Friday 9 December 2016

Slapping Down Boris

Boris pass, or Boris arse?  Some interesting issues here, as Boris feels able to blurt his opinions on the Middle East at exactly the time the boss is making the rounds, and May feels able to 'slap down' (but not fire - yet) her foreign secretary.  To clear away some of the undergrowth first:
  • In all walks of life most people, even of ordinary intelligence, quickly figure out the broad lines of what is considered sensitive / unsayable / taboo in whatever regime they are labouring under (see, for example, the Common Man in A Man for All Seasons, not to mention the Vicar of Bray, sir) and speak / don't speak accordingly.  It's called basic survival. 
  • Buffoonery notwithstanding, there's always been an underlying theme that Boris is incredibly ambitious, ruthless and pretty clever, to boot.  Under this thesis, He Knew What He Was Saying: and as such, we wonder whether he is on manoeuvres.  Seems unlikely he thinks he can put the skids under May any time soon; so maybe he's discovered being foreign secretary isn't as much fun as he throught, and being sacked would be quite congenial to him?
  • Or maybe he's just an incontinent blurter, and hasn't previously been in roles where this matters.
  • Either way, there's at least the possibility he's not long for the the world of *diplomacy*.
All that said, there was an interesting exchange on Newsnight yesterday (not something you catch me saying - or indeed watching - very often).  It will be here on i-player for a couple of weeks.  There's an interview with some Yemeni politician, then (starting @ 14 minutes in) with a run-of-the-mill political correspondent, who suggests the Boris camp (a) accepts the phrase 'puppeteering' may have been a bit OTT and (b) believes we are in a new world in which saying truthful stuff is OK.

The good bit follows that: two worthies come into the studio to dilate on point (b), which they do quite intelligently (starts 16:20).  The obvious point is made first - sensibly, and at some length - that it isn't easy to run a ship in international waters when the admiral is publicly stating that the captain's sayings from the bridge are not to be heeded.

Then they discuss the 'truth' thing.  These days many people seem to think we live in a 'post-truth' world - indeed, that's the Oxford Dictionary's word of the year.  And here are commentators musing over whether actually there is a new premium on senior politicians saying the unsayable, and opening up debates where heretofor it had generally been understood politicians should tiptoe around without saying things everyone knows to be the case.

This seems so implausible that I find the topic irresistable.  Au fond, there are some quite philosophical themes here.  Anyhow, have a listen.  Give the ephemeral nature of i-player, if I have a bit of time over the weekend I may even transcribe some of the best bits for blog-posterity.



Flagwaver said...

Are we sure this wasn't a carefully choreographed shot across Saudi bows?

Boris may be the ideal Foreign Sec for accidental-on-purpose ball-dropping of this kind. Plausibly deniable by a more PC PM.

david morris said...

Beat me to it FW.

Surely this is just a variation of the Good cop/Bad Cop meme ? One Burt A (introduced y/day by Al-Beebya as an FCO expert on the region) did say that the comment attibuted to Boris were only what career diplomats have been saying in private to the Sauds for at least a decade .

Elby the Beserk said...

Boris is clueless about Syria, which is odd given his education. You'd think he'd also have learnt from the disaster of regime change in Iraq and Libya. He's out of his depth, and has no idea how popular Assad is there.

I quote.


I recently visited Syria with Lord Hylton and Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, at the invitation of Christian and Muslim leaders. We went to many places, including Aleppo, and met many people from many backgrounds.

Everyone we met was deeply disturbed by the British government's policy of commitment to "regime change". Syrians, although understandably critical of President Assad, appreciate his protection of minorities and the rights of women. They dread his overthrow believing that this will lead to takeover by Isis and other extremists, creating chaos similar to that experienced by Iraq and Libya after western intervention.

The consistent plea of the Syrian people whom we met is for the right to determine their own future. I hop we will respect that right"

Baroness Cox & Lord Hylton
House of Lords
Letter to The Times, October 14th.

