The meeting between President Barack Obama and prime minister Gordon Brown is hailed as a re-affirmation of the special relationship. All politicians at that level have a host of advisors and you can just imagine them saying, “Keep mentioning special relationship, your whole meeting must be laced with references to that expression.” This would fit with the reality thatAmerica’s statements to other important allies are no less warm.
That said, the relationship between our two countries and their leaders at any time is of the greatest importance. This particular visit is notable for Gordon Brown becoming only the fifth British prime minister to address Congress. He will surely take the opportunity to renew calls for a global approach to tackling the recession.
Any such visit to the United States rightly evokes the image of shared values and common purpose. In other respects, the meeting is not between equals when we consider the huge disparity in economic power between our two countries. There are other differences. Barack Obama enjoys great confidence and popularity with the American public. Gordon Brown has rather less support in the polls.
Discussions will inevitably centre on the world financial situation and preparations for the summit of the Group of 20 (G20) developed and emerging economies on 2nd April inLondon. It is heartening that more broad-based discussions are taking place than would be possible with the exclusive G8 grouping. Making common cause is the only way to lead ourselves out of the current economic crisis. One of the key objectives should be to avoid any drift towards protectionism. It will take a free trade agenda to create and sustain alignment and consensus.
Last week, we had our own key moment of consensus locally. All three political parties on Crawley Council spoke for and voted for the budget. I have not seen this happen in the 21 years that I have observed the process. It was really pleasing to see the Council’s budget carried unanimously and I am grateful for the cross-party support. Locally we have demonstrated some of our own common cause as befits the challenges that we face.
While our political parties inevitably have policy differences, it is more common for there to be disagreement about the way we do things rather than on broad objectives. I look forward to a continued pattern of consensus and constructive opposition with each approach appearing where it is appropriate. That is not quite a special relationship but it is a positive agenda for our whole community.
Councillor Bob Lanzer, Leader of Crawley Borough Council
4th March 2009