Mitt Romney
Mitt Romney Tyler Barrick - Getty Images

Romney's London trip backfires

MITT Romney made a distinctly undiplomatic first impression on Londoners yesterday, raising concerns about the city's handling of the Olympic Games before being forced into an embarrassing volte-face.

The Republican presidential hopeful's fundraising visit to Britain was meant to be a chance for the former Massachusetts Governor to display a foreign affairs gravitas that would help sell his claim to the White House.

But rather than flaunting his statesman-like credentials, Mr Romney managed to insult his hosts and commit that cardinal sin of US politics - "flip flopping" - all within hours of landing in Britain.

In unguarded and far-from-diplomatic language, Mr Romney initially questioned London's commitment and ability to stage the Games. In an interview with US television, he said he had noticed "disconcerting" signs that Team London was not ready.

"It's hard to know how it will all turn out," he said.

Perhaps more than any other US politician, Mr Romney's comments on Olympic organisation carry weight. As the capitalist guru who saved the Salt Lake City winter Olympics from financial ruin, he can claim to know a thing about staging the world's biggest sporting event.

But hours later, after a private one-to-one with David Cameron at No 10, Mr Romney appeared miraculously converted and predicted that London 2012 would be a "very successful" Olympics.

In the summer sun in Downing Street, attempting to put the morning's mistakes behind him, Governor Romney focused on beach volleyball.

"As I look out of the back side of 10 Downing Street and see a venue having been constructed. Knowing that athletes will be carrying out their activities almost in the back yard of the Prime Minister is really quite an accomplishment."

But Mr Romney's day of gaffes did not end there. After a meeting with Tony Blair in his smart Brook Street offices in Mayfair, he greeted Ed Miliband in his Commons office as "Mr Leader" - leading some to wonder whether he had momentarily forgotten the Labour leader's name.

"My right honourable friend" would have been amusing, though "comrade" isn't in the Republican lexicon.

Mr Romney's blunders will play two ways in Washington. US foreign affairs officials in Hilary Clinton's State Department may have hit their heads against any wall they could find. But the cheers from Barack Obama's re-election campaign in Chicago may have been heard in New York.

The Romney campaign may not judge London as a failure if the AU$113,210 a plate fundraising dinner held last night in Mayfair delivers millions of dollars into the Republicans' coffers.

Raising big bucks for what is expected to be the most expensive bid for the White House in US history means picking the pockets of rich Republicans who have high-wealth profiles in London's financial neighbourhood.

Of those attending the private fund-raiser - where all were asked to bring their US passports to ensure compliance with US election rules - some are reported to have donation track records that go back to Ronald Reagan, John McCain, Dick Cheney, and both Bush Snr and Jnr.

City rumours that the gaffe-punctuated day had reduced the plate-rate fee were dismissed by campaign insiders as "mischievous".

Among the key co-hosts for a fund-raising supper in Mayfair last night were:

Eric Assimakopoulos, the founder and managing director of Revitas Capital Advisors;

  • Scott Collins, from Summit Partners;
  • Dwight Poler, from Bain Capital Europe;
  • Millie and Glenn Barnes, from Unicredit;
  • Steve Chasan, from Moore Capital;
  • Patrick Durkin, from Barclays;
  • Charlie Ryan, from UFG Asset management;
  • and Karen Simon from JP Morgan.

Their donation dollars will support PACs (political action committees) that are likely to buy crucial pro-Romney and anti-Obama television messages in the run-up to November's vote.

Karin Robinson, vice-chairwoman of the Democrats Abroad organisation, said: "These bankers are being asked to write cheques for Mitt Romney because they know that if he wins they get to write their own rules. These millionaires and billionaires... are being promised generous tax cuts while the rest of us are struggling."