So it’s official. The President of the United States will make a state visit to the United Kingdom in June this year. Amongst his itinerary will likely be a state banquet. This potential banquet has already caused considerable controversy. Opposition leaders have been quick to decline invitations to attend the dinner. Most important among these rejections is Jeremy Corbyn’s. However, although their politics is clearly very different, I will argue Corbyn has chosen the wrong course of action.
Firstly there is the diplomatic argument. Donald Trump is the democratically elected President of the United States (and yes the democratic part matters!). The US is the UK’s closest and most important ally. This will only increase after Brexit. Pragmatically we have to maintain a relationship with the United States whoever is in charge. At some stage in the next few years Jeremy Corbyn could become Prime Minister of the UK. He will then have to build a constructive relationship with the President of the United States (whoever that may be).
Secondly and perhaps more poignantly there is the philosophical argument. Corbyn’s political career has been all about talking. Talking to groups some find unpalatable. Taking stances which are deeply unpopular. At its core this is a highly principled position. It means you talk to people and politicians you don’t always agree with. Therefore the logical end goal of this position is that you talk with and engage with the President of the United States.
We also need to clarify what this wouldn’t mean. Corbyn attending a state banquet would not indicate an approval of Trump’s views and opinions. It would not mean that Trump’s misogynistic and inappropriate comments should not be challenged. In fact, he could and probably should be engaged in any peaceful protest against some of the President’s opinions.
It would not even mean that you agree with the decision to grant a state visit to the President. Of course Labour would have other preferred methods of dealing with the President, but politics is about dealing with the world as it is rather than as it should be. Labour is in opposition and not in Government.
My sense is that Corbyn and Labour are pretty dug in on this and that they won’t move. That will be a shame. Corbyn should trust his instinct. And in this case it would be to talk.