You can always tell when a British politician is in deep trouble at home. They invoke “The Special Relationship” to give them a bit of prestige, a bit of what used to be called “bottom”. Gravitas, solidity, the sense that the world (and most especially America) listens to whatever hair has got up the arse of the British this week.
Much then is made of the “Special Relationship” between America and Britain, at least in Britain, and even then mostly by British politicians on foreign jollies looking for a bit of a boost back home. Like Theresa May when she was at Davos last week trying to bolster the British apology for a foreign policy and Brexit with a lot of sceptical Europeans. We are important, it states – because we and we alone have the ear of the United States to speak truth to power. As if power had ever listened to anything other than power.
Most of this over-vaunted relationship is, and always was, rubbish. It was a fiction dreamed up by the establishment, standing in the ruins of a country broken by war, desperate to hold things together and trying to make the most of a very poor hand of cards. It was designed to win over a very sceptical British population who historically never really went a bundle on the bloody Yanks, and by the end of the Second World War had had quite enough of them, thank you. If it kidded anyone at all, Dullas did for it in the Suez debacle within ten years.
For those who are not aware what the “Special Relationship” is, it harks back, as so many things that went gone wrong for Britain in the last century do, to Winston S. Churchill. He invented the phrase, which he delivered in a speech in November 1945 at Fulton Missouri, to provide the British with a fictitious fig leaf to cover the fact that by the end of the Second War they stood bankrupted, and in hoc to the USA with their nation in ruins and the Empire either gone, or handing in its dinner plate. We hoped that we might cling onto influence through this relationship. We were being fobbed off with the thought that we might speak wisdom to power, and guide the fledgling superpower even as the Greeks advised their barbarian Roman masters. The enduring picture of this relationship usually is that of the picture below with Churchill and Roosevelt at Yalta. An image already being overwhelmed by events, even as it was being taken. Power never needed wisdom, because let’s be honest, it already has the power.
It was a very British fiction designed to cover the wreckage of empire. I suspect the Americans gave the term little if any thought.
There was never much to base this special relationship on. Historically the British, as a people, had never been very trusting of the Yanks. At best they blow hot and cold about their country cousins made good. Historically there were the irritants of the 1812 to 1815 war where the British burned the Capitol and the White House, through border disputes on the Canadian Border with Polk and his “Fifty four forty or fight”. Most British if truth be told, supported the South in the Civil War.
They can nowadays, depending on age, cite any number of reasons not to trust the USA, from failing to join either World War in good time, to betrayal of the League of Nations, through war debts, Suez (a bad one was Suez) right up to The Falklands, when it is insisted the United States gave the United Kingdom every assistance short of actual help, right through to today with its extradition treaties, International Courts, renditions and torture. Churchill was seeking to sugar what was, even then, a very bitter pill.
The “Relationship”, such as it is, really only of moment to politicians. The nasty little Brits couldn’t care less about the Special Relationship. Guantanamo, dodgy dossiers containing outright lies about Iraq and Afghanistan, or most recently Russia, along with insane banking practises and failed economic models have all taken their toll on belief.
America just isn’t trusted to tell the truth, or do the morally right thing.
And that lack of trust is bad, not just for any Special Relationship there may or may not be between Britain and America, it is bad for the whole democratic West.
An opportunity existed for a brief moment at Davos when Trump said he would back Theresa in the face of European hostility. And then he spoiled it all by attacking the nearest thing left to the British as a national church – their hallowed National Health Service.
Copyright David Macadam 2018