Thursday 23 February 2017
Barely a good word for Donald Trump in Houses of Parliament
I am beginning to develop an addiction to Hansard, the public record of debates in Parliament and the House of Lords. It's a fascinating public record of how major political decisions are debated, and I feel fortunate to live in a country where it is readily available on the internet the day after a debate.
The debate on Donald Trump's state visit was particularly interesting, because it was prompted by a public petition signed by 1.85 million people, which read:
Donald Trump should be allowed to enter the UK in his capacity as head of the US Government, but he should not be invited to make an official State Visit because it would cause embarrassment to Her Majesty the Queen.
I've been taking a look at the debate from 20th February, which divided neatly down party lines, with the Conservatives and a single DUP member supporting the state visit, and everyone else (Labour, Lib Dems, SNP and Green) opposing it.
A notable point about the defenders of the State Visit is that virtually none of them attempted to defend Trump himself. The case that speaker after speaker made was that we should invite Trump despite of his awfulness. Indeed, some speakers argued that we'd invited other awful people before – Emperor Hirohito, President Ceausescu, Xi Jinping and Robert Mugabe - so we would be guilty of double standards if we did not invite Trump as well.
It was noted, however, that this argument did not hold much water, as none of these other invitees had been extended this honour within a week of being elected, and other far less controversial US presidents had never had a State Visit.
The principal argument used to support the government's position was a pragmatic one: it will be to the benefit of the UK if we work with the US, our oldest ally. That way we may be able to influence him, and also to achieve good trade deals. Dr Julian Lewis (Con) went even further, and suggested that by cosying up to Trump we might be able to avert World War 3:
…given he is in some doubt about continuing the alliance that prevented world war three and is our best guarantee of world war three not breaking out in the 21st century‚ do they really think it is more important to berate him, castigate him and encourage him to retreat into some sort of bunker, rather than to do what the Prime Minister did, perhaps more literally than any of us expected, and take him by the hand to try to lead him down the paths of righteousness? I have no doubt at all about the matter.
What really matters to the future of Europe is that the transatlantic alliance continues and prospers. There is every prospect of that happening provided that we reach out to this inexperienced individual and try to persuade him‚there is every chance of persuading him, to continue with the policy pursued by his predecessors.
I can't imagine this is an argument that would be appreciated by Trump, as it manages to be both patronising and insulting at the same time.
The closest anyone dared come to being positive about Trump was when Nigel Evans (Con) said:
We might not like some of the things he says. I certainly do not like some of what he has said in the past, but I respect the fact that he is now delivering the platform on which he stood. He will go down in history as the only politician roundly condemned for delivering on his promises. I know this is a peculiar thing in the politics we are used to here‚- politicians standing up for something and delivering‚- but that is what Trump is doing.
But most of those supporting the visit did so while attempting to distance themselves from Trump's personal characteristics, e.g. Gregory Campbell (CON):
My view is that Candidate Trump and Mr Trump made some deplorable and vile comments, which are indefensible - they cannot be defended morally, politically or in any other way - but he is the democratically elected President of the United States of America.
Other made the point in rather mild and general terms, e.g. Anne Main:
Any of us who have particular concerns about some of President Trump's pronouncements are quite right to have them; I object completely to some of the things that have been said.
If we turn to the comments made by the speakers who opposed the state visit, then they were considerably more vivid in the negative language they used to portray Trump, with many focusing on the less savoury aspects of his character:
Paul Flynn (Lab) referred to the 'cavernous depths of his scientific ignorance'. Others picked up on Trump's statements on women, Muslims, the LGBT community, torture, and the press:
I think of my five-year-old daughter when I reflect on a man who considers it okay to go and grab pussy, a man who considers it okay to be misogynistic towards the woman he is running against. Frankly, I cannot imagine a leader of this country, of whatever political stripe, behaving in that manner. David Lammy (Lab)
President Trump's Administration so far has been characterised by ignorance and prejudice, seeking to ban Muslims and deny refuge to people fleeing from war and persecution. Kirsten Oswald (SNP)
Even if one were the ultimate pragmatist for whom the matters of equality or of standing against torture, racism and sexism do not matter, giving it all up in week 1 on a plate with no questions asked would not be a sensible negotiating strategy. Stephen Doughty (Lab)
I fought really hard to be elected. I fought against bigotry, sexism and the patriarchy to earn my place in this House. By allowing Donald Trump a state visit and bringing out the china crockery and the red carpet, we endorse all those things that I fought hard against and say, Do you know what? It's okay. Naz Shah (Lab)
Let me conclude by saying that in my view, Mr Trump is a disgusting, immoral man. He represents the very opposite of the values we hold and should not be welcome here. Daniel Zeichner (Lab)
We are told that Trump is very thin-skinned and gets furious when criticised. It is also said that he doesn't read much, but gets most of his news from social media and cable TV, and is kept happy insofar as his staff feed him only positive media stories. If so, then I guess there is a possibility his team will somehow keep Hansard away from him, and the visit will go ahead. But it's hard to see how it could possibly succeed if he becomes aware of the disdain in which he is held by Conservative MPs as well as the Opposition. They have made it abundantly clear that the offer of a state visit is not intended to honour him. Rather they regard him as a petulant but dangerous despot, who might be bribed to behave well by the offer of some pomp and ceremony.
The petition to withdraw the invitation has been voted down, but it has nevertheless succeeded by forcing the Conservatives to make public just how much they despise the US President.