Joe Biden is in a tough spot. He is well ahead in the national opinion polls, while Donald Trump is assailed by an unending succession of leaks and attacks. But Biden now has to walk a tightrope in responding to events in Kenosha, that hitherto unremarkable Wisconsin town on the shores of Lake Michigan, now recovering from protests, violence, arson and looting after Jacob Blake, an unarmed African-American, was shot seven times in his back by local police.
Both Trump and Biden have visited Kenosha. Trump delivered a simple message: “law and order”. What had happened was “domestic terror”. He didn’t speak to the Blake family. Biden, two days later, had a much more complicated task. He had to bridge both sides of the debate: meet and empathise with the Blake family and align himself with those peacefully protesting racial injustice, but also condemn the violence and the looting.
Mid-Foreign Office career, I did a couple of years as press spokesperson for the foreign secretary, drafting carefully balanced press lines trying to straddle both sides of an argument. I now wonder what on earth I was doing. During my time in America, I heard it hundreds of times: “I like Donald Trump because he doesn’t sound like a politician.” “He speaks our language.” “He tells it like it is.” The directness of Trump’s words is deeply divisive but also a key to his success. When you acknowledge both sides of an argument, as Biden must, you risk seeming inauthentic.
Why is Kenosha so dangerous for Biden? Broadly, in US politics, the suburbs are the battleground. In the 2018 midterm elections, Trump lost the suburbs – especially college-educated suburban women – and surrendered the House of Representatives to the Democrats. His “law and order” message is crafted to win them back. He knows that while suburban women may deplore racial inequality, their bigger fear is that the riots and violence will come to their doorsteps.
In the final days of the 2016 election race, suburban women came home to the Republican Party and delivered that election victory, thanks to 80,000 votes across three states: Pennsylvania, Michigan and, yes, Wisconsin. It could happen again.
“Oven ready” Brexit
After 15 years in government as an EU specialist I am hooked on the Brexit story. The government are now briefing that there is only a 30-40 per cent chance of a Brexit deal with the EU. This is no surprise – the notion a deal was “oven ready” was always a wild fantasy – but the reason for the deadlock is.
A well-sourced article in a national newspaper suggests that it’s all about state aid. The EU wants the UK to commit, for the rest of time, to our aligning with their rules against state subsidies of business and industry. We are refusing because we want complete freedom for the government to create, support and subsidise British “tech giants” to take on the world: Silicon Vale, in the golden triangle between Cambridge, London and Oxford, or perhaps Silicon Dale, if this new Jerusalem is to be built among the dark satanic mills.
In my EU days, we were by far the strongest supporters among the member states of the state aids rules. It was the only thing that the Treasury liked about the EU. Both Conservative and (New) Labour governments stuck by this orthodoxy. Yet we now seem to think the opposite, and are ready to sacrifice a Brexit deal to the cause. Is this really a Conservative government? Legions of Treasury officials must be locked in their offices, bound and gagged. And the Iron Lady must be turning in her grave.
My wife, Vanessa, and I returned to a shuttered, locked-down London at the end of March after a spell at Harvard. Allowed one exercise session a day, we chose a late-evening walk after BBC News at Ten. We are still doing it, and have tracked how the scenery has changed. Initially, we walked deserted streets, as if intruding on a scene from a post-apocalypse film. As the weeks drifted by, other walkers started to appear, but would cross the road rather than pass by on the same pavement. Now the street traffic feels almost normal – except for a worryingly growing population of rough sleepers, sheltering in the doorways of shops – surely a harbinger of the economic times to come.
One evening a few weeks back, we came across a magnificent stag beetle on the steps of a railway bridge. Not wanting it to be crushed, I picked it up and placed it in a nearby garden. The next evening, there was a stag beetle in exactly the same place. We wondered if it was the same one – in which case, what homing instinct had brought it back to this particular patch of bare concrete? Or was it a missed assignation – a romantic meeting spoiled by a diary mix-up?
The south-west London equivalent of the goats that invaded Llandudno is the urban foxes. It’s a rare night when we don’t see several; they gaze at us unconcerned. The other day, one mounted our garden wall in broad daylight and basked in the sunshine: man and beast in perfect harmony.
I’ve just finished recording an audio version of my book, Collateral Damage. What a sweat. The team at ID Audio were brilliant, but I was hopeless. The exercise of narration required levels of sustained concentration of which I was only intermittently capable. I rushed or swallowed words and stumbled over pronunciations. Sentences with multiple sub-clauses suddenly became mini- Everests to climb, leaving me struggling for oxygen. And one or two words mysteriously became almost impossible to say. If any New Statesman readers are kind enough to buy the audio version, and wonder at my strange enunciation of the word “statistic” – it was the best I could do, at about the 20th attempt. If the producer had insisted on something more conventional I would still be there.
“Collateral Damage” by Kim Darroch is published by William Collins on 17 September