Theresa May and Donald Trump star in Diplomacy, Actually
By Daniel J. McLaughlin
Fiction is often a far more enjoyable experience than real life itself, and there is the wish for life imitating art to come true. With politicians quoting their favourite characters, whether it is the Machiavellian chief whip Francis Urquhart in the Commons or Professor Albus Dumbledore on Question Time, our representatives hope to capture the voters' imaginations by using other people's imaginations. In terms of the so-called Special Relationship between the UK and the US, Theresa May ought to look no further than the Christmas romcom, Love Actually.
Hugh Grant plays Hugh Grant as the prime minister in the Richard Curtis film, where his character berates his American counterpart in a press conference. "I love the word 'relationship'. It covers all manner of sins, doesn't it?" he tells a stunned crowd of journalists, with cameras flashing and films rolling, "I fear that this has become a bad relationship. A relationship based on the president taking exactly what he wants, and casually ignoring all those things that really matter to Britain."
The fictional prime minister concludes: "A friend who bullies us is no longer a friend. And since bullies only respond to strength, now onward, I will be prepared to be much stronger. And the president should be prepared for that."
These are words that could only come from the film world, rather than the political stage. Instead, Theresa May mirrors another scene from Love Actually, where Andrew Lincoln's Mark fawns after the recently-married Juliet (Keira Knightley) and creepily turns up at her house, professing his obsessive love through large cue cards.
And like many of the relationships in the festive romcom - from cheating spouses to missed opportunities - the relationship between Mrs May and Donald Trump is hardly functional. The prime minister seems to be putting more effort into the pairing than her American 'other half' - rushing to be the first foreign leader to meet the president after his inauguration, and being hasty with her invitation for a state visit to the UK. George W Bush had to wait two years for his invite, while Barack Obama was two years into his presidency for the full-blooded state visit - and some of his predecessors simply did not receive an invite.
The political couple have had their first squabble, and unfortunately the president has been washing his dirty linen out in public. When he retweeted videos from far-right extremists Britain First, one of which has been deemed fake, Mrs May has been left with a "toxic diplomacy dilemma". The Guardian's Julian Borger argues that the prime minister has "no friend in Donald Trump". The unprecedented president continues his diplomacy faux pases, showing "open peevishness and contempt" towards Mrs May like none of his predecessors before.
The bickering was conducted on social media, with Trump tweeting: "Theresa May, don’t focus on me, focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom. We are doing just fine!"
Mrs May has rushed into the political relationship. She was quick to offer him the red carpet treatment, and thereby making herself "a hostage to fortune", Politics Home argues. As Trump persists with his 'me, me, me' strategy both personally and politically with his America First presidency, the prime minister has ended up "tying her own political prospects to a president who is unconventional at best, and unhinged at worst".
Donald Trump's presidency may seem stranger than fiction, and Theresa May is looking for the rom in the com for the Special Relationship - but it could end up being a farce in diplomacy.