Insights from the UK and beyond
Best friends in the whole world, at least for now
Prime Minister David Cameron has spent the last few days playing down expectations of just how special Britain’s “special relationship” with the United States is.
He was afraid of being seen, like Tony Blair, as another American “poodle”, well aware that some aspects of the alliance have not played out in Britain’s best interest and also worried that the UK has to concentrate on forming strong ties beyond the U.S. to maintain international influence.
He needn’t have worried. President Barack Obama gave Cameron the kind of glowing review reserved only for the best pupils in class.
The start to this latest leg of the special relationship was “brilliant”, said Obama, praising the Conservative leader’s “steady leadership and pragmatic approach”.
The two, the president boasted, saw eye to eye on almost everything.
On first name terms throughout their first press conference in the White House after a 75 minute one-on-one meeting and slap-up fish lunch, David and Barack at times sounded like a comedy duo, jostling for the punch line.
David said he was impressed with how tidy the Obama childrens’ bedrooms were and said he had some way to go with his own offspring there. Barack quipped back it was all about giving them notice.
They fondly recalled sipping the beer each man had given the other at the G8 and G20 summits in Canada and churned out now well-oiled jokes about the merits of drinking bitter at room temperature (UK style) and drinking beer cold (the American way).
And they skilfully navigated the obvious areas of tension that have overshadowed Cameron’s first trip to the White House as premier — BP’s mammoth oil spill, the Lockerbie bomber and when to cut government borrowing.
But then Cameron, only in the job for a couple of months, is enjoying honeymoon periods galore at the moment.
Sterner tests lie ahead for his premiership and for his relationship with America and Obama.
While Britain and America do very much still need each other and have much in common, the world around them is changing. And, as many commentators point out, Britain tends to need the U.S. more than the Americans need the UK.
The emergence of new global economic powers such as China also means that the two nations need special relationships in all kinds of different places these days.
That is bound to mean UK and U.S. interests may not be as easily aligned in the years to come as they were on this blisteringly hot day in Washington.
Picture Credit: Prime Minister David Cameron speaks to reporters as U.S. President Barack Obama (R) listens following their meeting at the White House in Washington July 20, 2010. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque