Monday, 25 July 2016

Trying to explain the Foreign Secretary appointment

(Explaining Boris to a Taiwanese friend )

Dear Hsiu-Ju,

You raise another intriguing question – what is behind the appointment of Boris Johnson as foreign secretary. I am impressed that you continue to take such a close interest in our strange country. I am not a close confident of Theresa May, so can only guess. Here I "think as I type".

[1]  As a general principle 
Theresa May seems to have decided that those prominent Tories who voted 'Brexit' should bear the brunt of the work involved. Partly because enthusiasm and insight will be needed. Partly (perhaps) as a punishment; if they had not properly considered the difficulties, they certainly should have; and will have to do so now. The job of Foreign Secretary will tax the ability of anyone with any pretensions to leadership, or even competence.
[2]  Boris was a contender for the job of PM. Throughout the last years of David Cameron's leadership the Silly Press (and by that I include essentially all the newspapers) were forever touting the possibility that Boris Johnson was a contender for the leadership. That was no doubt galling for David Cameron, and unsettling for voters. If 
Theresa May wanted to dismiss the threat from Boris she could hardly have devised a better way. If he survives the test he is indeed worth having in the cabinet. If he flounders, he will probably have to leave politics.
[3]  Perhaps Theresa May has a strong sense of humour, and is running this one just to give us all a laugh. There was a strong intake of breath around the world as the appointment was announced. Much use was made of that absurd image of Boris J. in dark suit and hard hat, trying to zip into the Olympic arena on a wire but getting stuck a few feet from the ground. But can a grown up country, even one that prides itself more on its sense of humour than on its moral rectitude, practice such a joke on the world? The opposite numbers of all leading countries will have to keep a straight face while greeting and listening to Boris as he annunciates Britain's hopes for the future, and explains his previous (but widely bruited) derogatory remarks.
[4]  But perhaps Boris is indeed a really sharp mind with a clear understanding of Britain's role in the modern world, and is not merely a charismatic communicator and instinctive clown, with a smattering of schoolboy Latin and other vestiges of a privileged education. He has been a journalist; perhaps he can command the subtle and precise language needed for the job of 'diplomat-in-chief'. Perhaps he is an excellent choice to project British policy on foreign affairs in Europe, the Middle East, the Far East, Oceania, and the American continent – if Britain does have a policy in those areas. But perhaps Britain has no foreign policy, and the job of foreign secretary is to stall and obfuscate. In short; perhaps Boris is a good choice. We shall have to wait and watch.

Best wishes, Cawstein

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