Trump and UK Politics

Joe Mitton and Danny Wilding look at the lessons from the Trump campaign victory, including for Brexit.

Trump and UK Politics

Formerly Mayor of London Boris Johnson’s Senior Adviser for Business and Science, Joe Mitton is a senior consultant at PLMR. As a diplomat, Joe participated in negotiations at the 2009 G20 Summit and was the Australian Government’s Liaison Officer for US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s participation in the 2007 APEC Summit in Sydney.  In this blog he looks at some of the initial political ramifications of the Trump presidency for the United Kingdom.

 

Reams will be written about the unprecedented election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. This blog considers some of the early effects of the Trump election on UK politics.

The Blair-Bush Bromance looms large

Tony Blair’s steadfast support for the UK-US Alliance during the Iraq War has cost his reputation significantly (unfairly, in the view of many centrist observers). Theresa May will have this in mind when dealing with Donald Trump – she will want to preserve the UK’s most important diplomatic and military relationship while distancing herself from Trump’s more xenophobic and inflammatory rhetoric.  Expect the Prime Minister to observe diplomatic niceties but seek to protect her own reputation.  She has already issued a statement saying she is “looking forward to working with” the new President, using positive but not effusive language.

Trump will visit the UK in the first half of 2017

It would be highly unusual if the new President does not choose to visit Britain in his first year in office. The UK Government would not block the visit, but we can expect some MPs to be vocal in their opposition, and public protests against the visit will be widespread.  This may even provide a fillip for Labour’s leader, who has a long history of criticising the United States (though whether that translates into more permanent support is uncertain).

Russia will take advantage

Trump has seriously questioned NATO and has expressed admiration for President Putin. Given Putin’s rhetoric, his interventions in Syria and his domestically popular invasion of Crimea and the Eastern Ukraine, it is almost certain that Russia will test the Western Alliance in Eastern Europe in some way.  At the mild end of the spectrum, this could be through escalated propaganda and cyber-attacks. More serious would be a partial invasion of Russian-speaking regions in NATO’s Baltic States.  If the US turns its cheek – which seems possible but not likely –  it presents the three significant European military powers (Britain, France and Italy) with a very difficult choice. Without US backing, it is hard to imagine a European military response to Russian aggression.

The free trade agenda just took a step backwards

In a direct sense, the US withdrawal from the global free trade agenda should not prohibit the UK from pursuing ambitious trade deals with Europe and other partners. But elected officials around the world will be looking at the lessons from the Trump win – and one of the most striking lessons is that there is great political capital (votes, to be frank) to be had in criticising free trade.  Even if UK politicians can resist this erroneous line, it is not clear that our negotiating partners will do the same.

Free trade deals are seldom popular outside of corporate boardrooms and university economics departments, and Trump has made clear that the US will no longer push this agenda (indeed it may repudiate existing FTAs). With the withdrawal of US leadership at the WTO, new comprehensive trade deals in the rest of the world are still possible, but they just became a lot more difficult politically.  Political leaders, including May but especially our trade partners in Europe and the Commonwealth, are now more likely to baulk at the tough compromises that comprehensive FTAs entail.

This does not bode well for Britain’s post-Brexit prosperity.  Getting the right deal through the UK’s Brexit negotiations with the EU Member States will be even more important.  But if the US does step back from military interventions abroad, the UK’s military alliances with countries like France become even more important.  If faced with a choice between securing free trade with France and preserving our military and diplomatic Entente Cordiale, the government may well prioritise security over trade.

An early UK General Election now looks less likely

Despite a very slim Conservative majority in the Commons, an early UK election was already unlikely (as we observed last week).  While British and American politics are undoubtedly different, the Trump win does seem to represent a broader shift towards protest voting in the post-Industrial West.  Politics has long been an emotional rather than a rational sport – and the Trump campaign has once again proven that emotional arguments are more persuasive to voters than facts are. Ms May’s Government will not want to risk a similar UKIP or Corbynist protest vote chipping away at marginal Tory seats in an early election.

But on the bright side…

The US has a robust Constitution with checks and balances to ameliorate some bad decisions. The Western political order continued through eight years of George W. Bush – whose administration did not shy away from interventionism and new policies that were radical at the time.

The wider, longer-term effects of the Trump phenomenon on the British political landscape remain to be seen. But in the short-term, UK political figures on the left and right, and in the centre, will be trawling the records of the Trump campaign for lessons.  All the while, expansionist non-democratic regimes will be considering their next moves.

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What the Establishment failed to address – and what we can learn from it

PLMR’s Account Director Danny Wilding is a seasoned political commentator. In this blog he looks at the mistakes Mrs Clinton’s campaign made – and what it means for British politics.

 

Nothing in Secretary Clinton’s campaign dealt with globalisation and the uncertainty ‘normal people’ feel as a result.  A globalised economy has meant that millions of manufacturing jobs have moved from the US Mid-West to cheaper labour markets such as China.  While educated workers – particularly in the North East and the West Coast – have adapted to a higher-skilled services economy, many Americans have not been able to do so (prevented in part from retraining by the exorbitant cost of education in the US).

Mrs Clinton’s campaign didn’t even try to tackle the sense of dissatisfaction that this economic shift has caused.  Deriding Trump supporters as ‘deplorable’ only served to reinforce the impression that she does not understand their very real economic concerns and cultural anxieties.

Many voters – in the US, UK and Europe in particular –  have not bought into the promises of globalisation and do not feel or recognise the benefits of global markets, immigration, and an integrated world economy.

Barack Obama won in 2008 on a positive message of ‘Hope’ and ‘Change’, and he received significant (if not absolute) support from working-class white Americans in the Mid-West.  It is worth reflecting on whether those voters felt let down enough to switch to supporting Mr Trump’s negative messaging this time around.

There are serious lessons for the UK, particularly those in Westminster / Whitehall  circles.  As with the EU referendum in June, pollsters – including the famed Nate Silver – have got it wrong. Again. Current polling techniques simply do not seem capable of properly measuring the dissatisfaction of marginalised voters on either side of the Atlantic.

Brexit, the rise of Corbyn’s hard-left socialism, the success of hard-right parties such as UKIP, France’s Front National, and nationalist or radical socialist movements across Europe point to the same concerns. Populists on the left and right are capitalising on this.

It is fashionable to now say that a vote for Trump was a vote against the Establishment – but that analysis is too simplistic. It goes deeper than that – and at its core, the question is about our collective response to globalisation.

Of course Mrs Clinton and others who are of a more liberal /centrist disposition have a tougher time campaigning on these issues. It is far easier to simply say ‘I agree, this is all bad, and I’m going to build a wall’ than it is to say, ‘well it’s a little more complex than that…’

Trump tackled the real and perceived impacts of globalisation. Clinton didn’t.  The ramifications will be felt in both UK and US politics for at least the next four years, and probably much longer than that.