Barack Obama is giving David Cameron two days in Washington that any British prime minister would covet. It’s a long way from the cool reception the president gave Cameron’s predecessor, Gordon Brown, in 2009.
Cameron rode with Obama on Marine One and then Air Force One yesterday to watch a college basketball game in Ohio. Today the premier got a full formal arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, with a 19-gun salute and a review of troops. Later the two leaders held a joint press conference in the Rose Garden.
Brown made much of being the first European leader to visit Obama in March 2009 after the president took office. Still, he wasn’t granted a formal news conference, the two men taking questions in the Oval Office instead. When it came to gifts, Brown gave Obama several, including a pen-holder carved from timber from a former Royal Navy vessel. Obama gave Brown a box set of 25 DVDs of classic American films. It later emerged the DVDs had copyright security that prevented them being viewed in Britain.
“British politicians tend to be obsessed with American politics, something that has only got worse since ‘The West Wing,’” Philip Cowley, professor of politics at Nottingham University in the English Midlands, said in an interview. “What prime ministers want most of all is to be able to show their own people that they’re taken seriously by the most powerful man in the world.”
First Names, Jokes
At today’s arrival ceremony and the news conference, the two men made a point of addressing each other by their first names and exchanging jokes in remarks that spoke of the closeness of their two countries.
“The relationship between the U.S. and the U.K. is stronger than it has ever been,” Obama said. Cameron said it’s “the strongest it’s ever been.”
After spending the day with the Obamas, Cameron and his wife, Samantha, will attend a state dinner in their honor tonight at the White House.
A show of closeness benefits the both men, who come from opposite sides of the political spectrum. With Democrat Obama running for re-election this year, evidence that he can work well with a Conservative Party leader such as Cameron may help him to appeal to swing voters. In the U.K., Cameron failed to win a parliamentary majority in 2010 and needs to broaden his appeal if he’s to do so in 2015.
The gift-giving today was more evenly matched than in 2009 and recalled events from Obama’s state visit to the U.K. last year.
The Camerons gave the Obamas a customized table-tennis table with U.S. and U.K. flag paddles. The prime minister’s office said it was chosen as a gift the family could enjoy. The Obamas gave the Camerons a hand-made Braten 1000 grill, with White House chef jackets and the Camerons’ names embroidered on them. The grills retail for $1,895.