The Times’ Francis Elliott is reporting that David Cameron and William Hague will visit Washington next week and the Conservative leader is likely to visit the White House for talks with President Bush. A visit to Washington by Pauline Neville-Jones, Conservative security spokesman, last week was used to finalise arrangements for the trip.
It will be the first visit by a Conservative leader to Washington since Iain Duncan Smith met the President, six years ago – the longest period away from America’s capital since the 1930s. Relations between the White House and the Conservative Party became frosty during Michael Howard’s tenure. Team Bush took exception to Mr Howard’s criticisms of the Iraq war and Karl Rove made it clear that he would not be welcome at the White House. Team Blair are credited with helping to stop a Howard-Bush or
Cameron-Bush meeting. Cooler relations between Brown and Bush may have
ended the Downing Street veto on this rendezvous.
Since becoming Tory leader Mr Cameron has met John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger but there were suspicions that he did not want to be associated with the ‘toxic Texan’ in the White House. In November 2005 Mr Cameron declined to answer a question from ConservativeHome as to whether he would have supported Bush or Kerry at the last presidential election.
David Cameron will hope that the visit will reinforce increasing perceptions that he is a player on the world stage. While in Washington he will address the Brookings Institution on recent developments in the Balkans and the looming challenges to stability in the region. The left-liberal leaning Brookings is an interesting choice. Visiting Tories have traditionally chosen the Heritage Foundation or other conservative think tanks. Mr Cameron has faced some criticism from the American right for his foreign policy and Brookings may appear a safer bet to him. There is particular disappointment amongst US conservatives that the Conservatives offered no support for the troops surge in Iraq – a change of policy that is producing increasingly remarked upon results.
Despite fragile progress in Iraq, the Republicans are currently at a low point politically. Critics of ‘Bush Republicanism’ – including Andrew Sullivan – believe that Cameronism – with its emphasis on climate change, civil liberties and support for same-sex partnerships – offers a route map for American conservatives after an expected defeat next November. Many Australian Liberals think the same if John Howard is beaten in Saturday’s elections.
It is not clear if the Conservative leader will visit leading Democrats whilst in DC. My guess is that he will try to.