James Frayne: Ministers must make the British public love America
A communications blitz is needed to ensure that the United States is not defined by Donald Trump.
Theresa May is said to have been presented with a "Love Actually" moment this week: taking Hugh Grant's lead and giving President Trump the sort of tongue lashing the fictional US president received in the film. In the event, while making clear she disagreed with Trump's decision to share content from Britain First, she didn't follow the Richard Curtis script.
In truth, Theresa May couldn’t have done so. Trump is a bad president but Britain needs its relationship with the US now more than ever. It needs closer economic ties to secure Britain's prosperity outside the EU and it needs continued American military support to bolster European security - on which our security depends, regardless of Brexit. Cutting off Trump means cutting off the US as a partner and that's not an option.
But while it's a straightforward political and economic reality that we need a close working relationship with Trump’s America, it's also a reality that this Government might be entering an election campaign where the result looks too close to call. The Government can't blithely ignore political opinion or public opinion. While it would be ludicrous to suggest that the electorate will vote on the basis of May’s relationship with Trump, being seen to be silent in the face of Trump’s behaviour will raise questions about her own moral compass. That’s an electoral problem.
The increasingly poor standing of the United States under Donald Trump’s presidency undeniably makes it harder to work closely with the US and this directly threatens Britain’s national interest. We are therefore at the point when a communications blitz on behalf of a foreign power is necessary to protect and promote our own prosperity and security. In short, the Government needs to make the British public love America.
What does this mean in practice? It means the following: far more government ministers meeting their American counterparts to talk about shared interests; more visible cooperation between the British and American military; talking about the benefits to British security from our close ties with US intelligence agencies; highlighting the creation of British jobs from the investment US businesses put into Britain’s regions; and the promotion of pro-British American voices on a range of issues across the media. The public need to see the scale of Britain’s relationship with the US and the tangible benefits it brings to them in their daily lives. There’s a lot to go at.
Such a campaign shouldn’t and doesn’t need to be formal and branded. The Government should simply take the opportunities, wherever they arise in the course of its business, to remind people of the benefits our close relationship has brought. The objective should be, over the course of the next couple of years, to make the public understand that America shouldn’t and can’t be defined by the (hopefully temporary) presence of Donald Trump in the White House.
There must be a temptation in Government to just pretend that “there’s nothing to see here” – to just keep dealing with the US like we always have. In quieter times, this might be a viable option. But Trump’s position in the White House unfortunately coincides with the exact period we’re about to launch a strategic pivot away from Europe and towards the rest of the world – and a time when Russian diplomatic aggression is testing our collective European security.
We don’t therefore have the luxury to just wait till Trump leaves Washington and heads back to New York City. We need our relationship to work with the US right now. We have to deal with Trump, but we can sweeten the pill for the public by redefining the reputation of the US.