Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What's so special about this relationship?

What’s so special about our “special relationship” with the United States?

David Cameron was at it again in Washington after his meeting with President Obama, waxing lyrical about how much the countries have in common.

Even then, he admitted Britain was the “junior partner” – though “America’s poodle” might be a better term.

Why are we so subservient to the Americans? True, it’s a good idea to stay on the right side of the self-proclaimed “most powerful nation on earth”.

But it’s a very one-sided relationship. We do the Americans’ bidding; they kick us, especially when we’re down.

This week, Congress has been up in arms about why the Scottish Government released Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who is alive and well and living in Libya.

The accusation is that the Blair Government sold out the victims of that terrorist outrage in exchange for lucrative oil rights for BP.

BP – or “British Petroleum” as Mr Obama likes to call it – is Corporate Enemy Number One in the USA because of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The Americans are desperate to distance themselves from this disaster and, as a result of their hectoring, there’s every chance one of Britain’s most famous and successful companies could disappear.

The Lockerbie fiasco is being used by the Americans as another stick to beat BP with. Yet instead of standing up to defend the company, Mr Cameron promises an inquiry.

This is typical of the way our leaders behave towards the Americans. Even Winston Churchill was forced to treat them with kid gloves – and he was half American.

The USA has never rushed to our side in our hours of need. Americans think the 1914-18 Great War started in 1917 when they finally agreed to play some part in the struggle.

As for the Second World War, we are now celebrating the Battle of Britain which took place during the summer of 1940.

Why did Britain stand alone against the might of Hitler’s Nazi war machine?

Why was the beacon of liberty a guttering flame kept alight by a few RAF airmen and the bloody but unbowed attitude of the British people and its wartime Prime Minister?

Because the Americans wouldn’t help us. They were desperate to stay out of the war.

Churchill did everything he could to interest President Roosevelt in taking an active part but he refused to commit. It wasn’t until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour in December 1941 – more than two years after the outbreak of war – that the United States were finally forced into action.

For Britain, the Japanese attack was a turning point even if it may not have felt like it at the time.

Finally, the Americans became our allies and comrades in arms. Not because they wanted to support us but because suddenly, out of a clear blue sky, they had no choice.

By the end of the war, Churchill was able to coin his “special relationship” phrase which we’ve been saddled with ever since.

It hasn’t been plain sailing, though. Mainly because the relationship is not between equals or even senior and junior partners. It’s more like master and servant.

Almost 100,000 British troops supported the Americans in the Korean war from 1950 to 1953. Three years later this country was humiliated around the world when the United States refused to back our defence of the Suez Canal.

Mercifully, Harold Wilson refused to commit British troops to America’s war in Vietnam. That may help explain why America found it impossible to back us when Argentina invaded the Falklands.

Though Mrs Thatcher and Ronald Reagan worked well together to bring an end to Soviet Communism, it was still a fairly one-sided affair.

Britain became America’s European aircraft carrier, the home for cruise missiles and bombing raids on Libya.

If only Tony Blair had shown some of Harold Wilson’s mettle, British soldiers would not have invaded Iraq on the basis of sexed-up dossiers and they would not be dying in Afghanistan.

Those two wars, more than anything, show the shameful nature of this country’s relationship with America.

If Mr Cameron and Mr Obama plan to withdraw from Afghanistan in five years’ time, their promise is an admission of defeat.

Meanwhile British soldiers will continue to lose their lives during a long, painful and humiliating retreat.

Yes, America is a great country; we should be on friendly terms.

That’s different from slavish fawning just because they’re strong, we’re weak and we happen to speak more or less the same language.

For all their dominance, Americans are sensitive souls. It seems they’re unhappy because Mr Cameron, talking of his admiration for their country, said: “I think of my grandfather going ashore at D-Day, with the Americans in support of the British.”

Grandfather Cameron may have made it onto the beaches but every American knows Tom Hanks liberated Europe for the Yanks.

And what do the Americans think of the “special relationship”? Nothing at all. As the novelist Julian Barnes said: “Any foreigner visiting the United States can perform an easy magic trick: buy a newspaper and see your own country disappear.”

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Home is where the wallet is

House prices are stagnating and may not improve until 2015. Good. That’s what got us into this mess in the first place and it’s about time we looked on a house as a home not an investment.

Moat is no martyr

Why is anybody sorry the police ended up killing Raoul Moat? Some kids seem to regard him as an outlaw hero and he certainly ran rings around the police. Even so, it was not the police’s job to keep Moat alive and we’re well rid of him.

Nazis in wigs

A radio host has lost a fight to clear his name after calling a councillor a Nazi for banning smokers from adopting children. But it’s the High Court judges who are the Nazis. Because whatever you think of the council ban, surely people have the right to criticise. The word Nazi may be offensive but if we lose the right to be rude to people we lose a precious slice of our remaining freedom.

Berks and burkas

It’s tempting to want to follow the French in banning the burka, described across the Channel as a “walking coffin”. I hate them and, far from oppressing women, I believe they are used by many as a deliberate rejection of the society they live in. There are certainly times when people should be required to show their faces: at banks, when asked to do so by the police, at border controls or in job interviews, for instance. But we must not follow suit because people must have the freedom to stand out from the crowd no matter how anti-social or undesirable they look. Or are we saying that women who wear burkas are all terrorists?

Fun in the sun

Looks like we’re taking fewer foreign holidays because of the recession. Holidays at home are great if the weather’s good but they are invariably more expensive than abroad. Have you tried paying for a hotel recently? We stayed at a complete dive the other night and it cost a fortune.

In the wrong

Nobody cares about the schools in Sandwell – not Michael Gove and not Ed Balls. This is about politics, not education.