At a press conference on Tuesday, Donald Trump and Theresa May were asked about the fact that Jeremy Corbyn had not attended the state banquet for the president, but had instead addressed the protests against him in Trafalgar Square. Trump brazenly lied about the protest, calling it “tiny” and claiming “thousands of people” had come to cheer him, despite the streets being practically empty, and claimed the protests were “fake news.”
Just as his plane was landing in Essex, Trump tweeted that the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, was a “stone cold loser” and “nasty.” Speaking about Corbyn at the press conference, Trump confirmed that Labour had requested a meeting between him and Corbyn, and Trump had refused one.
The biggest policy controversy on Trump’s visit is America’s interest in gobbling up the National Health Service. The US ambassador has stated that the US will insist on business access to the NHS as part of any post-Brexit UK-US trade deal, and Trump confirmed it at the Tuesday press conference. The announcement was greeted with universal fury — the NHS remains sacrosanct in the UK, an institution universally loved by the public regardless of political positioning, and any privatization or threats to free health care are politically toxic. May said nothing, and any new Tory leader who accommodates such a move will be politically flayed by the public.
Meanwhile, the British media focused on Corbyn’s response to Trump’s state visit, criticizing him for rebuffing the state banquet invitation and for his decision to speak at the protest against Trump. The Conservative Party have been predictably sycophantic towards the president, with leadership candidates vying for meetings with him. Trump spoke warmly of Boris Johnson and also said he had met foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt. Trump claimed he had not met Michael Gove before, even though Gove interviewed him with softball questions in 2017 — clearly he made no impression on Trump.
Corbyn’s decision to snub the state banquet and speak to crowds of protesters has attracted a wave of criticism of the Labour leader. Rather than focus on Trump’s grotesquery, Corbyn has been the focus of British media. His decision to criticize the president and join those protesting Trump has been treated as an unspeakable crime. The British media obsessively attack the Labour leader, ignoring the fact that a huge portion of the public hold a deep disdain for Trump. They seem unable to help themselves, with many journalists attacking Corbyn without even thinking about Trump’s record.
If Corbyn becomes prime minister he will have some measure of power to hold Trump responsible for his destructive policies. Diplomacy is complex, but doesn’t have to involve a complete abdication of thought. When other countries pursue policies that inflict great harm, treating the politicians responsible more politely than you would your grandmother makes you an accessory to that harm.
Of course, if Corbyn had chosen to meet Trump or attend the state banquet, he would have been attacked for hypocrisy. He will be criticized either way by an openly hostile press, so speaking out about Trump’s egregious behavior is the right thing to do — ironically, that hostility gives him the freedom to choose the right thing without thinking of how it will play in the media.
Comparing Corbyn’s response with May’s, it is clear that Corbyn has riled Trump, who called the Labour leader a “negative force.” History will no doubt judge his truth-telling far more positively than the government’s fawning meetings and sycophantic greetings showering the president with praise. The politicians Trump attacks should be pleased with the knowledge that they’re doing the right thing.