Like all peoples who have ruled the world only to lose it, Brits tend to be sensitive about their nation’s prestige–downright touchy, even.

The news last week that Barack Obama had returned a British bust of Winston Churchill – a monument that occupied pride of place in the Oval Office of George W. Bush – prompted snorts of indignation among snotty Anglo-Atlanticists.

Nile Gardiner, head of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, wrote on the Corner that Obama’s decision was “wrong-headed and crassly insensitive towards America’s closest ally….. With good reason, there are growing doubts in the UK over the new President’s commitment to the Special Relationship.”

Codswallop. For a country that once prided itself on emotional continence, Britons seem to be embarrassingly thin-skinned about the new U.S. President. After Obama’s inauguration, one prickly UK blogger asked: “did you notice how the British were the only nation disparaged in the speech (we were the enemy America was defending itself against…)?”

Aw, diddums. Did Poor Britannia feel left out at Obama’s world party? Other Brit hacks have pointed out, somewhat feebly, that Obama has thus far shunned the British Press–which means he has not yet given an interview to the BBC.

The truth, of course, is that the Obama administration has shown absolutely no indication that Anglo-American friendship is under threat. The UK’s exceptionally dynamic diplomatic team in Washington has made sure of it.

Hillary Clinton and Britain’s Foreign Secretary David Miliband recently waxed lyrical to each other about the “Special Relationship” –something Clinton didn’t repeat as warmly in a later meeting with Germany’s diplomatic envoys. And next week, Gordon Brown is scheduled to be the first European leader to meet President Obama–beating the energetic French leader, Prez. Sarko, to the PR punch.

But in the warped fantasy of Transatlantic Neoconomia, the world in which every diplomatic challenge is another 1938 and all peaceful negotiation is “appeasement”, any snub of St Winston is sacrilege, a sign that the Atlantic bridge is crumbling.

It’s too early to judge the tenor of Obama’s foreign policy. His taste in Oval Office decor bodes well, however, especially given Bush II’s disastrous tendency to view the world in Churchillian terms of good and evil.

The question now on all those wobbling British upper lips is this: what should Brown give President Obama to replace the Churchill bust when they meet next Tuesday? A golden statuette of David Beckham? Suggestions please…