If a totally unscientific survey of foot traffic through Times Square is any guide then David Cameron has not made the biggest of impressions on the citizenry of America.
Of the 10 random victims quizzed yesterday on who he was, five had no clue, three got there with a hint and only two knew at once. Among those who flunked one suggested that Mr Cameron was once an anchor on CNN. The Prime Minister had earned points from one gentleman, a cleaner in a large office building, with something he did this week before getting on a plane to Washington.
“He was the one who was at that Paris thing and our President wasn’t,” he offered with perfect accuracy. The no-show by Barack Obama at last Sunday’s Charlie Hebdo rally in France continues to elicit widespread tabloid indignation here.
A wider, more professional survey might, of course, have yielded quite different results, but maybe not. It’s also possible that fogginess regarding Mr Cameron among residents of the Land of the Free says more about them and their lack of engagement in world affairs than about him.
For all the bandying of the phrase “special relationship”, only two modern British leaders have definitively staked a spot in the American political consciousness. Margaret Thatcher told George H W Bush not to “go wobbly” over repelling Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. Tony Blair paced the grounds of George W Bush’s Texas ranch before riding the horse with him into Iraq more than a decade later.
Partly, it’s timing. If Mrs Thatcher and Mr Blair served during moments of crisis that naturally threw Britain and the US together, Mr Cameron perhaps missed his moment when he failed to corral parliamentary support for punishing the Syrian regime for using chemical weapons in 2013. The lost vote so disoriented Mr Obama he decided at the last minute to scratch the missile strikes, too.
Maybe America hasn’t seen enough of Mr Cameron to love him. On a visit to the US in 2012, he was a guest on David Letterman’s late-night talk show. To reporters in the green room he seemed to make a complete hash of the interview, not least when asked tricky history questions about the Magna Carta. But as members of the audience filed out they could only gush about the nice man with the posh accent.
There is one handicap that no British Prime Minister will ever get over. When Americans think Russia they think Putin. If it’s Germany, it’s Merkel. And so on. But the names that come first to most minds here where Britain is concerned is not David and certainly not Ed. It’s Kate and William. And Harry.