Just a couple of weeks ago Gordon Brown and George W Bush held their first meeting. A less substantial but still significant meeting will happen today when George Osborne, Britain’s Shadow Chancellor, meets the President at a White House event on malaria. They are expected to hold short, private talks soon afterwards. The Bush administration is particularly proud of its $1.2bn five-year malaria initiative for Africa’s hardest-hit nations. George Osborne has also taken a personal interest in the issue. Today he has appointed Professor Jeffrey Sachs as "a personal adviser on tackling the global scourge of malaria".
- There are a number of reasons why relations have deteriorated since Iain Duncan Smith’s leadership of the Conservative Party. British Tories have not enjoyed watching the closeness of the Bush-Blair relationship and the ways in which the White House snubbed Michael Howard after his criticisms of the Iraq war. David Cameron, never an enthusiast for the Iraq war, was at Michael Howard’s right hand when Karl Rove froze relations with the Tories and the Tories have felt little electoral incentive to repair relations with an administration that is both very unpopular in the UK and will have expired by the time David Cameron can have a realistic expectation of becoming Prime Minister. On the Republican side there is disappointment at the ways in which the Tories have appeared to play politics on Iraq. Great offence was taken at David Cameron’s decision to use the fifth anniversary of 9/11 to rebalance the Tory-GOP and UK-US relationship. More deeply there is a sense in the Republican party that ‘a Europeanisation of the Conservative Party’ is underway with the Tories becoming more European in their policies on terror, Israel, the level of taxation and climate change.
- What is not true is that there is a permanent anti-Americanism within the Conservative Party. Although there are some isolationist and Powellite Tories who will never value close relations with the United States most Tories have a deep respect for America. David Davis, Iain Duncan Smith, Liam Fox, Michael Gove, William Hague and George Osborne are key figures in this respect. David Cameron has also been proud that he brought John McCain to last year’s Party Conference (although there has been a falling out since) and that California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger will be addressing this year’s Blackpool gathering (another Osborne coup). It is notable, however, that both McCain and Schwarzenegger are climate change campaigners. Team Cameron want a relationship with the Republican Party but they want it to be more on their terms. Good relations with the Republican field for 2008 are more important than the current White House.
What Sam Coates and I found in Washington, however, was a strong willingness within Republican circles to stop picking at old wounds and move to build better relations in future. There was an acceptance that although the Conservative Party was no longer the party of Margaret Thatcher the Labour party would soon cease to be the party of Tony Blair. Labour without Blair will be less friendly to the long-term interests of the United States than a Conservative Party with Davis, Hague and Osborne in its upper ranks.
Update: See next post for further information on Osborne’s trip
Next in this series of reflections from BritainAndAmerica’s week in Washington will be a post on ‘Hillary the hawk?’