What would you do if you were the interim leader of a Party with one MP in the Commons (with whom you weren’t on speaking terms), but none the less bagged a meeting with a controversial American president-elect despite diplomatic protocol?
I’ll tell you what I would do. I would brief that I was surprised to get a meeting at all, thus bolstering an impression of how highly I must be regarded by the president-elect. I wouldn’t attack the Prime Minister directly if she were a member of a different party – one doesn’t criticise one’s Government when abroad – but I would let it be known that, while the president-elect has every confidence in the Prime Minister, he has less in some of the people around her. That would send the Downing Street team scurrying to their social media accounts to check who has tweeted the most disobliging remarks about the president-elect. Has his team read the tweets? Does the president-elect bear grudges? PSYOPS!
Next, I would offer myself as an intermediary between the president-elect and the Government – in the national interest. When the Government rejected the offer – unsurprisingly, since its members are perfectly capable of building a relationship with him themselves, since he apparently has a soft spot for Britain, and there is therefore no need to send for a member of a different party – I could cast myself as Love Locked Out. How unreasonable of the Prime Minister to spurn me! Why must she be so politically partisan, when I am only trying to do my patriotic duty? And finally, I would seek to find a national newspaper that was prepared to project my campaign and keep it running – letting it be known, for example, that the president-elect’s team will seek my advice before the Prime Minister’s.
Cunning old Nigel Farage has followed the textbook to the letter, and today triumphantly succeeds in keeping the story going for the third day running – thanks to the help of the Daily Telegraph, which is giving his campaign a push. You have to take your hat off to him – if, as Enoch Powell once said of a trade union leader, one is wearing a hat at the time. The conventional view is that Farage’s alliance with Donald Trump will fizzle out. May will gradually build her own relationship with the president-elect. And Trump indeed seems to be well-disposed to Britain and its Government. If he phoned Ireland’s Prime Minister before our own, that probably means nothing other than that convention means little to him, or that his transition team isn’t up and running on all cylinders, or both.
I am not quite sure that the conventional view is right. Sure, May is not going to appoint the leader of another party to an ambassadorial role (and nor should she). And her Government will in time establish a working relationship with the Trump administration: note that the first foreign call of Mike Pence, the Vice-President elect, was to Boris Johnson. But Trump is unlikely to be a conventional president. His appointments to date suggest that he values loyalty highly, and Farage came out for him early. Above all, he is clearly fascinated by Brexit: Team Trump members confirm that the president-elect saw it as model for his own victory. This would all be good news for UKIP, were it not that Farage’s co-visitors, and perhaps the man himself, are already moving on from it.