James O'Brien is Leading Britain's Conversation.
23 January 2017, 11:33
Reports say Prime Minister Theresa May wants to persuade Donald Trump to change his attitude to women. Fat chance, insists David Mellor.
Theresa May is ready to use her White House visit to tell President Trump to stop insulting women, trumpeted the Mail on Sunday yesterday.
And I’m going to tell my dog to stop chasing cats. With precisely the same prospect of success. Zero.
She’s not wrong to deplore Trump’s attitude to women. It’s simply that she’s got better things to do in a meeting with the President that could be a defining moment in her Prime Ministership.
Trump came down from the trees a lot later than most of us. And he’s not going to change his “Me Tarzan, You Jane” approach, just because prim and preachy, little Theresa May tells him to.
Maybe she should simply take comfort from Mae West’s celebrated observation; "Men who pretend to be macho, are often not up to mucho," and move on. And leave the feminine stuff to the millions of other women rightly queuing up to have a go at him.
By the law of averages, even a man as unfit to be President as Trump, will get some things right. And the half-British Donald’s focus on the special relationship (which never mattered tuppence to Obama), Brexit, an early trade deal with Britain, and to hell with the EU, should be right on the money for Mrs May.
And she should focus on that, as the best Brexit news so far for a beleaguered Prime Minister.
Trump has also, apparently, taken to referring to Mrs May as “My Maggie”. In your dreams, Donald!
Margaret Thatcher had real charm when she chose to use it. I saw her with Reagan, and he was putty in her hands, which helped enormously over the Falklands etc, and gave Britain real power and influence in Washington.
Theresa May has no obvious charm, and isn’t clubbable, even with civilised men. She’s buttoned up in a way entirely alien to Margaret Thatcher.
But, hopefully, somewhere in No 10, she’s been briefed about how to twist Donald round her little finger, the way Maggie did.
The promise of a state visit might help, even though that would be a nightmare for the police, not to say, the rest of us. But an egomaniac like Trump would welcome that kind of flattery.
She may have to tell him some unpalatable truths, but let them be about things that are fundamental to British interests, like Nato.
Trump’s attitude to Nato is almost as neanderthal as his attitude to women. But, that doesn’t mean he’s entirely wrong. America has been bankrolling the defence of Europe for decades and lots of major European countries have been doing next to nothing to defend themselves. Only a handful devote the recommended 2% GDP to defence, including, of course, us.
A few anecdotes help illustrate how bad things have been.
When I was at the Foreign Office, and British warships, alongside the Americans, were escorting oil tankers up the Gulf, in the face of Iranian attacks, we desperately tried to get other European navies to contribute. With no success, until the Danes volunteered one of their two elderly destroyers.
A triumph, until the Navy pointed out that this boat was so clapped out, it would have to be treated as if it were an oil tanker itself, and escorted up and down the Gulf by British naval vessels, to stop it falling prey to the Iranians!
European indifference to defence was well summed up in a Daily Telegraph cartoon during the liberation of Kuwait. Two British soldiers are sitting in the turret of their tank in the desert, stuffing a box of chocolates. "Really terrific, all that help we are getting from Belgium," said one.
So, my conclusion. This meeting really matters. Sounding like Meryl Streep on a bad day won’t be a good look, Theresa. Trump has reached out to Britain, and given Mrs May an invitation Merkel and Hollande would have given their eye teeth for.
Trump already feels isolated, and with good reason. He needs a friend. Theresa May best serves British interests by biting her tongue on most of what she doesn’t like, and oozing charm over everything she does.
With the EU at our throats, we need Washington right now. Please be good enough, Theresa, not to forget it.