WRITTEN BY DAVID CAIRNS MP AND JOHN HAYES MP
David Cairns is Labour MP for Inverclyde. John Hayes is Conservative MP for South Holland and The Deepings. Together they will be sponsoring AmericaInTheWorld.com's work in the UK Parliament.
As the eyes of the world focus on a new President, here in Britain, with political fortunes in a state of flux, thoughts are bound to turn to the future of the special relationship. How will a British Government of a different political flavour interact with an Obama Presidency? How might a future partnership compare or contrast with those forged by Blair and Bush or Thatcher and Reagan? Yet a full appreciation of the intimacy between Britain and America requires enquiry far beyond the style, or even the substance, of political personalities, because the bonds are much less ephemeral.
The deep rooted cultural and social ties that bind the United Kingdom and the United States are at least as important as geo-politics, both because they endure and make the special relationship tangible to ordinary people.
Political affairs are, by their nature, driven by utility, whereas America and Britain enjoy a true love, full of all the attendant passion, trauma and occasional tiff. The connection is secured by our closely related versions of the same language! That in part explains why Britain remains the top overseas destination for travelling Americans, in spite of a – until recently - unfavourable exchange rate. Every year visiting American students arrive in Britain in awe of our history and traditions, the fact that they arrive as starry eyed as they are keen to learn about parliament and the crown, is unsurprising. – it’s what we know about the American view of us. But their love is far from unrequited - for most of the last century Britain has been enthralled by what’s happened across the Atlantic. Just as their students are keen to learn as much as they can about our country, we have a great deal to learn from theirs, though the economist has recently pointed out a somewhat worrying drop in the numbers of British student opting for American Studies, a temporary dip we hope.
America’ cultural influence on us - made accessible by shared spoken and written English - is indisputable. However, its efficacy is contested by anti Americans who, pointing up the pervasive blandness of McDonalds and Starbucks et al, parody our cousin’s culture as superficial and monochrome. What a pity that those that know The States well too rarely point out that these kind of big businesses are far from all that characterises the American way of life.
False expectations are defined by a skewed view of modernity. What America knows, and Britain must learn is that the future is not about uniformity. While past advances in technology resulted in standardisation through mass-production, advances today highlight the importance of difference; the ability to respond to the particular demands of individuals and communities. These changes mean that what are often seen in Britain as outdated concepts of service are sure to become increasingly salient. Centralised systems in both politics and commerce will prove too slow, too unbending to respond to these changes. Far from inhibiting responsiveness, diversity facilitates it.
Britons, who have spent time in America - particularly beyond the big cities - know that commercial ubiquity is not what modern America is really about. Any visitor is surely struck by the civility, sense of civic pride and standard of service in shops and restaurants. It is certainly a nation fuelled by hope- think of the speeches of Reagan, Bush or Obama – and driven by an optimistic creative energy typified by Hollywood. In anti American fiction the States is brutal, but in fact, in the first President Bush’s words, it’s ‘a kinder, gentler place’ than many first time visitors expect. How curious then that to we British much of America seems quaintly eclectic, precisely what they say they find most attractive about us. Perhaps this irony is what makes the relationship so special?