Mix of Personal Affinity and Realpolitik Works Both Ways; as Prime Minister David Cameron Last Night Rounded off His US Trip with a Visit to Ground Zero, Political Editor David Williamson Assesses the State of the Britain's 'Special Relationship' with America

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), March 16, 2012 | Go to article overview

Mix of Personal Affinity and Realpolitik Works Both Ways; as Prime Minister David Cameron Last Night Rounded off His US Trip with a Visit to Ground Zero, Political Editor David Williamson Assesses the State of the Britain's 'Special Relationship' with America


DAVID CAMERON was photographed this week at the home of a former community organiser under threat of eviction. But President Barack Obama did not look like a man who is worried that Republican hordes are about to oust him from the White House.

For months, the Democrat president has watched potential Republican challengers denigrate one another's fitness to lead the military superpower. Meanwhile, the ineffably cool president is frequently photographed meeting world leaders, such as Mr Cameron.

Mr Obama's foes regularly claim he has let relations deteriorate with traditional allies. What better way to prove them wrong - and garner votes - than be photographed with the British premier at a basketball game in the crucial swing-state of Ohio? Mr Obama is known for shunning cocktail parties and preferring to dine with his wife and two young daughters rather than preside over black-tie dinners.

But he charm-bombed the Conservative leader and the two men appeared to enjoy a genuine rapport.

Like an ageing trophy spouse on the arm of a billionaire, Britain has periodic worries that America now looks at other countries with greater ardor.

In January last year Mr Obama told an audience that "we don't have a stronger friend and stronger ally than Nicolas Sarkozy and the French people".

The semantics of this utterance were carefully debated. Commentators concluded he was not saying that France was a stronger friend than the UK - just as strong.

Britain responded by rolling out the reddest carpet in the land. The president addressed both houses of parliament in Westminster Hall during last year's state visit. This is an honour normally reserved for monarchs, popes and Nelson Mandela, and Mr Obama delivered his oration with infallible precision.

The excitement with which politicians of every hue then clasped the president seemed a fusion of religious devotion and Beatlemania. This politician whose poll ratings suggested he was rather unloved in his own country still had a legion of roaring fans in a former imperial power on the other side of the Atlantic.

This week, Mr Obama described America's relationship with the UK as "essential", "indispensable" and "the strongest that it has ever been".

"What do you think of that Mr Sarkozy?" the ambassadorial staff at the British embassy might well have asked each other in gloating tones.

Winning such words of warmth represented a diplomatic triumph for Mr Cameron. At a time when the US is scrambling to assert its identity as a Pacific power and firm-up its relations with states surrounding China, Mr Obama has cemented the bond with Britain.

This will not impress many of his Latin American neighbours and will rile Argentina, where the presence of British armed forces in the Falklands - one of whom is the heir to the throne - is fiercely resented.

The indications are that Mr Obama does not, as was once speculated, dislike the UK because of the country's record as a colonial power in Kenya, where his US-educated father lived and died. He also seems to have recovered from the traumas of a 1997 stag night pub crawl in Wokingham which he abandoned when a strippergram arrived.

Allegedly, he once assessed the talent of British politics, saying Tony Blair was "sizzle and substance", Gordon Brown was "substance," and Mr Cameron was just "sizzle".

But today, with Germany focused on salvaging the euro and unwilling to deploy battalions to danger-zones with Brit-like gusto, and France in the throes of an election, Mr Cameron is a man who in every sense speaks the president's language.

He may be a Conservative but he belongs to a different universe to US conservatives. It is inconceivable that an advocate of gay marriage could lead today's Republican party.

In 2010, when asked about the former sister party's move rightwards, Mr Cameron commented that the parties of Thatcher and Reagan had "drifted apart". …

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Mix of Personal Affinity and Realpolitik Works Both Ways; as Prime Minister David Cameron Last Night Rounded off His US Trip with a Visit to Ground Zero, Political Editor David Williamson Assesses the State of the Britain's 'Special Relationship' with America
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