Book review: ‘Collateral Damage: Britain, America and Europe in the Age of Trump’

One of the most dramatic incidents in the recent history of the Anglo-American relationship involved the leak of a diplomatic cable of the UK Ambassador to Washington DC, Kim Darroch, now Lord Darroch. This led to Darroch’s resignation, after President Trump suggested he would no longer work with him. Darroch’s autobiography is an insight into life in the higher echelons of international diplomacy, and provides an expert analysis of the tumultuous period from 2015-2020, in the US, UK and in Europe. 

An exemplar in ‘civil service’ writing, Darroch’s prose is politically neutral, easy to read yet highly illuminating. Reading his work, you can imagine the witty and unfiltered diplomatic reports that a Foreign Secretary would enjoy from Darroch. As HM Ambassador to Washington DC from 2015 to 2019, Darroch’s tenure was defined by enormous change in the UK, EU and US. His anecdotes from the time, and his work with Prime Ministers Cameron and May, and the then Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, is insightful and enlightening. 

Darroch is obviously an Americanophile, and his excitement to have been appointed to the country that birthed the films and bands that shaped his youth is palpable. The book goes beyond politics and diplomacy. One of my favourite aspects of the book was Darroch’s writings of his travels across the US, and his accounts of the people, experiences and discussions he enjoyed in middle America. Darroch always seemed keen to talk to ordinary Americans, to find out what they thought and learn about their lives. His stories of  frequent travels out of Washington DC are most enjoyable to read. 

The new edition also benefits from a new chapter, with some further analysis focusing on post 2020 events in Europe and the USA. Daroch discusses how he is able to ‘slip into the background’ once again, thanks to his diplomatic service role. He also  explains that In 2020, on the long running US game show ‘Jeopardy!’, the question ‘which post did Sir Kim Darroch resign from after a leak of comments on the US administration’ was asked to contestants. No one could answer. And indeed, similarly, back across the pond in the UK, Darroch notes that despite being headlines for a few days, he can now slip into insignificance and obscurity, and indulge in his passion for sailing the Cornish coast. Indeed, throughout the book, his experience of the media and his view that the 24 hour news cycle stifles real analysis, favouring fast paced headline grabbing stories shines through. This did, after all, lead to his downfall.

This book is one of the best written, easy to read memoirs I have recently read. It is sharp and refreshingly honest, with dry and witty observations that left me with a wry smile. The reader is left to make their own judgements by Lord Darroch; he is not at all preachy.

In some ways, we should be grateful for that leaked memo. As Arthey from the Scotsman wrote: ‘if it hadn’t been for a leaked letter, Kim Darroch might never have written an autobiography or, at least, not a memoir as sharp and witty as this’.