Gordon Brown has set himself the task of forging a new economic partnership with the United States when he visits Barack Obama in Washington this week.
The Prime Minister will attempt to enlist the President's support in organising a united international response to the banking collapse that has fuelled the world recession over the past few months. He will also be hoping to improve his public image, picking up a little reflected glamour from the President.
Mr Brown told Labour's National Policy Forum yesterday that he would use the landmark visit to "go further on co-operation" with the US in tackling the global downturn. The pledge to push for more action is a key element of a strategy to wring maximum political capital from the opportunity of becoming the first world leader to visit Mr Obama in Washington since he was installed in office in January.
But Downing Street insisted that the items on an agenda dominated by economic issues underlined Mr Brown's intention to be at lead attempts to plot a path out of a "global storm". Officials said he hoped to win the crucial US backing to his proposals to improve the monitoring and performance of the banking system, by "cleaning up and reforming the world of finance".
Mr Brown is also expected to call for more action to enable the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to lend more to developing countries hit hardest by the recession.
The Prime Minister also confirmed his intention to encourage trans-Atlantic co-operation in boosting environmentally-friendly technologies – including the production of electric cars – as a method of "greening the global recovery". However, Mr Brown's message of co-operation will also be aimed at seeking US support against any move towards protectionism and to send a "message of confidence to the markets".
The two leaders will also focus on the upcoming G20 meeting to be chaired by Mr Brown in London on 20 April. A British economic delegation has already visited the US several times to start building a relationship with the new administration. "There needs to be a very strong, shared agenda between the UK and the US," a British official said as Mr Brown prepared for the summit. "We think the time has come to reshape the IMF and the World Bank, and probably the regional development banks come into this as well, reshape them for this century .... We want to produce some ideas that people can work on."
Mr Brown's call for international action to reverse the impact of the downturn came as he set out a blueprint for the future of the banking system in the UK. He demanded a "clean- up" of the whole system which he suggested could include a publicly-owned savings bank and another dedicated to financing "innovation". "Our task must be nothing less than to rebuild a financial system where it has failed and then to create an economy where banks are no longer serving themselves but serving the public of this country," he told Labour activists in Bristol.
The PM promised that families would not be left alone to be "buffeted by a global storm that is not of their making". He said core social values like "hard work and honesty, effort and enterprise, taking responsibility, respecting others and at all times to be fair to each other" would now apply to the banking sector.
It was no longer acceptable to "sacrifice being fair to the altar of laissez-faire" and free markets can no longer be "value-free markets," he said. Financial markets would now have to be "stewards of people's money and not speculators with people's money."
The Government's buying of bank shares, he claimed, was "not looking after bankers but sticking up for the people who need access to mortgages, capital and credit to get on with their ordinary lives in extraordinary times".
But, while Mr Brown has stressed he is willing to increase Britain's contributions to escape the recession, he will resist any US pressure to commit more troops to the battle against the Taliban. Mr Obama announced plans last week to send 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan as he winds down the US presence in Iraq. But, while his administration is encouraging its allies to contribute more, British officials insist that as the second-largest Nato force in Afghanistan, the UK is pulling its weight. "We already have more than 8,000 troops in Afghanistan and we have just announced a few hundred more," a Ministry of Defence official said. "There are other nations that can contribute more, and I think you will see that happening in the coming weeks and months."
Mr Obama is expected to urge Australia to provide more troops when he meets its Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, later this month. He is also expected to exert more pressure on Nato members, including France and Germany.
The special relationship
Us and them – a short history of Anglo-American connections
Franklin Roosevelt – Winston Churchill
Churchill used the phrase in 1946, encapsulating the links forged in the Second World War
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Dwight Eisenhower – Anthony Eden
Low point of the relationship when Eden went behind Eisenhower's back to try to use Israel to get the Suez Canal back
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John Kennedy – Harold Macmillan
Macmillan had an American mother and got on well with the president
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Lyndon Johnson – Harold Wilson
Wilson refused to support the US in Vietnam
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Ronald Reagan – Margaret Thatcher
A hesitation over the Falklands and a blip over Grenada, but a strong ideological bond
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George Bush – Tony Blair
Their closeness was a political liability over here
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