COLUMN: 'Special relationship' is a source of confusion

First published in Jack Straw column Lancashire Telegraph: Photograph of the Author by , MP for Blackburn

"GET out of my room. I’m sick of that subject. You’re all mad” was the response of a senior member of the White House staff when asked about the ‘special relationship’ the USA had with Britain.

This story was related by the BBC’s Justin Webb, reflecting on his eight years as their North America editor.

The White House was then occupied by President Bush, who really was an Anglophile. His greatest hero is Winston Churchill.

The President today, Barak Obama, had Churchill’s bust removed from the White House. His father was black, from Kenya – where the British white colonialists were notorious even within the British Empire for their racism.

He was brought up in Hawaii – the other side of the globe. He lived in Chicago, dominated by a huge Irish-American diaspora not exactly keen on the Brits. And he looks west, to Asia, more than he does east to Europe.

So what about the UK’s ‘special relationship’ with the United States, about which we’ll hear so much this week during David Cameron’s visit to see the President?

Is the idea just bunkum, in the words of the Commons’ Foreign Affairs Committee ‘potentially misleading’, or is there something in it?

The phrase goes back to a famous speech which Churchill made in March 1946 in Fulton, Missouri, in which he called for ‘a special relationship between the British Commonwealth and Empire and the United States’.

I doubt however that he’d use the phrase today.

The British Empire has gone. We are still very influential on the world stage for our size, but others are there too: China, India, Brazil, Japan, and the economic power-house of Europe that is Germany.

With each of these countries, at least as crucial to the US’s future as we are, the US has a distinctive relationship. The adjective ‘special’ may well be trotted out in mutual flattery by their heads of government.

As British Foreign Secretary I worked hard for a good relationship with the US (as I did with other countries). But, echoing that Commons’ committee, I think the phrase ‘special relationship’ is confusing, and patronising, and should best be avoided.

Comments (6)

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10:24am Thu 15 Mar 12

karolgadge says...

The famous speech made by Winston Churchill at Fulton, Missouri, became widely known for its reference to the 'Iron Curtain' - the new post-war frontier between the Soviet zone of influence and the west.

Churchill used the phrase 'special relationship' to describe how, historically, the USA and Britain shared common concepts of law, individual rights and freedom of choice in elections which made them stand together in the face of Communist tyranny. It did, and still doesn't, indicate any confusion or patronising intent.

Although Marxist Communism is well past its sell-by date, examples of tyranny are still multiplying in various parts of the world. There ought to be a new definition of 'special relationship' between the UK and USA that meets the challenges of the 21st century.
The famous speech made by Winston Churchill at Fulton, Missouri, became widely known for its reference to the 'Iron Curtain' - the new post-war frontier between the Soviet zone of influence and the west. Churchill used the phrase 'special relationship' to describe how, historically, the USA and Britain shared common concepts of law, individual rights and freedom of choice in elections which made them stand together in the face of Communist tyranny. It did, and still doesn't, indicate any confusion or patronising intent. Although Marxist Communism is well past its sell-by date, examples of tyranny are still multiplying in various parts of the world. There ought to be a new definition of 'special relationship' between the UK and USA that meets the challenges of the 21st century. karolgadge
  • Score: 0

10:40pm Thu 15 Mar 12

ToffeeGuy says...

Barack Obama's father was black? Wow, you learn something everyday.
Barack Obama's father was black? Wow, you learn something everyday. ToffeeGuy
  • Score: 0

9:56am Fri 16 Mar 12

sean_brfc says...

For the US, the term might be heading towards redundancy economically, but it still carries a lot of weight militarily. As Jack says, believe it or not, we still have some influence in this realm.
For the US, the term might be heading towards redundancy economically, but it still carries a lot of weight militarily. As Jack says, believe it or not, we still have some influence in this realm. sean_brfc
  • Score: 0

5:51pm Mon 19 Mar 12

nice person says...

ToffeeGuy wrote:
Barack Obama's father was black? Wow, you learn something everyday.
lol...
[quote][p][bold]ToffeeGuy[/bold] wrote: Barack Obama's father was black? Wow, you learn something everyday.[/p][/quote]lol... nice person
  • Score: 0

5:55pm Mon 19 Mar 12

nice person says...

The British Empire has gone. We are still very influential on the world stage for our size, but others are there too: China, India, Brazil, Japan, and the economic power-house of Europe that is Germany.
.
You got that right,the British Empire has gone!!Sold down the river for peanuts by lapse politicians and too much interfering in other countries,allowing this country to go to the dogs..
The British Empire has gone. We are still very influential on the world stage for our size, but others are there too: China, India, Brazil, Japan, and the economic power-house of Europe that is Germany. . You got that right,the British Empire has gone!!Sold down the river for peanuts by lapse politicians and too much interfering in other countries,allowing this country to go to the dogs.. nice person
  • Score: 0

6:01pm Mon 19 Mar 12

nice person says...

The US is a done deal as in bankrupt,they will no longer be leading the way with the dollar as they use to monopolise,they are gone..Control will be gained by Other countries and a new monetary system will emerge.We are not too far behind them...
The US is a done deal as in bankrupt,they will no longer be leading the way with the dollar as they use to monopolise,they are gone..Control will be gained by Other countries and a new monetary system will emerge.We are not too far behind them... nice person
  • Score: 0

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