The “special relationship” (now deemed “essential” by Cameron and Obama) has only ever existed in the minds of politicians. The American people tend to think of the British as their quaint, gay, elderly cousins from across the pond – stuck in our ways, with soccer, cream teas, crooked teeth and the Beatles, being the only identifiable traits most Americans would recognise of us. And on this side of the pond the British see their brash younger cousin as over-confident, ill-educated and inevitably fake – and as if to prove that that is the case, we seem to adopt and crave pretty much only the worst of what American culture has to offer.
There can be little doubt that, at the political level, it is an essential relationship. The United States and the United Kingdom are also “united” in that they are probably the most universally disliked members of the international community. Generations of poking about in other countries’ affairs (and usually making matters worse), coupled with a snooty attitude of superiority in comparison with all other beings has left both nations with a reputation for being “that neighbour” in the world street (you know the one, trailer in the front yard, loud music blaring from the house, and unruly kids roaming the street at all times of day and night). When push comes to shove, however, it has always been a rather one sided relationship and that is what has always rather galled us here in the UK. We need to get over it though – we have not been the biggest bully in the global playground since the end of the empire, simply the bully’s sidekick. We need to stop seeking political approval and support the U.S. government only when it is right for us to do so. The real “essential relationship” will bear fruit despite the politicians; it will be driven by a greater understanding of one another (in a world opened-up by the internet) and the yearning of ordinary citizens on both sides of the pond to work together for mutual economic benefit.