Degrading, Futile, Unnecessary: Labour’s Overtures To Donald Trump

unpublished unBowdlerised version

David Lammy, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, is clearly proud of his efforts to build a relationship with Donald Trump. He will have been gratified by their coverage in The Spectator, which contrasted them favourably with David Cameron’s attacks on Trump. In The Sunday Times a few weeks ago he sneered at opponents of his approach as representatives of student union politics and cancel culture.

I accept the sneers. I believe that his overtures to Trump are degrading, futile – and unnecessary. David Lammy is living in a dream world if he believes that he, even in a Labour government, can influence a Trump second term or even mitigate its consequences for our country, the United States and the world. It would abort every one of Keir Starmer’s missions in government before he can even turn the key to their engines on the runway.

Insofar as they have been noticed in the United States, Lammy’s efforts are actually helpful to Donald Trump, and betray all those fighting to stop him, some at high personal risk. They assume that Trump in a second term will after all be a “normal” President who will listen to reason from America’s allies. However marginally, they weaken the incentives for voters to shun him on the very sensible fear that he will be anything but a normal, reasonable President. Again assuming that they have been noticed, they also feed Trump’s devouring ego and the expectation that he will win the November election.

I invite David to observe Trump’s words and behaviour in his campaign for re-election, indeed since his defeat on election day 2020 and find evidence of normality, reason and a basic respect for opponents. On what grounds would he contradict my view that Trump is a swine who accepts no need to pretend otherwise?

None of the restraints on Trump1 would inhibit Trump2. The full power of the Presidency would fall into the hands of a deranged narcissist, vainglorious, venomous, vicious and vindictive. This threatens the extinction of the United States not only as an ally and protector but also as a functioning civil society. Trump is clearly determined to use his second term to take revenge on every institution, every community, every single person who resisted and frustrated him in his first, especially in the legal system, Congress, his own party, the armed forces and public service generally. All of these institutions he would seek to turn into agents of his personal ego. Does David believe otherwise, and if so, why? Does he imagine that Trump re-elected would look back at his campaign, give a giant wink, and say “Just kidding folks, I was only giving all those rubes what they wanted to hear” and go back to government as usual? Who would have more influence on him – the wise insiders he has been castigating for years or the millions who accepted his own valuation of himself as a Messiah?

On the world stage, I believe that Trump actually prefers Vladimir Putin and other authoritarian leaders to democratic ones, and that the only European politicians he even tolerates are his imitators and flatterers and clients. I believe that Putin has already acquired a personal hold over him and a financial grip on his tottering empire. I am certain that Putin wants him to win, to facilitate his subjugation of Ukraine and his ambitions for territory and dominance elsewhere in Europe. If David believes otherwise, could he say why?

I believe that Trump actually hates NATO, and personally. He hates it not only because of the (fictitious) idea that most members are parasites on American defence spending and not only as a traditional American isolationist who resents any automatic commitment to any overseas country. He hates it personally as a creation of the liberal establishment and because it is full of countries which have made fun of him. Over to you, David, why do you think Trump really loves NATO or that you could persuade him to?

I believe that Trump hates the British Labour party, whoever leads it, and everything it stands for. I would certainly not enjoy being Prime Minister Keir Starmer when he finally gets his telephone call from the President-elect (behind Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and some other European riff-raff) and begs him not to crash NATO immediately but to allow him enough time and money to fulfil his programme. Trump does not care about Starmer’s programme and despises key elements of it. He certainly does not want the British economy to succeed with an imitation of Bidenomics – only as an imitator and client of his own. Green energy, progress towards Net Zero? Certainly not in the Trump playbook. Saving the NHS? Trump hates the NHS and wants to see its extinction, pausing only to sell off its profitable activities to his campaign donors. Over to you, David. Will you be in on that phone call, and how do you think it will go?

A Trump victory would of course re-animate every vested interest opposed to the Labour party and its policies and militant Right-wing groups all over Europe with public phobias and private armies.

Does David still imagine that Trump values the “special relationship” with our country? He might study how Trump and his supporters regularly depict us – as a failed state, collapsing into third-world status, overrun with criminals, illegal immigrants and Muslim terrorists, with a bloated welfare system. Trump’s victory would encourage his British admirers to “cleanse” our country and make it the image of his.

I am certain that David’s overtures are seen as a sign of weakness by Trump, and that he would exploit them in negotiation, of which he claims to be a master on the evidence of his ghost-written book. By committing Labour in advance to pursue and maintain a relationship he risks feeding Trump’s demands for subservience and adulation. We might have to become his cheerleaders in what’s left of NATO (so goodbye to a new post-Brexit settlement with the EU) and sign up for any escalation of conflict or outright war he launches against Iran.

There is simply no need to suggest that Labour could work with Trump. It is helping Trump and doing the party no good with voters here, except a minority who already hate it. It would have been prudent and easy to decline any comment on the US election as not in our national interest. If pressed, Labour might say “We want a good productive relationship with any elected US President but will always put British interests and values first. If Donald Trump were to win the election [note careful subjunctive] that will remain our policy and our relationship will depend on him”. That would actually strengthen our country’s bargaining position, just a little, if the worst happens.

The Spectator did warn that “if Starmer and Lammy go too far in their Trump charm offensive it will be the Labour base who sees red.” I hope so. For me it has gone too far already. Everyone has some political breaking point. Perhaps because I am American-born, with American family and friends, this is mine. I cannot support a party committed to truckle to Trump.

Richard Heller was formerly chief of staff to Denis Healey and then Gerald Kaufman. He has written extensively on American history and politics and reported and analysed six Presidential campaigns.

05. March 2024 by rkh
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