Bernard Ingham: Let’s hope May and Trump can find that love-in feeling

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, seen here in 1990, had a close bond. (PA).
Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, seen here in 1990, had a close bond. (PA).
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It is now clear that Theresa May will have to do it the hard way. It is just one darned thing after another – implementing Brexit with an inadequate majority and a fractious party, Vladimir Putin pin-pricking from the Baltic states to Syria via Crimea, international terrorism and an epic migration from failed states.

And now Donald Trump. You couldn’t make it up.

It is true that President-elect Trump accurately forecast in his own campaign a “Brexit, Brexit, Brexit” – namely a revolt by the ordinary American citizen, like the British, against arrogant governing elites. He also made it clear that he believes in the nation state, has not much time for Europe’s contribution to defence and has lots of affection for the UK where his mother was born.

So far so good. But how much further does Anglo-US amity go beyond the ritualistic talk of “the special relationship”? The honest answer is that we haven’t a clue because Trump is far clearer about needing a good barber than he is about governing the USA.

Yet inevitably May’s relationship with a president with no experience of running a government, let alone the most powerful government in the world, is going to be compared with the Margaret Thatcher-Ronald Reagan love-in.

It is quite conceivable that May could develop a close personal relationship with Trump. Let’s hope so. But she does not have Thatcher’s good fortune of a close identity of view, apart from helping the common man, with the incoming president on the essentials of governance. He is a closed book on many things.

He is now on a precipitous learning curve about what is possible and impossible, even with a Republican majority in both Congress and the Senate.

Just how will he handle Putin after his admiring remarks about the Russian leader? If Trump thinks Putin, the KGB man, is a democrat, he is as daft as some Corbynistas.

Is Trump a free market man or a protectionist? He has sounded anything but open to the world during his campaign. But his building a wall the length of the US-Mexican border has become a fence in places.

Given the length of time I have always had to queue to get into the USA – and, indeed, back into the USA on a day trip to the Canadian Niagara Falls – I am amazed that anyone dubious 
penetrates its borders unless they are not patrolled.

Finally, we come to fundamentals. Is Trump a sound money man or one who couldn’t care less about a $16 trillion (a million million) national debt so long as the economy is rip-roaring away and producing jobs? That debt in a country of 300 million people is about eight times more than the UK’s £1.5 trillion with a 63 million population. And the UK’s debt is climbing at £5,000 per second.

Not even the mighty USA can carry such burdens indefinitely. They are a political, economic and diplomatic liability.

We do not know whether May will have any moral suasion left in her economic locker until Chancellor Philip Hammond delivers his Autumn Statement next week. But already it is weakened by the Government’s decision to forget about the old Tory objective of balancing the books by 2020.

In other words, May will not be in the strongest position to urge Trump – as Thatcher did to Reagan – to cut his deficits.

Perhaps most important of all, we do not know how candid friends can be with Trump. He is used to having his own way.

Is he as big as Reagan was to withstand Thatcher’s chastising over his invasion of Grenada, offering Mikhail Gorbachev a nuclear-free world, his amazing faith in the Star Wars defence system and ultimately his easy way with money? (which was all too easy for her liking). “Oh, it will all come right in the end,” the great optimistic tax cutter told her. But it didn’t.

Perhaps Trump might find May’s “Ice Lady” demeanour less offensive to his ego than Thatcher’s swinging handbag. Who knows?

All that we can say is that May gives the impression she will be a tough, loyal ally who considers it her duty to tell other leaders when things are awry. Trump has been conciliatory in victory but we have yet to see whether he can take criticism as well as dish it out.

In short, given the “special relationship”, what really matters is how well they get on personally. All will be revealed. Let’s hope they click. If they do, the world will be a better place.