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Whoever wins next week’s presidential election in America, the chances are that it will not be long before they meet the British Prime Minister. America’s ‘special relationship’ with Britain is famous, and much discussed.
Does it mean what it appears to mean, people often wonder, and worry, these days. Is it what it used to be? Is it, in fact, anything more, these days, than just a patronising nod from a successful, powerful country to a much less successful, less powerful one – the geopolitical equivalent of a self-made billionaire buying a pint for his friend from childhood?
For now, I’ll leave the soul-searching to others. The statistical fact is that, since American presidents started travelling abroad a century ago, they have visited the United Kingdom more than any other country. They have come on no fewer than 30 occasions, the equivalent of once every three years. And, since 29 of those visits occurred after 1945, the meaningful rate is actually more like once every two years, or twice per presidential term.
The trips have been reciprocated, of course. The current queen, Elizabeth II, has been the guest of American presidents five times, most recently in 2007. And prime ministers have gone much more often.
The events that take place during these visits range from the electrifying to the deadly dull. Typically they involve a mixture of world politics, decorous pageantry, liberal opportunities for gaffes, and near-constant eating and drinking. Invariably they spawn photographs by the dozen.
In the run-up to next week’s big vote (which, among other things, will decide whether Mitt Romney gets to return to Britain as president and make more gaffes like the one he made in the summer) I’ve decided to bring together some of the memorable images from a century of Anglo-American official hospitality. I’ve selected images of presidential visits to Britain. Of all the presidents since 1945 only two are not featured here. They are Lyndon B. Johnson and Gerald Ford. Neither got round to visiting Britain during their terms.
As America gets ready to make its choice, I wonder if a date for the next ‘special’ meeting has already been pencilled in. And will it be David having dinner with Mitt or Barack?