Friday, 18 April 2008

18 April 2008

Let’s try a little riddle: if GB loved TB, and TB loved GB back, where did that leave GB and GB?

I’ll give you a moment to think about it. Got it? Yes, GB is George Bush – oh, and Gordon Brown – and TB is Tony Blair. So we knew that Mr Bush and Mr Blair got on well together – stood “shoulder to shoulder” in fact – but as of last night we now know that Mr Bush also gets on well with Mr Brown.

This is more surprising than you might imagine. Last year when Mr Brown went to Washington, he seemed to go out of his way to keep his distance from President Bush. There was an unmistakeable chill in the air, and by all accounts the White House wasn’t amused.

Now, out there in the White House Rose Garden, it’s all lovey-dovey again. Mr Brown says Mr Bush is a “great leader”, that the world owes him a “great debt”. Mr Bush says much the same about Mr Brown – and refers in glowing terms to the “special relationship” between the US and the UK, which always brings the Foreign Office out in goose bumps. So I’m asking myself why all the cootchy-coo.

After all, Mr Bush will be gone in eight months. Why bother cozying up to a lame duck, particularly when you know the lads back home won’t like it a bit? No Labour leader gets bonus points these days for being nice to George W Bush, as Mr Blair knows only too well, and as Mr Brown surely knows too. As for Mr Bush, he doesn’t need to be nice to the new PM on the block, but maybe he thinks that nice warm words from the White House will generate equally nice warm words from Downing Street.

The answer, I think, is that Mr Brown, like Mr Blair, is convinced that a close UK/US relationship is essential if Britain is to be heard in the modern world. On things like climate change and global poverty, nothing much can be done without a green light from Washington. So whoever is in the White House, or in Downing Street, there’ll be cooing.

Mind you, Mr Brown didn’t see only the President-on-his-way-out. He also saw all three of the potential Presidents-on-their-way-in. As Mr Bush sagely remarked; “One of them is definitely going to win.” So it was 50 minutes each with Senators Obama, Clinton and McCain – and a steely determination not to betray any preference. (Here’s a little secret: I’m pretty sure that Gordon’s hoping Mrs Clinton wins, because he’s known and been close to a lot of the people in Team Clinton for years.)

It’s no small achievement, by the way, for the visiting leader of a mid-ranking European power to see the President and all three potential Presidents on the same day. The British embassy in Washington must have been doing some serious schmoozing …

And while we’re on the subject of Presidents, it’s the Pennsylvania primary next week, so maybe I should just point out a couple of things.

One, even if Mrs Clinton wins, which she probably will, Mr Obama will still be well ahead overall, and likely to remain there.

Two, because Mr Obama is now universally acknowledged to be the front-runner, he’s coming under much more pressure from the media. The Obama-Clinton TV debate this week was a bruising business for him, and he didn’t emerge in great shape. The “liberal elitist” label which both Mrs Clinton and Mr McCain are trying to stick on him could damage him.

And yet … if you look at the latest opinion polls, he still has a clear lead over Hillary Clinton among Democrats and Democrat sympathisers nationally – and he’s still neck and neck in the polls against John McCain.

Oh, and if you think US voters must be sick and tired of all this by now, you’re wrong. This week’s Clinton-Obama TV debate (it was their 21st so far this year) was watched by more people than either “Deal or No Deal” or “Big Brother” which were on at the same time.

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