In a recent post, I noted the possibility of subtle changes in tone in regard to British government attitudes to Anglo-American relations. The recent Ministry of Defence document, Adaptability and Partnership, noted that the European Union was an increasingly important component of British 'defence' strategy in defining and combatting 'threats' to world peace and order. Defence secretary, Bob Ainsworth, reiterated this sentiment to the New Statesman recently, contrasting Labour's greater recognition of the EU's growing confidence on the global stage with the Conservatives' excessive reliance on the 'special relationship' with the US. On the other hand, Tory Party leader, David Cameron criticised in January 2010 Labour's 'slavish' devotion to the United States. Cameron contrasted the state of affairs with the far better handling of the US by previous Tory leaders such as Harold Macmillan, Margaret Thatcher, and John Major.
Whatever the truth of the matter, neither party denies the fundamental importance of US power in the world nor in regard to British 'national' interests. This suggests that both political parties remain attached to the 'special relationship' but also recognise that Britain's unequivocal support of American aggression in Iraq has caused untold damage to the credibility of Britain's political class. Hence, attempts to 'distance' themselves from the United States appear to be aimed at a disillusioned electorate increasingly questioning the necessity of the war in Iraq, and the ever more costly and inexplicable war in Afghanistan (both of which received David Cameron's full support, even in hindsight). And that is the issue: both Labour and Tory leaders are very likely to continue to support American power because they fundamentally agree that the two powers together are best equipped to manage global order. But ordinary Britons obviously fail to understand the necessity of the 'forward' projection of British power, the necessity, obvious to the MoD and Labour, and Tories, that it is better to join the Americans and force the issue far from British shores than to fight once an attack has occurred on home turf. Pre-emption and preventive war are the order of the day. And when that mentality becomes embedded, human losses, or collateral damage, overseas are more acceptable than British and American lives lost closer to home. The logic of this argument is, like the logic of British and American power, imperial.