Monday, 18 July 2016

UK to world: Please stop laughing

(This post was originally due to be published last Friday but was held back after the attack in Nice.)

When even the Swiss are laughing at you, you know you’re in trouble.

Last Thursday morning’s Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger carried a cartoon showing Theresa May and Boris Johnson. ‘I didn't use to have any children,’ she says. ‘Now I do.’

What in God’s name was our new prime minister thinking? Or perhaps the question should be: What in God’s name was she smoking? Which hallucinogenic substance on earth would induce anyone to think that appointing BoJo The Clown as foreign secretary might be a good idea?

Did no one show her the front page of the French newspaper Liberation the day after the referendum? It showed that famous photo of Boris Johnson dangling helplessly from a stalled zip wire, forlornly waving a union flag with a daft blue helmet on his head. There were just two words in the headline, in English. ‘Good Luck.’

Merci beaucoup, mes amis. We’re going to need it.

Did no one remind her of the long list of countries and foreign leaders insulted by BoJo? Or of his talent for shooting from the lip for the sake of a cheap laugh and an easy headline? Or his miserable lack of any discernible achievements during his eight years as mayor of London? A housing market out of control and pollution levels so high that in some parts of the city they actually exceed legal limits?

This is the man she wants to represent the UK overseas? In God’s name, why?

If you ever wanted proof that politicians live on a different planet from the rest of us, observe our new foreign secretary and marvel. Because to politicians – and to political analysts and observers – the appointment of BoJo makes a weird kind of sense.

You thought Brexit was a good idea, Boris? Fine, off you go and explain it to our friends and allies around the world. But you won’t be doing any negotiating, because frankly, I wouldn’t trust you to negotiate your way into the right room at the right time, let alone say the right thing to the right person.

You think you can still have a shot at being prime minister? Sure, go ahead, but remember that if Conservative party members revolt against the inevitable compromises that we’re going to have to make, you’ll have to support me as a loyal member of my government. Your job is to sell the deal – isn’t that what you’re meant to be so good at?

And if you think you’ll have time to plot and scheme against my leadership, and then storm out of the government as if you’re Michael Heseltine, think again, because you’re going to be spending nearly all your time for the foreseeable future on flights to far-off places and in foreign hotel rooms. Bon voyage, BoJo, and hasta la vista.

Perhaps our new prime minister has outed herself as a closet Stephen Sondheim admirer:

Isn’t it rich?
Are we a pair?
Me here at last on the ground
You in mid-air
Send in the clowns.

Oh, how sweet is revenge. Theresa the Terminator has wielded the axe with unparalleled brutality. Osborne, Gove, Letwin, Whittingdale, Morgan – the colleagues she rowed with or never rated – all gone. Not even Margaret Thatcher dared to be so bold.

And Andrea Leadsom, remember her? Buried in what’s left of the Min of Ag and Fish, to explain to farmers why they won’t be getting any more EU subsidies.

But we know, of course, what happens to those who live by the sword. Mrs May has created more than enough political enemies to wipe out her Commons majority at a single stroke. She is in for a very rough ride and her chief Brexit negotiator David Davis will need all his SAS training to survive the battles ahead. She will never be as powerful again as she was last week.

Her party is as divided as it ever was, its Commons majority is as razor-thin, and the country’s economic woes are set to worsen. As the storm clouds gather, she’ll be mighty tempted to bolster her authority by means of a general election. I should know better by now than to try to make predictions, but I’m pencilling it in for the autumn of next year. If she’s lucky, the Labour party will have finally fallen apart by then.

Mrs May’s Cabinet appointments tell us that she is far braver than David Cameron, and far more ruthless. But she must stop smoking whatever it was that led her to send BoJo The Clown to the Foreign Office.

Because it will never, ever, be in the national interest for the UK to be an international laughing stock.


Anonymous said...

That last verse is also so horribly fitting, isn't it? It fits Brexit so well.

"Don't you love farce? My fault, I fear
I thought that you'd want what I want, sorry, my dear
But where are the clowns, send in the clowns
Don't bother, they're here"

soulman1949 said...

Sheer class, Robin, sheer class, especially the Sondheim reference..

I must admit, after my initial reaction of total incredulity at BoJo's appointment, I began to wonder whether it was some perverse sadistic gesture on May's part. "OK smart arse, now deliver if you think you're so clever."

Maybe she didn't appoint him as Foreign Secretary and it's all been a terrible misunderstanding - perhaps she really told him to F.O. ;-)

Actually his appointment is vaguely reminiscent of 1960's Foreign Secretary, George Brown who was also generally deemed to be unsuitable for the post and who also upset more than his fair share of politicians with his frequent gaffes.