Bernard Ingham: A love-in across Pond that isn't doomed to flounder

SO far, so good after the great hand-holding love-in in the White House, which dominated the front pages, between Prime Minister Theresa May and US President Donald Trump. '¨ It is clear already that he loves Brits '“ his mother was one '“ and thinks we are wonderful for pulling out of the EU, always assuming our politicians are not daft enough this week to mess with the people's majority view.

Yorkshire Post cartoon by Graeme Bandeira

He seems to be warming to Nato after suggesting it was dated. And his pride demands that Theresa (when the White House has learned how to spell her name) becomes his “Maggie”.

The big question of the hour remains: Is the Anglo-American special relationship going to become very special again? Will chalk and cheese – or opposite poles – somehow become the flavour of the years ahead on both sides of the Atlantic?

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Trump’s narrowed eyes and belligerent posture remind me of Benito Mussolini with a wig. Here is an “America first” man used to getting his way.

Yorkshire Post cartoon by Graeme Bandeira

It does, of course, take all kinds to make the world and the omens are generally good for a new, though different, golden era last enjoyed by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan to the world’s advantage.

I believe their – and our – fate rests on Trump’s performance on five fronts:

1 – Is he sufficiently modest to take advice from a British Prime Minister – and a woman to boot? Thatcher, with her housewifely economics, did not get far with Reagan over shrinking his budget deficit as he armed the USA to the teeth.

Sunny Ron, ever the optimist, listened but good-naturedly argued that everything would be okay on the night. Economically, it wasn’t, but the Russians took the hint and Eastern Europe was liberated. Trump has inherited an America deeply in debt and needs to remedy it.

Yorkshire Post cartoon by Graeme Bandeira

2 – Is he man enough take a real handbagging when May gets seriously critical?

Would he take lying down the sort of vigorous school-mistressy lecture Thatcher gave Reagan for invading Grenada in his Caribbean back yard?

How would he react if May charged across the Atlantic, as Thatcher did “to wash his head”, as the FCO inelegantly put it, after Reagan told Mikhail Gorbachev he was ready to abolish nuclear weapons and over his amazing faith, in spite of the fallibility of technology, in the SDI – “Star Wars” – concept of nuclear defence in space?

I simply cannot imagine Trump cowering in the Oval Office before May partly because of his unbounded certitude of approach – take, for example, his drive for a wall along the Mexican border – and partly because May is not as passionate as Thatcher.

3 – Is Trump likely to be shaken out of his admiration of Vladimir Putin by May’s cold realism? Here the outlook is more promising. He recognises the need for both the USA and Europe to strengthen their defences.

4 – Can Trump be persuaded that his instinctive protectionism will do the world no good at all and play into the hands of China to boot? Here May has a real international job to do to prevent an American-led, beggar-my-neighbour approach to international trade, whether or not Trump delivers quickly on an Anglo-American trade deal.

5 – Here I come back to Trump’s misogyny and his evident desire to be seen to be one of the lads. However much she recognises her responsibility to become his friend and reliable source of advice, May is unlikely to put up with being patronised for long. Will Trump in the White House grow up to be the perfect gentleman that Reagan was?

There is a lot riding on these questions, especially as Trump does not seem to have warmed to any other international statesman, with the possible – and awful – exception of Putin.

I think May is both able and desires to help Trump become a great president. But is he sufficiently modest to value candid friends? Thatcher did not think you were much of a friend if you were not candid. May seems to have been less 
than candid over Trump’s ban on travellers from Muslim states. Reagan could count on Thatcher to tell him the harsh truth.

I shall reserve judgment until they have met a few times and weathered a few storms together. I shall know that, by Jove, they’ve done it when I get that old 1980s feeling when they meet that I am again directing Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. Forget about holding hands. Wait for the first kiss.