Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. World
30 November 2017

What does Donald Trump’s Twitter attack mean for Theresa May?

In the long term, it has two consequences that really matter.

By Stephen Bush

One of the many scenes in Tim Shipman’s new book Fall Out (available today in all good bookshops) in which Theresa May and her chiefs-of-staff do not emerge from well concerns the election of Donald Trump. They bought that Trump would “evolve” in office and the PM duly shot halfway across the world to hold the president’s hand and offer him a full state visit.

The obvious truth is that Trump has shown no sign of “evolving” as far as his attitudes to minorities go, since he was sued by the Justice Department for housing discrimination back in 1973. Retweeting a faked video by Britain First, a far right groupuscule last seen in politics getting 56 votes in the Rochester and Strood by-election, is shocking, but not surprising. It gives Trump’s sympathies to the furthest and unloveliest stretch of the right a local angle, that’s all.

But even May’s muted criticism of the move has drawn the ire of the president on Twitter, who lashed out at the PM’s account on only the second attempt at targeting the right Theresa May. (Perhaps he is evolving!)

In the short term, it’s a boost for an embattled Prime Minister to be attacked by a widely detested American president, though May missed a trick in not condemning Trump in the strongest terms.

In the long term, it has two consequences that really matter. The first is that it adds to the United Kingdom’s never-that-faraway anti-American feeling. Even should Trump be defeated in 2020, at the next election here, public opinion will be more receptive to the brew of anti-Washington politics that Jeremy Corbyn serves with ease, and that whoever he faces on the Tory side will struggle to match.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

The second, of course, is the added political difficulties of that mythical US-UK trade deal: at the US end, even May can’t bite her tongue hard enough to keep Trump on side. At the British end, the words “trade deal with Donald Trump” are a big enough reputational problem before you get to the question marks over food and animal safety that British farming will surely tap into in order to protect their industry. 

It’s a further validation of the criticism that all May’s visit to the White House got her was a problem with social liberals at home and nothing to show for it abroad.