What’s the best use of Nigel Farage? (Keep it clean, folks.) A worrying number of people near the top of government seem to think that’s a question to which the answer is “envoy to the United States”. The Ukip leader and his retinue were treated to an hour-long meeting with Donald Trump in New York yesterday, and took the time to grab a few selfies with the President-Elect outside his golden elevator.
The Mail has the inside track on what they talked about, while Farage himself has written an article for today’s Telegraph in which he reassures readers that Trump is nothing much to worry about, but that the intemperate words of British politicians have put him on edge. What the present moment needs is a man who speaks Trump’s language…like, say, Nigel Farage.
But on this occasion, Farage is pushing at an open door, at least as far some figures on Whitehall are concerned. That private criticism has found its way to the Times and the Telegraph. “May under fire for dismissing Farage’s alliance with Trump” is the Telegraph’s splash while the Times goes for “Tories split over Farage role in deal with Trump”.
On the one hand, senior figures including Liam Fox believe that Farage is well-placed to act as the UK’s go-between, taking the time to press the British interest in between snapping selfies and trying to eke out a new career as a right-wing shock jock. On the other, Downing Street and other loyalists insist that Kim Darroch, the British Ambassador to the United States, is well-placed to influence the new regime on our behalf, with much stock being placed on the relationship between Boris Johnson and Mike Pence, the Vice-President Elect.
Which is diverting, but only highlights that neither side of the Tory party has grasped the scale of what’s going on in the United States right about now.
In case you missed it, here’s a brief rundown about what else Donald Trump found time to do between posing with Farage: he denounced the New York Times on Twitter, appointed Steve Bannon, the CEO of Breitbart News, which under his leadership branded Bill Kristol, a rightwing pundit, a “renegade Jew”, compared Planned Parenthood, which provides abortion services, with the Holocaust, and spread rumours that Barack Obama was not a natural-born American citizen, as a senior adviser to the President.
Elsewhere, Trump’s aides have refused to rule out that he will attempt to enact his pledge to incarcerate his defeated rival, Hillary Clinton.
Now some will say – and indeed some in Whitehall are saying – that all of this is secondary. In diplomacy, you make deals with the man in the chair, not the woman you wish was in the chair. Just because Trump shows no sign of abandoning his domestic agenda of attacking journalists, women and minorities doesn’t mean that it’s not in UK plc’s best interests to trade with him. To make a success out of Trump, to coin a phrase.
But here’s what else Trump did yesterday: he confirmed that he sees Bashar Al-Assad as part of the solution, not the problem, in Syria, a continuing sign that he intends to be a friend of Vladimir Putin, not of Nato. He appointed a raft of climate sceptics to his transition team, confirming that he intends top roll back Barack Obama’s attempts to secure an international deal to .
You can make a politically watertight if morally bankrupt case for holding the British nose while Trump pursues his agenda at home. But if, as still looks a solid certainty, Trump continues to pursue an agenda that emasculates Nato and accelerates climate change, there is no trade deal that Liam Fox or anyone can fineagle that makes that trade-off worthwhile.
As of last week, the largest and most powerful democracy in the world is on a course that is undemocratic at home and that aligns with autocratic forces abroad. It’s probably time for our leaders to take that somewhat seriously.