts as a kind of bridge between the EU and the USA. How long that bridge will hold, however, is a different matter and, like so many others, a question for another day.

 

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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