Leading article: Mr Cameron deserves credit for keeping calm in a transatlantic storm

Share
Related Topics

The Prime Minister faces calls to mount a robust public defence of BP in the face of ever sharper condemnation from Washington. His critics say that Britain's honour has been impugned, not least by the disparaging rhetoric coming from President Obama and his outdated references to "British Petroleum". They are urging Mr Cameron to hit back in kind. We disagree.

Thus far, Mr Cameron has shown commendable restraint. Contributing to this may have been the fact that he had other things on his mind, not least his trip to Afghanistan. Downing Street has also made known that he has a long-standing telephone date with Mr Obama this weekend, when the BP disaster will be among the subjects discussed.

That is the right approach. There should be no panicked rush to defend BP, which is a private, albeit a very big and important, British company. Nor should the Prime Minister allow himself to be lured into equating the good name of BP with the good name of Britain. There is – as yet – no wave of anti-British feeling in the United States, in the way there was with France, say, over the Iraq war. Those in the afflicted area are blaming BP, not Britain. Why risk inviting confusion?

What needs to be recognised is that the critics on both sides of the Atlantic have their own agenda. Here, any stick, however flimsy, is good for beating a new Prime Minister: the Opposition – and this is, after all, its job – probes for any possible weak spot, while Mr Cameron's own party contains those who cannot forgive him for going into coalition with the Liberal Democrats. There is here a strong streak of Little Englandism that would like to resurrect the bulldog of old.

For Mr Obama, the priorities are different. He has the mid-term Congressional elections to fight in the autumn – elections on which hang the fate of his first term and prospects for his own re-election. His typically cool and rational reaction to the oil leak disaster failed to give expression to the – largely impotent – indignation felt by the US public. His response, understandable in the circumstances, was to up the rhetoric and play the angered boss. In so doing, he has used language and insinuated powers that he does not have. This is political hyperbole, for domestic impact, from which any British Prime Minister would be well advised to keep his distance.

This is not to say there are not real tensions looming in UK-US relations. Afghanistan is one: the coalition seems even less enthusiastic about a long-term military commitment than the last government. Another is the future shape of Nato and the implications of likely cuts in British defence spending. Mr Obama's less nostalgic view of US-British relations presents a further complication. Britain did not cause the BP disaster; Mr Cameron should not allow himself to be pressed into reacting as though it did.

There are many pitfalls that await new national leaders. One is not to appreciate that remarks designed for domestic politics will from now on be amplified, and interpreted, internationally. Another is to take injurious remarks by other leaders out of their domestic context, so precipitating a needless international dispute. It is to Mr Cameron's credit that he has not so far risen to the bait. We hope that he keeps calm and carries on as he has begun.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Home Care / Support Workers

£7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Separate lives: Boston’s streets illustrate the divide between the town’s communities  

Migrants have far more to offer than hard work and wealth creation, yet too many exist in isolation from the rest of society

Emily Dugan
Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird has sold 40 million copies  

Go Set a Watchman: Harper Lee’s new novel is more than just a literary event

Joseph Charlton
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'