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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Adjust William

Enoch Powell famously said that all political careers end in failure. If the old buzzard was still with us, I can imagine a post-script noting that many now begin so. It is always dangerous to look back with too much uncritical fondness at political figures from the recent, readily recalled past, especially so with the likes of dear old Enoch, who was a bit of a card at times, but this shouldn’t bar us from appreciating the techniques they used and the skill with which complex ideas were distilled and transmitted in finely crafted paragraphs. The sheer vapidity of the vast bulk of political debate at U.K. level today is starkly highlighted when listening to some of the acknowledged masters of the post war era. Sceptics can look to the early days of televised parliament for positive identification of that now almost extinct species. A few linger, but they are old, elusive and seldom heard.

It should be a matter of national regret that the age of the great parliamentarian has gone and that public speakers of Powell’s calibre are not around to tears strips off the gormless lobby fodder now clogging Westminster’s benches. The role has now become so homogenised and commodified, we now have standard issue politicians: a 2/2 from Oxbridge in Politics, Philosophy and Economics with work experience as an adviser to somebody slightly further up the same hermetically sealed food chain is now widely considered to be sufficient qualification to run the country. Miliband, Cameron and their respective tribes clearly accept this orthodoxy and the frightening thing is that nobody seems to be challenging it except a few wizened old refusniks forever banished to the political hinterlands. It suits the markets, mind, so nothing worry about..........

A vast but almost invisible permanent civil service that has secured for itself everything it wants by dint of a body-snatching process carefully cultured and nurtured over a period of 20 years or so has finally achieved the perpetual motion necessary to keep everything the same for ever, where anybody with anything remotely resembling a political backbone has little or no chance of having any influence at all. Doubtless, learned academics are presently working on setting politicians’ exams from a curriculum of their choice thus ensuring a kind of 4th Reich where, instead of using guns, the state maintains its strength through administrative fascism to the point that even the politicians are mere adjuncts of the machinery rather than free agents representing an electorate.  

It is now almost a standing joke - and therefore easily dismissed by the carelessly nonchalant - that very few of the major figures in any of our U.K. political parties have experience of any life outside the incestuous metropolitan bubble they were artificially inducted into at the age of 15. It won’t be the first profession to have routinely pissed off its rank and file by catapulting completely inexperienced graduates into positions they are clearly not equipped for with disastrous consequences, but when the deficit left by such self-serving recruitment policies actually starts causing wars, we should worry. Tony Blair, a lawyer, was, of course, pre-eminent in the modern game and a hard act to follow, but this appears to be precisely what is happening in and around Libya just now and the stakes have just been substantially upped by that early prototype of the purpose-built political clone, the-one-we-built-earlier, the inestimable William Hague.

It is intersesting, if alarming, to note that set beside his colleagues, Hague appears to be something of a statesman. Really. Probably because he got a first with honours in P.P.E. It is instructive to examine the knee-jerk deference and instinctive awe with which so many react at the mention of "went to Oxford, you know" with this man in mind. This is the system that has defined the British state since its birth. Good, innit?

Those of us of a certain age will recall a young Hague speaking at a Conservative Party conference, with Margaret Thatcher looking on, feigning adoration while almost certainly having to suppress a surging tide of nausea just as the rest of us have had to. This was one of those identifiable points of history when the wrong call was made; somebody should have burst out laughing moments before the applause. This would have unleashed a cascade of derision from which he would never have recovered and young William could have gone back to being bullied by rough local lads and despised by the posh kids, before slipping quietly into a life of benign obscurity in the family brewery business. It would have been better all round for everybody.

That performance should have been the death knell of any political ambition the little pip-squeak had fantasised about. People change their names, get plastic surgery and emigrate for lesser crimes against plausibility. Instead, Master William was given a benefit of the doubt rarely afforded to anybody who makes such an utter twat of themselves in public and is now foreign secretary almost by default. If ever there was a case of somebody falling up the way, it is our Billy.

And now, after months of vacillation, during which he self-evidently didn’t have a clue what to do now that we’d dropped as much ordinance as we could afford into a sandpit and Gaddafi was still there baring his hairy arse in defiance, William Hague has decided to take decisive action and has duly expelled all remaining Libyan embassy staff in the UK.

This in itself is not controversial. It is an ultimate sanction and the prerogative of any host nation, but it is never an option taken lightly as it generally either indicates or instigates a breakdown of dialogue. What is dangerous to the point of being outrageous is the decision to unilaterally install a new set of diplomats of NATO’s choosing. The precedent is frankly terrifying.

Government lawyers will doubtless have done the dirty and provided the legal clarification and terms of reference necessary to maintain an impression of legitimacy, but however it is looked at, the facts stand that a sovereign government has been effectively deposed by a foreign power by proxy through the diplomatic service.  

A foreign embassy is quite emphatically and quite rightly the property of the country it represents and any attempt at exemption from this touchstone of diplomatic law sets as dangerous a precedent as tampering with either ballot boxes or judiciaries.

This is on a par with relaxing the principle of reasonable doubt in criminal trials. It may be bloody infuriating when somebody we are fairly sure is guilty walks free, but the clue is in the conditional, “fairly”. For guilt, we need the absolutism of the burden of proof and without that we acquit; not pretty, but the alternatives are worse.

Hague embodies everything that is wrong with the British state and its political parties. Until now he has had little influence – the highlight of his political career was his hopeless position as Conservative leader – but now he finds himself in a critical role in which he is clearly hopelessly out of his depth. This display of petulance shows that he clearly cannot recognise the line where politics stop and diplomacy starts.

With nothing resembling a political achievement in a 30 year career, Hague is desperate to make a mark, but desperation got the better of him here. It’s easy to say now that we should never have armed Gaddafi and that we should have deposed him years ago. We should indeed. But if we are to seek refuge in conjecture, we might as well ridicule the young William Hague out of existence after that speech so long ago.

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