Cameron's tweeting of the G8's luxury menu shows his blind spot

The Prime Minister's decision to advertise the lavish dinner enjoyed by the leaders is the quickest way of reminding everyone that we're not "all in this together".

As polls regularly attest, one of the biggest obstacles to a Conservative victory at the next election is the perception that the party is both of the rich and for the rich. One recent survey found that 64 per cent believe that "the Conservative Party looks after the interests of the rich, not ordinary people", while Labour enjoys a 17-point lead over the Tories as the party most likely to treat people fairly.

So it is unclear why David Cameron thought it wise to tweet the luxury menu enjoyed by the G8 leaders last night. No one would expect the leaders to dine on gruel and water, but Cameron's decision to advertise their lavish reception, before breezily remarking, "I'll chair a discussion on tax, trade, transparency and Syria", shows a remarkable lack of tact. It reminds everyone, in just eight words, that "we're not all in this together" and provokes exactly the kind of questions he should seek to avoid: "how many food banks have you visited recently?" Neither Tony Blair, with his finely-honed political antennae, nor Gordon Brown, with his hairshirt Presbyterianism, would ever have committed such a faux pas. 

Cameron's tweet is a good example of what Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston recently described to me as "a kind of blindness". Referring to the social narrowness of his inner circle, she said: "it's a kind of blindness to how this looks to other people and why it matters to other people . . . It’s not just the message, it’s the messenger. This is something that they obviously don’t see; they don’t see something that, to me, seems pretty obvious."

Similarly, Cameron, having enjoyed a fine (and taxpayer-funded?) meal, sees nothing wrong with sharing this fact with an austerity-scarred public. If the Tories are ever to win again, their next leader will need to be someone who does. 

David Cameron welcomes Barack Obama during the official arrivals for the start of the G8 Summit at the Lough Erne resort near Enniskillen in Northern Ireland. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Leader: Trump and an age of disorder

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions.

The US presidency has not always been held by men of distinction and honour, but Donald Trump is by some distance its least qualified occupant. The leader of the world’s sole superpower has no record of political or military service and is ignorant of foreign affairs. Throughout his campaign, he repeatedly showed himself to be a racist, a misogynist, a braggart and a narcissist.

The naive hope that Mr Trump’s victory would herald a great moderation was dispelled by his conduct during the transition. He compared his country’s intelligence services to those of Nazi Germany and repeatedly denied Russian interference in the election. He derided Nato as “obsolete” and predicted the demise of the European Union. He reaffirmed his commitment to dismantling Obamacare and to overturning Roe v Wade. He doled out jobs to white nationalists, protectionists and family members. He denounced US citizens for demonstrating against him. Asked whether he regretted any part of his vulgar campaign, he replied: “No, I won.”

Of all his predilections, Mr Trump’s affection for Vladimir Putin is perhaps the most troubling. When the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, warned that Russia was the “number one geopolitical foe” of the US, he was mocked by Barack Obama. Yet his remark proved prescient. Rather than regarding Mr Putin as a foe, however, Mr Trump fetes him as a friend. The Russian president aims to use the US president’s goodwill to secure the removal of American sanctions, recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and respect for the murderous reign of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. He has a worryingly high chance of success.

Whether or not Mr Trump has personal motives for his fealty (as a lurid security dossier alleges), he and Mr Putin share a political outlook. Both men desire a world in which “strongmen” are free to abuse their citizens’ human rights without fear of external rebuke. Mr Trump’s refusal to commit to Nato’s principle of collective defence provides Mr Putin with every incentive to pursue his expansionist desires. The historic achievement of peace and stability in eastern Europe is in danger.

As he seeks reconciliation with Russia, Mr Trump is simultaneously pursuing conflict with China. He broke with precedent by speaking on the telephone with the Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, and used Twitter to berate the Chinese government. Rex Tillerson, Mr Trump’s secretary of state nominee, has threatened an American blockade of the South China Sea islands.

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions. The US constitution, with its separation of powers, was designed to restrain autocrats such as the new president. Yet, in addition to the White House, the Republicans also control Congress and two-thirds of governorships and state houses. Mr Trump’s first Supreme Court appointment will ensure a conservative judicial majority. The decline of established print titles and the growth of “fake news” weaken another source of accountability.

In these circumstances, there is a heightened responsibility on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, Mr Trump. Angela Merkel’s warning that co-operation was conditional on his respect for liberal and democratic values was a model of the former. Michael Gove’s obsequious interview with Mr Trump was a dismal example of the latter.

Theresa May has rightly rebuked the president for his treatment of women and has toughened Britain’s stance against Russian revanchism. Yet, although the UK must maintain working relations with the US, she should not allow the prospect of a future trade deal to skew her attitude towards Mr Trump. Any agreement is years away and the president’s protectionist proclivities could yet thwart British hopes of a beneficial outcome.

The diplomatic and political conventions embodied by the “special relationship” have endured for more than seven decades. However, Mr Trump’s election may necessitate their demise. It was the belief that the UK must stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the US that led Tony Blair into the ruinous Iraq War. In this new age of disorder, Western leaders must avoid being willing accomplices to Mr Trump’s agenda. Intense scepticism, rather than sycophancy, should define their response.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era