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Snobbery, sneering and secret sniggers: the sad truth about the so-called ‘special relationship’

Britain has never been the Greece to America's Rome

Snobbery, sneering and secret sniggers: the sad truth about the so-called 'special relationship'
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To the grand Herrera house on the upper east side of Manhattan for lunch in honour of Lord and Lady Linley. David Linley is over here to receive an award for his designs, which even a rube like myself where furniture is concerned finds wonderful. Princess Margaret’s son is talented, but he’s also a very nice man. His parents must have done something right, because he’s lived a scandal-free life (as has his sister) — something other British royals cannot claim. He also earns his own living, as rare among royals as a neoconservative marine.

Our hostess Carolina Herrera is the best fashion designer in America, by far. She and her husband were very close to Princess Margaret, and David and Serena stay with them whenever they’re in the Big Bagel. It was a fun lunch, with editors of glossy magazines, princes of no-longer-existing monarchies, a very pretty English lady assistant to Linley, and so on. She told me how Marie Christine of Kent once said of Linley, ‘Who cares what a carpenter thinks’, forgetting, as the fabulist who claims to be related to royals who are unaware of it tends to do when putting her ungainly foot in it, that Our Lord Jesus was a carpenter himself.

Looking around, it struck me that there were no Americans present. This was not by design, but in today’s money-comes-first society, some of our recently minted billionaires are not exactly house-trained, hence their absence. (They have little education, absolutely no taste and not the slightest perception of refinement or beauty.) Mind you, the English have always reserved their praise of Americans for dancing girls, blues singers and god-awful rappers, who offer British ‘artists’ no serious competition. I’m afraid this is true. There is a fundamental aversion in Britain to anything American, although the worse the product that comes out of the Home of the Depraved, the quicker the Brits adopt it. Our own Paul Johnson has often touched upon this. The sneering, the obnoxious condescension, the antipathy towards anything American reached its highest point during the Thatcher–Reagan years. The more the Iron Lady copied Reagan’s Cold War policies, the more the Left jeered and shouted. Which brings me to the special relationship, as it’s called — that between the UK and the USA.

I recently came across a book about the special relationship between JFK and Supermac titled Harold and Jack. The author, Christopher Sandford, called it a remarkable friendship, which I think is stretching it quite a lot. Sure, JFK liked old Harold, and was even related to him by marriage, but JFK was no fool. He knew that Britain was in decline and being strangled by the unions and hardly the world power that many still considered it to be. First and foremost, personal ties do not count when it comes to national interests. I remember Macmillan being interviewed (this was after JFK’s assassination) and recounting how JFK had told him in Nassau that if he didn’t make love daily he got terrible headaches. Macmillan thought that incredible, and, if memory serves, he even made fun of the way Kennedy pronounced schedule as ‘skedule’. See what I mean by condescension? I grew up with English toffs sometimes making fun of my Americanisms, something I wouldn’t give up for the world, as they say.

During the Cuban missile crisis, Macmillan’s role was totally passive, as a large arsenal of Soviet nukes was placed on the tight little island. JFK and his advisers knew and accepted that, so when things got really hot the White House dispatched the legendary ex-secretary of state Dean Acheson to brief de Gaulle, and assigned the American ambassador to London, David Bruce, to brief Mac. In fact, JFK had no contact with No. 10 for the first five days of the crisis. So much for the special relationship, a phrase first used by Winston Churchill in 1946.

The special relationship — if there ever was one, which I doubt — came to an end when Eisenhower made Eden eat humble pie and end his military operations at Suez in 1956. This was done overnight through a threat by the US government to sell Sterling Bond holdings. (The Chinese could do something similar to America today and make Uncle Sam scream.) Supermac became super because of the way he choreographed Britain’s post-empire decline. Being the great actor that he was, old Harold made it look as if John Bull were guiding Uncle Sam behind the scenes. The ‘people’ ate that up, and that was enough. But Washington never trusted Downing Street because of the EU contradiction. While de Gaulle preached independence from Washington, London was playing sur deux tableaux, not good enough for the Yankees.

Oh well, that was a long time ago, and Supermac fell from power after the Profumo affair in October 1963. One month later JFK was assassinated in Dallas. The bully LBJ was not about to play nice, as JFK had, with people who spoke without a Texas accent, and Lord Home did not. There was never ‘our Greece’, and ‘their Rome’ as Macmillan claimed. What I regret is how different our elected officials today are from those during my youth — in character, savoir-faire, personality, even dress. Would Supermac ever be elected today if he spoke now the way he did then? Perhaps he wouldn’t even be welcome on a grouse shoot, that’s how bad things have become.