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say that Britain's honour has been impugned, not least by the disparaging rhetoric coming from President Obama and his outdated references to "British Petroleum".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

ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Infrastructure / Network Engineer (VMware, Windows, LAN/WAN)

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Primary teaching jobs in Thetford

£1036224 - £1513056 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Educatio...

Primary teaching jobs in the Swaffham area

£21552 - £31588 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Are you a fully quali...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: Gordon Brown’s finest hour, a letter from Quebec and the problem of anti-politics

John Rentoul
 

i Editor's Letter: The campaigning is over. So now we wait...

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week