'And that's St James's Park over there -
you could use that as the Air Force Base'.
I have a special relationship with my shoes; we’re close, intimately so, and share the good times alongside the bad. It just so happens that the pair in question is the most expensive I own, but it is also the most enduring and they fit like a glove, pardon the mixed metaphor. They protect me from the hard city streets, from the invasion of foreign objects into my fleshy feet and from a multitude of other podiatric concerns.
You might even say it’s an essential relationship. Without them, I’m in some trouble from outside factors. Yes, I have other shoes, but none provide the level of reassuring comfort, protection and longevity. But, it’s a fairly one-way relationship; I need them far more than they need me.
Though not altogether analogous, you understand what I’m getting at in relation to Obama’s state visit to UK (London) shores last week. However, the fact remains: in the same way I lovingly polish my shoes and administer restorative treatment with heart and sole, the British government invariably comes over all gooey-eyed and sycophantic at the self-interested prospect of our ‘Special relationship’ with the US.
You may remember the video to George Michael’s ‘Shoot the Dog’ from a few years ago. You may also, entirely forgivably, have forgotten the song itself. It depicted Tony Blair as George W. Bush’s obsequious lapdog, feverishly panting and drooling over him as he padded obediently by the President’s side and played fetch. Indicative, you might say, of the Blair-Bush years. But what of 2011? What of the new breed of transatlantic leaders and their back-slapping antics? Well, there was plenty of that going on as David Cameron entertained the Obamas at a sickeningly contrived barbecue on the back lawn of Number Ten. It was all smiles and handshakes at the event comprising several heavily perspiring military personnel and starry-eyed members of rent-a-crowd. Cameron even flipped a burger; a practice he is all too familiar with following his days working in McDonalds, trying to make ends meet whilst struggling through his social science degree at a mediocre suburban polytechnic. Right?
Apparently, the rest of the Bullingdon club were disappointed at having not been invited, with one over zealous chap being turned away at the door clutching a croquet set. Shame, Obama really should enjoy the authentic English experience, don’t you think? Also, from the creepily voyeuristic television footage, it was just possible to see Nick Clegg doing the ice run, shortly after peeling the spuds for the potato salad. The lapdog’s lapdog, if you will.
The US president rather interestingly termed Anglo-US relations as a ‘special and essential relationship’ during his state address. Simply by introducing a new adjective into the time-wearied term, he has re-defined and rejuvenated the concept of the partnership as one of a more pragmatic nature, rather than the reassuring, hackneyed lullaby that has eased the British government to sleep at night since World War II. One of action, as well as affection. At any rate, the ‘special’ element of the relationship lost its meaning during Brown’s tenure, when it was not so much a case of the leaders nibbling burgers together, more Brown sulking off on his own to eat all the pies.
Obama is not Ronald Reagan – he is less interested in schmoozing and more intent on taking action to force change; although admittedly at times it seems unclear as to quite what it is he wants to take action to change. Nevertheless, he is content to ride the ingratiating merry-go-round during his stay, if for no other reason than to placate the leg-hugging British neediness whilst securing a place to park his planes in the event of a full scale World War. That and ensuring his soldiers have women to fraternise with once they are parked.
Just who is the relationship ‘essential’ to anyway? In recent years it‘s been a case of ‘You scratch my back, I’ll let you’. But, after all, America is the world’s number one economy and it would be suicidal not to do everything to sustain relations. Which is why every effort has been made to make this state visit as natural as possible and to avoid the try-hard feel that once seemed inevitable following Blair and Bush’s bosom-scraping proximity. It is an attempt to brush those years under the carpet and to re-establish the links forged between the two countries over the generations in a fresh, vivacious way. Who then, took the decision that Messrs Cameron and Obama should form a transatlantic table tennis team on their visit to a South London school? I implore you to watch the footage; it smacks of the try-hard bravado they really should have avoided. The only thing worse than a Cameron-initiated high five is a second one, and by the third, the PM’s gung-ho hand-slapping had engendered just the slightest flinch of discomfort from the leader of the free world.
But he’s like that, Cameron. It was the same during the coalition’s formation, with the much-scrutinised game of back slapping one-up-man-ship with Nick Clegg as they entered Number Ten for the first time. A little like a game of table tennis, and one that Cameron was adamant he didn’t lose.
Talking of Clegg, the poor chap was snubbed by Obama following a request for a private consultation during his visit. No, he was told, you’ll just have to wave a flag and wait in line with the rest. He did, of course, but got a little confused about which side he was on, resulting in a serious flag-brandishing dilemma. When he did get to speak to Mr President sir, he came all over all gushing schoolboy, grinning obscenely at his jokes and furiously nodding his head until he was led off for a lie down.
Obama, to his (speech-writer’s) credit, did attempt to infuse some humour into proceedings and to defuse the formal and imperial overtones to his first state visit. His inaugural joke to the house at Westminster was risky, but was delivered with aplomb. It was also the funniest joke witnessed in Parliament since Charles Kennedy. He brushed aside the potential criticism at having spoken over the national anthem at the Queen’s reception dinner, insisting he believed it to be a soundtrack to his toast. Perhaps Cameron will employ ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ in a similar way, possibly as a backdrop to announce government cuts to the Royal family, with Andrew being the first to mandatorily exiled to the US for his daily appearance on Oprah.
Whatever the long term outcome of Obama’s whistle-stop tour of the capital, one thing’s for sure: Cameron will feel mighty pleased with himself; ‘Special’, you might say. Nothing new there, but you get the overwhelming feeling that he now sees himself firmly established on the world stage, with an open invitation to watch the Baseball over at Obama’s place whenever he feels the need for some ‘essential’ transatlantic ego-massaging. Nick Clegg may even get the chance to briefly install himself at Number Ten while he’s away; someone’s got to feed the cat after all.
And so, all is well with the world. America and Great Britain have firmly re-established their age-old political ties and my shoes fit as well ever. The difference is this: I understand that eventually and inexorably, my once imperious footwear will perish, will fall apart and be consigned to the scrap heap. Empires fall, soles fall apart and the once confident stride reduced to a blistered hobble. I wonder if Cameron has thought of that. My shoes were made in China, incidentally.