Trump v Clinton: The MPs' verdict
With less than a fortnight to go until America votes on its next president, we surveyed 50 MPs to get their opinions on the hopefuls – and they didn’t hold back. Between an “uninspiring” Clinton and “sociopath” Trump, America faces “a poor choice”, according to the revealing – and often tongue-looseningly anonymous – responses. Mark Leftly reports
Donald Trump is a “dangerous”, “narcissistic”, “trigger happy”, “protectionist”, “buffoon” who is “unfit to run a bath let alone a country”, according to comments made in a survey of MPs conducted by The House ahead of the US election.
Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton fares far better in what is the most extensive polling of British politicians in this presidential election, but many MPs are underwhelmed by the choice, with one arguing it’s a “mystery how more than 300 million people could come up with such losers”.
A senior Labour frontbencher perhaps best sums up the overall feeling: “Trump is the most grotesque manifestation of populism driven by discontent worldwide. Clinton is uninspiring.”
The 50 MPs reflect the party political make-up of the Commons and most spoke on the condition of anonymity – mainly so they didn’t have to pull their punches.
Not a single MP thought the world would be a safer place under Republican nominee Trump. However, a fifth – all of them Conservatives – believe his presidency will make little difference to global tensions, given the United States’ checks and balances system and the plethora of advisers in the White House. “We had the same sort of panic when [Reagan] was president – ‘how can an actor be president?’,” recalls a Conservative backbencher.
That left 80% of MPs fearful that Trump’s volatile temperament would damage international security, with many citing his threat to withdraw from the US commitment to protect Nato countries that come under attack.
Bob Neill, the Conservative chairman of the justice select committee, says: “I don’t trust his finger on the [nuclear] button.” Labour backbencher Wes Streeting adds: “Trump is a genuine risk to our national security and to the security of western democracy.”
Clinton polled almost the opposite, with no MPs believing the world would be any more dangerous under her leadership and 82% believing her experience as a senator and secretary of state would lead to improved global security. A member of the government says: “Trump’s so unpredictable he could do something really quite radical and dangerous. Whatever you think of Clinton, she is a professional politician.”
The Special Relationship
A handful of MPs are willing to concede that Trump is “a bit of an anglophile” given his UK investments. However, only Conservatives, most of whom would be natural Republican supporters in any other election, were willing to be that generous.
And 32% of Tories believed the Special Relationship would be hurt by a Trump presidency. One minister says: “I’d never have expected to back a Democrat over a Republican, [but] Clinton is slightly more globalist.”
A senior SNP MP warns Trump “wouldn’t be welcome in the UK” after receiving support from such a divisive figure as Nigel Farage. Trump introduced the MEP to 15,000 supporters at a rally in Mississippi in August, when Farage declared he “wouldn’t vote for Clinton if you paid me”.
However, one of president Barack Obama’s central foreign policies has been the “pivot to Asia”. More than 40% of MPs believe a Clinton presidency would largely stick by this course, meaning the Special Relationship would either stay the same or slightly weaken.
Many argued the whole concept is now dated, with one long-serving Conservative backbencher stating: “It’s much over-egged, mainly coloured by the fact we speak the same language.” An executive member of the powerful 1922 Committee adds: “Clinton will continue with Obama’s look to the Pacific.”
Trump was trounced here. Not a single MP said they strongly favoured him becoming president, while nearly a third were heavily behind Clinton – though Conservatives were far less enthused by what one describes as “a poor choice”.
Chris Bryant, the former shadow leader of the House of Commons, neatly summed up the feelings of Labour MPs, 94% of whom are highly opposed to a Trump presidency. “Trump seems to be a sociopath,” seethes Bryant. “He betrays all the symptoms of a person who has come to believe his own conspiracy theories and so admire his own power and celebrity that he can no longer see truth when it’s slapping him in the face.”
Only two MPs, both Conservative, would be slightly in favour of a victory for Trump, while three said they would feel unmoved by it. One of those MPs praises Trump for being “more pro-British”.
“My problem is with his temperament,” says backbench Conservative Nadhim Zahawi, a Trump critic. “He’s far too thin-skinned.”
Two-thirds of Labour MPs are highly enthused by a Clinton win, with many hoping she will shatter the ‘glass ceiling’. Siobhain McDonagh says: “I have my fingers and toes crossed for Hillary, because it would mean so much to a group of people who are ignored – middle aged women.”
Trump was one of a small number of international politicians to back Brexit calling the result a “great thing” as he opened his new golf course in Turnberry. The billionaire has pledged to “make individual deals with individual countries”, while President Obama warned Brexit would mean the UK “would go to the back of the queue”.
As a result, Trump polled his best numbers among MPs on whether or not the UK could expect a swift post-Brexit trade deal with the US. A fifth believe the terms will be favourable. “He said he’s Mr Brexit,” as one parliamentary private secretary puts it.
Clinton still won this category, though, with 28% thinking she will cut preferable terms with the UK. Nearly two-thirds felt a Clinton presidency would make no difference to a post-Brexit trade deal and 36% believe the same about Trump.
However, some old feuds won’t die and former Scotland first minister Alex Salmond, who has clashed with Trump for years, says: “I think Trump would put everybody at the back of the queue, his whole ethos will be any deal that’s cut will be cut in America’s favour. The Adam Smith concept of enlightened self-interest has never dawned on Trump.”
Trump’s recent slump in the US polls in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct against a number of women means an overwhelming majority of MPs – more than nine in ten – believe Clinton is going to win. A number of Labour MPs, in particular, seem to have found religion, saying they “hope to God” that the former secretary of state wins.
“Clinton will get home, Donald Trump has shot himself in the foot so many times that I can’t see him winning,” concludes a Tory backbencher. One of Labour’s more lukewarm backers of Clinton says she will win by being “the lesser of two evils”.
However, a few Conservatives note the wave of anti-establishment feeling that in the UK alone has resulted in Brexit, the near-loss in the Scottish independence referendum, and the rise of Jeremy Corbyn.
“Trump is really clever,” says a Conservative who is neutral on both candidates. “His strategy team have earned their money, [advising Trump to] speak slowly, deliberately and repeat himself so there is a takeaway message, like ‘we’re going to build a wall with Mexico’.”
A former minister adds: “I’m genuinely not sure. My head says Clinton, but my instinct says there could be an upset.”
Even Neill, possibly the Conservatives’ most outspoken critic of Trump, admits he “could be proved wrong” and Clinton will lose. What will he do if that happens? “I’d end up downing a bottle of whisky.”
What MPs said…about Trump
“He’d be a disaster for our countries. He’s ghastly, a threat to world peace and thoroughly obnoxious”
Former Conservative minister
“Trump would be an absolute disaster; the man is a buffoon”
“Any international relationship the US has will come under stress with a Trump presidency”
“Trump doesn’t have the temperament; he’s trigger happy and narcissistic”
“Trump’s so unpredictable he could do something really quite radical and dangerous. Whatever you think of Hilary Clinton, she is a professional politician”
What MPs said…about Clinton
“If Trump does win, it will be the grotesque selfishness of the Clinton mafia that foisted him upon us”
Former Tory shadow minister
“Clinton’s not the best candidate there has ever been, but she is a safe pair of hands”
“Whatever Clinton’s faults at campaigning, she’ll be a good executive president, probably better than Obama”
Former Tory shadow minister
“[A Clinton win] would mean so much to a group of people who are ignored – middle aged women”
Siobhain McDonagh, Labour MP
“I think she’ll be a lame duck from the start. Whoever wins I predict will be a one term president”
Backbench Conservative MP