Since being founded in 1958 as an 'educational centre for the study of Anglo-American relations by the conference method', few phrases have echoed around Ditchley as frequently as the 'special relationship'. A term popularised by Winston Churchill in 1946 to reflect Britain and the United States' perceived shared experiences, cultures, and values, Ditchley participants have subsequently tested, criticised, and reformulated this relationship over fifty-nine year of global geopolitical change. As Ditchley discussions have consistently stressed, the ‘special relationship’ has always reflected both pre-existing practical ties in geopolitical cooperation, economic aid, and international cultural diplomacy; and an ideological attempt to will into being something greater: a tie sufficiently embedded in both nation’s ‘hearts and minds’ to survive regardless of Britain’s declining global stature. Yet it is also a term which has inspired obituaries and ‘end of the affair’ predictions aplenty. For recent sceptics, including by some accounts Boris Johnson, the term may appear overly sentimental and ultimately contrary to the wide-ranging multilateral aims of a re-assertive ‘Global Britain.’
This piece draws predominantly on Ditchley’s Annual Lectures. Typically attended by around three hundred guests from diverse backgrounds including politics, business, academia, and tech, the Annual Lecture allows Ditchley to ‘crystallise one or more of its major themes, to gather its network and to draw in new talent.’ There have been a total of 57 Annual Lectures since Ditchley’s Inaugural Annual Lecture, H.V. Hodson’s 1962 ‘The Anatomy of Anglo-American Relations.’ Many of these discussed Anglo-American themes extensively. This source-base consequently provides a unique perspective on the past half-century or so’s attempts to revise and reformulate Anglo-American ties whilst staying faithful to this supposedly timeless connection’s essential values and shared historical ties.