Name ring a bell?
I remember Sir Lionel from Alistair Cooke’s Letter from America. That used to feature as a regular moment in the weekly routine. At least two episodes are indelible in my mind: this one and Cooke’s eyewitness account of Bobby Kennedy’s shooting.
Here’s the key bit with the present connection:
1888, then, the year of a presidential election. The British minister — it was before the days when the United States was thought worthy of having a full-blown ambassador — the British minister was one Sir Lionel Sackville-West. The election campaign, which was a hot one, was between President Cleveland, renominated by the Democrats, and an Indiana lawyer, Benjamin Harrison, nominated by the Republicans.
In those days and for quite a while afterwards, New York state was often decisive in the November election. The Republicans redoubled their efforts to discredit President Cleveland with New York’s Irish voters who’d been shaken four years before by the admission of Cleveland that he had an illegitimate son. They were not, however, quite as shaken then as they were by the Republican candidate’s howling characterisation of the Democratic party as a party of rum, Romanism and rebellion.
Cleveland, in spite of his private lapse, was elected president but he presided over a very negative, lacklustre administration for four years and now, the Republicans, proclaiming that an Irishman’s religion was no impediment at all to his voting as a patriotic, thoughtful citizen, wooed and flattered him.
It might have been a tight election, but an Englishman in California, a naturalised American, wrote in good conscience to Sir Lionel Sackville-West in Washington asking for guidance through the exotic jungle of American politics, which of the two candidates, the Republican Harrison or the Democrat Cleveland, did the minister think a first-time voter ought to choose.
Sir Lionel wrote back, ‘Mr Cleveland is the man’. The Republicans got hold of Sir Lionel’s letter. Not surprising, since they’d put the innocent Englishman up to the original request for guidance. Two weeks before the election, they published the letter far and wide. It was a shocker. The Republicans carried New York State handsomely. Mr Harrison went into the White House. Sir Lionel was recalled.
Ever since, and well into my time, British ambassadors in Washington were well acquainted with this cautionary tale and made a point of being conveniently out of the country — a much-needed rest or pressing private business or whatever — on the verge of a presidential election.
Yet today President Donald J Trump took time out from his other pressing business to exchange smooches with Nigel Farage. Here I have, at some length, to pillage The Guardian:
Donald Trump has intervened in the UK’s nascent election campaign, calling on Boris Johnson to team up with Nigel Farage to form an “unstoppable force” and claiming Jeremy Corbyn would be “so bad for your country”.
Speaking to Farage on LBC Radio, the US president also said that Johnson’s Brexit deal could prevent the UK from agreeing a trade deal with the US.
Trump said the US “can’t make a trade deal with the UK” under “certain aspects of the deal”, despite Johnson’s claims that it would allow the UK to have an independent trade policy.
One of Labour’s main attacks against Johnson has been that the prime minister would be too close to Trump and allow a sell-off of public services to US companies as the price of a trade deal, with the NHS potentially on the line.
Trump told LBC listeners that he was not interested in buying the NHS, and criticised Corbyn as “so bad for your country”.
“He’d be so bad, he’d take you in such a bad way. He’d take you into such bad places,” he added.
Trump told Farage that he had reservations over Johnson’s deal, because it could prevent trade with the US, but he denied Corbyn’s claims it would mean the NHS is up for sale to American health corporations.
“I don’t even know where [it] started with respect to us taking over your healthcare system. I mean it’s so ridiculous. I think Corbyn put that out there, but to even think, it was never even mentioned I never even heard it until I went over to visit with the Queen,” he said.
During that trip, Trump had fuelled speculation that the US would want access to NHS contracts for US corporations by saying that “everything is on the table”. He later backtracked by saying: “I don’t see [the NHS] being on the table.”
On Johnson, the US president said: “We want to do trade with the UK but to be honest with you, this deal, under certain aspects of the deal, you can’t do it. You can’t trade. We can’t make a trade deal with the UK. I think we can do many times the numbers we’re doing now right now, and certainly much bigger numbers than you’re doing under the EU. Boris wants to be very careful with it. Under certain ways we would be precluded, which would be ridiculous.”
In remarks that are unlikely to be welcomed in Downing Street, Trump said Johnson was a “fantastic man and [the] exact right guy for the times”, and added that he could form an “unstoppable force” by pairing with Farage.
Trump also told Farage that Johnson “has a lot of respect and like for you”.
“He respects you a lot, I can tell you that, he respects you a lot, I don’t know if you know that or not,” Trump told Farage. “But, cause I have no idea I have enough to do over here without having to worry about the psychology of two brilliant people over there, frankly … I wish you two guys could get together, I think it would be a great thing.”
Those pained groans are from Battersea and by the professional diplomats at the US Embassy.
Look, folks, my post-WW2 childhood was in Norfolk, at a time when much of East Anglia was US-occupied. One of the main local employers, and a major source of revenue, was the American Air Force base. Convoys rumbled down our rural roads, and we kids had learned the mantra, ‘Got any gum, chum?’ The sky above us resonated with US bombers. One crashed, and there were strong rumours it was carrying a nuke. From an American Master Sergeant I learned the trick of smelling beer before tasting,
That was then. We are no longer up for coca-colonisation.
My expectation is Fromage/Farage has gone too far. Certainly Trump has.