It's worth noting that when the troubles started, Syria's GDP was growing faster than ours, they had for the first time in their history, a professional middle class, and also a superb education system - so good the BBC did a series on it. Indeed, it showed our education system up for the waste of space it is.

Boris is a bloody menace. We abandoned Syria when they needed us.

Blue Eyes said...

Well if that is right then who has Boris offended? Apart from the Foreign Office and its cohort?

I am not convinced that the yacht-purveyors, croupiers and high-class call-girls are likely to engage their wealthiest customers in conversation on the evils of the House of Saud, though. And any people of importance the fresh princes might come across will be as deferential as you like.

Steven_L said...

call-girls? The Saudi royals have whole hareems full of girls, that's not forbidden. What makes you think it's the 'girls' they come for?

Blue Eyes said...

It works either way. Jeez.

Steven_L said...

Either way aint a sensible option in KSA. At least over the water the Ayatollahs permit (and pay for) sex changes to gay men. Did you know Iran is second only to Thailand for number of sex changes? The Saudis not only don't permit them to 'join in' full stop, they pretty much insist they get married to a woman to boot.

If you're a well off Saudi and you want a bit of 'either way' (and they tend to like a bit of that since they aren't generally allowed to see female flesh until they are married) you have to go to Europe. Likewise if you want to go on a massive bender or gamble in a casino.

Once you're in Europe, and have an internet connection (that's not spied on like back home), it's pretty easy to find out what folk really think.

Anonymous said...

Boris is only telling the truth, but that's not his job.

It must surely be a first for a British Government to announce that a public statement by the Foreign Secretary does not represent the view of HMG.

The Saudis are a very dodgy bunch, and are IMHO more of a threat to the West than Al Quaeda and ISIS combined, but they also have a lot of cash to spend on British things that go bang, money which France would rather was spent on the French equivalents.

I just wonder if in the pre-Brexit climate we don't need all the friends we can get, even such doubtful ones as the Saudis. Alas, I don't think May really has a thought-out plan to Make Britain Great Again, and if she did, her (and our) enemies would leak it to the BBC.

Anonymous said...

On the subject of Syria and the White Helmets, the well-organised and funded PR campaign which attempted (and very nearly succeeded) to get us to fight the Russian Air Force over Aleppo.

And going back in time, Mrs T's favourites Bell Pottinger trousered a cool half billion from the US for Iraq War PR

Electro-Kevin said...

It was slapping Boris that won Brexit. It made the Remain panel look awful in the televised debates.

Blue Eyes said...

Anon, "realpolitik" and its brothers and sisters along with the FCO view are exactly the causes of the perma-compromises that led to all the problems with EU membership and the problems which Trump says he wants to deal with.

Whether that is turning a blind eye to ethnic cleansing in China in return for a bit of investment and cheap goodies or hoping that the nice Saudis come and spend at Foxtons and Regent Street. Fine, but let's be honest about it. Let's decide whether that is how we want to deal with things. But the reason what Boris said (and it wasn't a public statement it was an "unguarded comment") is so shocking is because we know perfectly well it is true but we have trained ourselves not to acknowledge it because we quite like selling them the aeroplanes to intimidate their own people.

I think it would be refreshing to have people in important roles being more up-front.

Nothing Boris does is unplanned or off-guard. Nothing that any minister does is unsanctioned by Micromanager May.

Steven_L said...

or hoping that the nice Saudis come and spend at Foxtons and Regent Street

Or Regents Park (mosque)..?

But didn't Boris actually say something like "The Saudis, Iran and everyone else..."

So personally I don't see an issue. If the Saudis have an issue sod them. I really don't care all that much if they stop buying BAE Systems stuff and posh houses in London. We don't buy much oil off them either.

It'll be interesting if it does come to pass the the USA don't need them anymore for oil. How the f*** will they feed themselves? And that's the bottom line to me, the middle east can't feed itself, and it kept alive by carbohydrate imports. 'They' need 'us' for than we need them.