Wednesday, 28 July 2010

A Special Relationship, or the Special Relationship?

Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States, once said "I consider the British as our natural enemies." 200 years later, George W. Bush said the United States "has no truer friend than Great Britain". The reality of the Special Relationship is probably somewhere in between these two statements.

Yesterday, the Senators on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee no doubt felt it was closer to the former when they announced they had been forced to suspend their investigation into the release of the Lockerbie Bomber due to lack of cooperation from the United Kingdom.

Eight years ago things seemed very different. American and British troops were fighting side by side in Iraq and the British Prime Minister was worshiped in Washington. A change in government on both sides of the Atlantic, the BP oil spill and the release of the Lockerbie Bomber has diminished that. But even at its height, the UK didn't get much out of the Special Relationship, throughout the world Tony Blair was portrayed as an 'American poodle' and whenever British coroners investigated British deaths from American friendly fire, the US always refused to cooperate.

The history of the relationship between the US and UK is long, complicated and swings from mutual mistrust to shared adoration and back again with the regulatory of a pendulum. The future of the Special Relationship is unclear. Currently, the US's most important international association is with China, and the UK's links with Europe and increasingly India (with which the PM wants to create a 'New Special Relationship') are far more central to the British economy.

When meeting David Cameron last week, President Obama kept referring to the US and UK having 'a' Special Relationship, as opposed to calling it 'the' Special Relationship. Barrack Obama is the first US President not to be an Anglophile and David Cameron has little interest in foreign affairs. As a result, the Special Relationship would seem to be entering one of its many dormant stages.

It seems unlikely that the US will ever be just another country to the UK, or vice versa, but in the near future, the relationship between these old enemies and allies will not be so special.

Monday, 19 July 2010

The next Leader of the Opposition

The BBC's chief political correspondent, Laura Kuenssberg, has interviewed each of the candidates for the Labour leadership.

In a little over two months, one of the interviewees will be the Leader of Her Majesty's Most Loyal Opposition, putting themselves forward as an alternative Prime Minister for the British people. So it's well worth a look for anyone with a vote in the forthcoming election.

Diane Abbott

Ed Balls

Andy Burnham

David Miliband

Ed Miliband

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Changes coming to PMQs

Prime Minister's Questions is the centre of the political week in the United Kingdom. There is something very British about forcing the country's most powerful person into a bear pit once a week to face heckles and questions from fellow MPs. In many ways it embodies the makeup of a parliamentary democracy, where the executive is directly accountable to the legislature.

In the United States live coverage of PMQs is shown on the political TV channel C-SPAN where it gets very respectable viewing figures. It is so admired in the US that when he was running for president in 2008, John McCain promised to have an American version if he were elected.

And yet last week John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, voices his dismay at the culture of PMQs, describing it as 'scrutiny by screech'. Mr. Speaker proposed several changes in an attempt to try to lessen the boisterous and unruly nature of PMQs.

The Problem is though, the atmosphere of the chamber during PMQs is as a result of the culture of the Commons, and as most politicians eventually find out, culture is the hardest thing to change. Even John Bercow admitted that "no committee can legislate for [culture]". Recordings of PMQs from Harold Wilson's time as Prime Minister show that the rowdy culture hasn't changed much in decades.

So perhaps the culture of PMQs can't be changed, but the people can and will. Last Wednesday's session was the last with David Cameron facing Harriet Harman. It's quite sad actually as Harriet Harman, as I mentioned in a previous blog, has been doing a rather good job of flustering Mr. Cameron.

Next week the Prime Minister will be at the White House with President Obama, so Nick Clegg will answer for the government's actions (which will be interesting to see). Parliament then goes into recess and when MPs return to Westminster there will be a new Labour leader!

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Can 'divide and conquer' work for Labour?

Labour's main strategy since the formation of the coalition has been to split the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats apart. It is an obvious approach, but one which may rebound if not done wisely. This has implications for the Labour party leadership election as each candidate wants to show that they are the wisest one of all.

David Miliband attempted on Twitter to convince Liberal Democratic MPs to vote against the coalition's budget, calling Nick Clegg a "dumb waiter" of the government. The budget passed with ease.

The problem is that Labour's attempts to prize the governing parties apart might end up bring them closer together – uniting them against their common political enemy.

Mike Smithson of has predicted that the coalition will fall on 6 May 2011, though not as a result of Labour. The date of the prediction is the day after the proposed AV referendum. Whatever the result, one of the coalition parties will be very unhappy on that day (the Conservatives if AV wins, the Liberal Democrats if it doesn't).

The next Labour Leader, whoever they are, will have to act very carefully next May if they want to continue the 'divide and conquer' strategy with the coalition.

If the next Labour Leader acts wisely, we might see the collapse of the coalition, an election and maybe even a Labour Prime Minister by this time next year. Acting unwisely may lead to a successful coalition lasting for a full five-years and Labour out of office for a generation.