Friday, 6 March 2009

The special relationship gone sour?

Well, after a tremendous trip to incredible Mumbai- on holiday- I've returned to the mundane realities of the political coverage of the right-wing press. Of particular obsession is the imagined snub to the Prime Minister by President Obama. From staying in a hotel recently attacked by terrorists to the paranoid little England whining of the Mail and Telegraph it is quite a culture shock.

Apparently, President Obama gave the Prime Minister a collection of twenty-five American movie greats. If this is the form that snubs come in nowadays then goodness knows the conflicts that we are going to see in the coming decades. Perhaps he got the idea from David Cameron's gift of the best of British music when he visited last July. Actually, I thought that Cameron's was a rather inspired gift.

Admittedly, I wouldn't feel particularly excited by a 25 volume box of DVD classics unless it was alternative classics- Scarface, Mean Streets, Magnolia, The Usual Suspects, that sort of thing. But I wouldn't see it as a snub for goodness sake. Perhaps President Obama is not a fan of The Smiths but I'm sure he accepted the gift in good grace.

What's worse, President Obama has replaced a bust of Winston Churchill with Abraham Lincoln. How could he? I am deeply shocked by this. Shocked that it should draw any comment at all. If he had replaced it with Michael Jordan you maybe could have provoked a quivering muscle above my left eyebrow to react. But we are talking Abraham Lincoln here people. Get a grip.

The Telegraph and Mail plough on regardless. James Delingpole throws a completely inexplicable punch at Michelle Obama, 'Lady Macbeth.' You can feel a creative genius at work- it must have been a real struggle to come up with the Lady Macbeth reference. Can't wait for his forthcoming book, Welcome to Obamaland. I'm sure he'll have lots of opportunities to say 'I told you so' each time the Obama administration makes political mistakes over the next few years which it will do.

Janet Daley in mitigating but broadly continuing the attack dismisses the constantly repeated fantasy that President Obama has a resentment towards Britain as a result of British rule of Kenya. I have no seen no concrete evidence of his grand-father's often cited involvement with the Mau-Mau uprising. In fact, he worked for the British army as a kitchen hand. He is Luo whereas the Mau-Maus were largely Kikuyu. In such an ethnically divided country the notion that Obama's family were involved with the Mau-Mau seems highly unlikely. In fact, I remember Barack Obama specifically saying that his grand-father was not.

It would be surprising if Barack Obama does not take issue with the notion of colonial rule. I take issue with the notion of colonial rule- who doesn't? But to expand that into a broader contempt for modern Britain is ridiculous.

No, what we were seeing in Washington this week was rather a return of the US-UK relationship to a pragmatic footing. That may not be a bad thing for either nation after a number of years where it was judged to be too close. We can't have it both ways: attack the UK for being a US poodle and for only having a business-like relationship with Washington. We have a philosophical, cultural, and historical affinity with the US. We have mostly congruent interests, not least in the direction of economic policy. Let's be honest about where we agree and don't. Let's stop this constant vacillation between hissy affront and sickly sycophancy. Both are false and ultimately in neither nation's interest.

If we get beyond this mythology then we can see that there are major opportunities for building a productive relationship with the new US administration and Congress. On that score, it should be said, the Prime Minister had a highly successful week. Let's hope that continues at the G20 summit in April- it needs to.

1 comment:

  1. It's only over with Brown. They know more about him than we do.