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Tue Jan 12, 2021, 11:18 AM

Trump's British cheerleaders are rushing to denounce him. It's too little, too late

Owen Jones

As Trump falls, rightwing figures such as Fraser Nelson and Douglas Murray have suddenly discovered their consciences

Tue 12 Jan 2021 10.30 EST

As smoke billowed out of the Capitol, some of Donald Trump’s US apologists – the appeasers, the opportunistic cheerleaders, even some true believers – suddenly discovered consciences. In Britain, rightwing commentators had even less reason to embrace the man who remains US president: domestic support for him here has always been negligible. Cheerleading for Trump in Britain has always been a conscious choice, and it is all the more striking because it comes without the excuse of external pressure or cynical self-interest: indeed, it carries the price of damaging the cheerleaders’ credibility even among many Conservative voters.

Those who made that choice in Britain are now attempting to walk away whistling from the crime scene, but apologism for the figurehead of the international far right – including the self-confessed Nazis who stormed the US legislature – should come with accountability. Fraser Nelson is editor of the Spectator, which presents itself as a respectable centre-right publication – its summer party is attended by senior Tory and Labour figures and BBC journalists alike – even as it publishes columns bemoaning there is “not nearly enough Islamophobia within the Tory party”.

Last week, Nelson joined the ranks of British conservatives abandoning their fallen hero, writing a column entitled “Trump’s final act was a betrayal of the people who voted for him” – itself a questionable claim, given one YouGov poll showed more Republican voters backed the storming of the Capitol than opposed it. It stands in stark contrast to another of his columns from three years ago, headlined “A new, more reasonable Donald Trump presidency might just be on the way”, endorsing suggestions the president would “gravitate to the middle”.

The Spectator is chaired by former flagship BBC interviewer Andrew Neil, who can now be found beating his chest and declaring: “There is one name responsible for what is happening on Capitol Hill tonight and that name is TRUMP.” And yet no British publication gave such generous space to Trump and Trumpism as the Spectator, publishing articles with headlines such as “The intelligent case for voting Trump” and “Trump will be much, much better for Britain”, or crowing “Donald Trump’s victory marks the death of liberalism”. There is a broad consensus that what paved the way for Wednesday’s insurrection in Washington DC was the deliberate (and baseless) delegitimising of the presidential election, and in November, the Spectator was publishing articles such as “Trump is right not to concede” and “Can you really blame Trump for refusing to accept the election result?”


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