Steve Bannon, the American populist campaigner, Trump strategist and self-professed prophet of “economic nationalism” is in Britain and ruffling establishment feathers this week, most notably in an interview with his journalistic bete noir, The Economist.

The publication, celebrating its 175th anniversary of (mostly) uninterrupted advocacy for liberalism, limited government and free trade, has come under fire from populists and nationalists both in Europe and the US for its role as a standard-bearer for internationalism, globalism and the capitalist elite. Bannon certainly did not shy away from addressing head-on the clash of ideologies that has come to dominate our political discourse, and he was clearly prepared for the fight.

Zanny Minton Beddoes, the British journalist and Editor-in-Chief of The Economist since 2015, took the opportunity to turn up the heat on Bannon, portraying him as the architect of the backlash against the liberal order apparently occurring across the West. Her tactics went some way towards validating her critics, who say she has overseen a leftwards drift of the platform and, indeed, she seemed quite taken aback at being confronted with a radically different worldview.

Say what you like about Bannon, he was on his brief and proved a tough nut to crack. He scored points early on with a surprise claim to have read the 10,736 essay in this week’s anniversary edition of the Economist – even recommending it to viewers – and went on to list key words he deemed conspicuous by their absence, from “sovereignty” and “income inequality” to “terror” and “radical Islam”.

He was interrogated on his view that immigration depresses wages and harms the economy, with Minton Beddoes describing him and his policies as a “false siren” for American workers. In particular she re-stated the orthodox position of the open-borders mindset that immigration brings skilled workers and entrepreneurship from abroad, to the benefit of all. Bannon responded with apparent ease, arguing that a merit-based system would allow for these benefits without the need to sustain current US immigration levels of 500,000 per year.

On free trade – a “fetish” for the Economist according to Bannon – Minton Beddoes accused the Trump strategist of pushing a protectionist policy that would see consumers suffer rising prices. But Bannon pointed out that the playing field is not even, with China operating unfair trade practices – he even went so far as to say that the liberal media, of which The Economist is a bastion, had colluded in Chinese supremacy, to the detriment of the American working class. Portraying global capitalism and uncontrolled immigration as two sides of the same coin, Bannon distanced himself from the traditional Right, portraying Minton Beddoes as a mouthpiece for an unjust social order.

In one shock anecdote Bannon revealed that at the G7 Trump offered China a deal – “No tariffs, but no subsidies” – but was refused point blank. Undermining the assumptions of Minton Beddoes’s questioning, he said there was no difference between protectionism in principle and tariffs as a tactic – he said that utlising them when and where they worked to protect US citizens was an obvious solution in a world in which China won’t play by the rules.

In response Minton Beddoes somewhat predictably went for the jugular by implying – if not openly stating – the allegedly racist nature of Bannon’s views. At the very least he is closely associated with unsavoury or controversial figures in the European populist right, including Salvini, the Italian premier, and Viktor Orban, the anti-immigration president of Hungary. Bannon looked uncomfortable when quizzed on some of their more hardline remarks, but flatly denied the racist nature of their regimes. On the contrary, these regimes are seeking to restore sovereignty from an elitist, globalist European Union, he claimed.

The most startling moment came when the Economist’s chief Editor accused Bannon of stoking fear and popular hysteria with his nationalist rhetoric, tricking Americans into voting against their own interests. She went on to score quite an own-goal. When Bannon said that the voters are “rational human beings”, Minton Beddoes said “it depends what you mean by rational human beings”. In stark contrast with the Trump strategist’s championing of the virtues of American workers and soldiers, the Economist Editor seemed happy to play the role Bannon carved for her.

Bannon cheerfully endorsed the term “nationalist” throughout, repeatedly accusing The Economist and its allies of overseeing unchecked globalization that has undermined the West, conceding global hegemony to the power of capital and a “mercantilist, authoritarian” China. To many, Bannon’s views represent the rise of dark and sinister forces with no place in the liberal order.

But his narrative that the peoples of Europe and America have been systematically ignored by internationally-minded elites is a powerful one, and one which the Editor of Britain’s most prestigious weekly didn’t do much to refute.

The Economist clearly set up this fascinating encounter envisaging an easy victory. By the end, it looked more like an own goal.