The ‘Appeal to Conscience’ World Statesman of the Year ought to be treated with more respect, otherwise the award becomes a mockery. The news that President Obama rebuffed the PM’s requests for bilateral talks at the UN or G20 meetings capped a dreadful day for Gordon Brown.
A White House spokesman told the BBC: “Any stories that suggest trouble in the bilateral relationship between the US and UK are totally absurd.” To imply that the ‘special relationship is on the rocks is exaggeration, but there’s no doubt that Obama, who held bilateral talks with the leaders of China, Russia and Japan, departed from the Bush administration’s Anglo-American axis. The President expressed his multilateralism in his speech to the UN: “The time has come for the world to move in a new direction… a new era of engagement based on mutual interest and respect”.
Brown’s personal embarrassments are so numerous that this snub hardly matters, and we should be thankful that the PM carried himself with more dignity than was the case on his previous visit to the States, when he spent most of the trip with his trousers tucked into his socks. However, the damage to British prestige caused by the al-Megrahi scandal is palpable. It’s over simplistic to connect the Lockerbie bomber’s release with Obama’s snub, but it certainly didn’t help. It was a fitting irony that Colonel Gadaffi’s 5-Act monologue wrecked the timing of Brown’s speech, and therefore his attempt to bestride the global stage. All Saviours, even those of global financial markets, have their cross to bear. Brown’s is Libya.