It’s the sort of peculiar, particular path that only Corbyn could tread.
Corbyn got a lot of praise for refusing to attend the state banquet with Trump, including from some quarters usually hostile to him. It was the same for the speech he made at the march in central London—the first demonstration he’s attended in some time.
So it could have been a big embarrassment when Trump revealed that, actually, Corbyn had tried to arrange a meeting with him. And even more so when it turned out that Trump was the one who refused to meet.
Yet somehow this time Corbyn got away with it.
Certainly being called a “negative force” by Trump probably makes you okay in most people’s books. But as it turned out, Corbyn was “absolutely not refusing to meet anybody”.
“I want to be able to have that dialogue to bring about the better and more peaceful world that we all want to live in,” he said.
He just thought that “maintaining an important relationship with the United States does not require the pomp and ceremony of a state visit”.
That leaves open a few questions.
First, what useful dialogue could Corbyn possibly have with Trump? What makes a state visit more unacceptable than any other meeting? And why is maintaining Britain’s relationship with the US so important to Corbyn anyway?
what useful dialogue could Corbyn possibly have with Trump? What makes a state visit more unacceptable than any other meeting? And why is maintaining Britain’s relationship with the US so important to Corbyn anyway?
Corbyn’s spokesperson said that “Jeremy is ready to engage with the president on a range of issues, including the climate emergency, threats to peace and the refugee crisis.”
If he thinks he can convince Trump on any of that then good luck to him.
But the idea that any problem is solved through a relationship between the US and Britain is a big mistake.
That would be true even if Trump wasn’t president and Corbyn was prime minister.
Maintaining that relationship means trying to find common ground with people whose interests are fundamentally opposed to those of millions of people around the world.
At every level the US state is run by people who—for instance—protect the fossil fuel industry because it’s integral to their economy and their system.
Or who organise trade wars, real wars, coups and sanctions because they don’t want to give up on the US as a global power.
If you want a relationship with them, you’ve got to be on board. And by and large, Labour’s leaders have been. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown—complicit in the US’s invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan—are probably the most obvious examples.
But don’t forget Neil Kinnock who, as opposition leader, backed unequivocally the Tory government’s support for the US’s first invasion of Iraq in 1991.
Or Harold Wilson, who was stopped from joining the US’s war in Vietnam by growing opposition on the streets.
Then there’s Clement Attlee, who in 1950 joined the US in invading Korea.
Corbyn might be different. For most of his political life he’s been part of a movement that opposed the US and all its wars. The legacy of that is still a large source of his appeal and support.
But every Labour leader before him thought that a relationship with the US was good because it benefited the state that they hoped to govern.
So Corbyn might boycott a state visit for Trump.
But if being prime minister means showing you want to maintain the state’s relationship with the US, it could mean far worse things than dining with Trump.