hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Monday, 28 February 2011

The King's Speech and the President's Visit

“The task will be hard. There may be dark days ahead, and war can no longer be confined to the battlefield, but we can only do the right as we see the right, and reverently commit our cause to God. If one and all we keep resolutely faithful to it, ready for whatever service or sacrifice it may demand, then with God's help, we shall prevail”. The King’s Speech, 3 September, 1939

I loved The King’s Speech, mainly because it said so much about Britain today. In 1939 Britain was emerging from a period of dreadful financial and economic turbulence which had been marked by deep social divisions and profound uncertainty over its future role in the world, which was apparent even before World War Two. And yet, with absolutely no illusions what sacrifice a second war with Germany would demand and with that sense of dramatic theatre the British have of themselves at such moments the country stirred for action in defence of the very values which became the bedrock of the Atlantic Alliance. We were plucky. Indeed, two years later in 1941 the Atlantic Charter was signed between the UK and US which laid the foundation for victory in both World War Two and the Cold War.

It is therefore ironic that President Obama should visit Britain at such an iconic moment and in the midst of celebrations of such an iconic film for the pluck the film implicitly celebrates has all but vanished. Indeed, the President had better realise the scale of the challenge he faces in restoring some semblance of British pride. Why? Because for all its self-doubt and the self-imposed decline championed by the terminally politically correct Britain still plays a critical role in US grand strategy. Put simply, if Britain becomes simply another declinist European power then any hope that Europe will stand alongside the US in America’s global stabilising mission will be lost.

I am firmly of the belief that the cornerstone of world stability will necessarily remain the transatlantic relationship and the English-speaking peoples in conjunction with fellow democrats. It is precisely such a vision of which the British today seem incapable and which dangerously is being lost this side of the pond.

Britain today is a sullen place with a government exaggerating decline for political purposes. No-one under-estimates the economic challenges, least of all your correspondent, but it is also being exaggerated in historic terms, something that I proved in my recent evidence to Parliament. Moreover, there is a belief across society that after a decade of being the good ally the US does not appreciate the efforts and sacrifice we British have made to support Washington. Indeed, when President Obama said recently that the US had no better ally than the French a British nerve was struck. Britain today is less secure precisely because it has been a loyal friend of America and the proxy target of choice for your many enemies. It is hard to justify our sons (and daughters) dying in large numbers when an American Congress distressingly turned the BP disaster into an anti-British rant. I am not of that opinion but believe me it goes to the heart of the Establishment and society and can be found in some surprising places.

My guidance to the President is not to trot out the same old Special Relationship jargon. The British (unfairly) feel used and are tired of American presidents who pat us patronisingly on the head and expect us to re-double our efforts. No, what is needed is a NEW relationship in which Britain and its efforts are celebrated and in which the president reminds the British people and leadership that Britain still matters; for Europe, an insecure world and TO America.

What is therefore needed in his forthcoming address to Parliament is thus (and not without irony) a King's Speech in which Mr President reminds all we British that we have a right to be proud, that America cannot succeed without the support of an engaged Britain and any suggestion that he harbours post-Imperial distrust of we British could not be farther from the truth.

70 years on the signing of the Atlantic Charter which won both World War Two and the Cold War the President is coming the Britain to renew the vows of mutual trust that shaped the world for the better and will continue to do so. In the spirit of Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt, President Obama should thus bring with him a new Atlantic Charter to relaunch Anglo-American relations in a new phase of world history which will prove no less challenging than that of the past.

Julian Lindley-French

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