Do you remember Tonight, with Cliff Michelmore? Cy Grant would sum up the week’s news in a calypso. Here’s my calypso of the week:
Politically, it has been a week for getting up people’s noses. First of all the Brexit Party turned its collective back on the European anthem. This was obnoxious not because it showed disrespect to the European Parliament – no doubt the feeling is mutual – nor to Ludwig van Beethoven, who is after all beyond harm; but rather to the quintet of young musicians, who from what I could hear were playing very beautifully.
Alle Menschen werden Brüder…
But who knows, perhaps it will become a tradition, like standing in Messiah for the Hallelujah Chorus. From now on, during any performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony, when we reach the Ode to Joy the audience will stand up and about-face.
Then the Chinese got up our noses when their ambassador told us in no uncertain terms to stop butting into Hong Kong’s affairs. He was almost immediately summoned to the Foreign Office. Then we stopped an Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar’s territorial waters apparently en route to Syria and in breach of EU sanctions. (Strange place, Gibraltar. Young men cruise around in open-top sports cars with sound systems blaring. No surrender! Gibraltar is like Belfast; she suffers from PTSD.) So our ambassador in Teheran got the summons to be informed this was an act of piracy. Of course Iran is in the news a lot these days. Ever since President Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal the Iranians have been striving to refine weapons-grade uranium. The UK doesn’t wish to fall out with Iran. I find it odd that nobody ever mentions the fact that President Rouhani is an alumnus of Glasgow Caledonian University. Maybe the Foreign Office doesn’t know, or doesn’t care.
Anyway, two unrelated incidents involve one former and one present British colony. The Empire strikes back.
(Incidentally, all the pictures of Hong Kong in the news reminded me of the thrill of landing at the old Kai Tak airport, when at about four hundred feet you felt you could reach out and pluck the clothes drying on makeshift lines hanging from the high rise apartments. In 1979 I passed through en route from Papua New Guinea to London, carrying as hand luggage a package containing a long bow with arrows made in the Highlands of Enga by the lepers at Yampu. The Hong Kong douaniers inspected it and were terribly interested. “Do you hunt?” I tried to explain it was merely a memento. Amazingly, they let it pass. But the packaging had been ripped apart and the flight was about to go so I ended up boarding carrying a naked bow and a bundle of deadly arrows. Try that, forty years on.)
Then the PM, and the two putative PMs-apparent headed north of the border to extol the Precious Union, thus managing to get up the noses of at least half the population of Scotland. When Mr Hunt told an audience of Scottish Tory party members that, if and when Ms Sturgeon requested another Indyref, he would assume an air of “British” politeness and reply with an emphatic “No”, this appeared to go down well within the splendid confines of Perth Concert Hall; but Mr Hunt ought to remember that lots of other people were listening in. They were saying, wait a minute! Ms Sturgeon is our First Minister. We elected her!
Then the former head of MI6 no doubt managed to get off-side with the whole senior political class when he informed us that really they weren’t of sufficiently high calibre; they just weren’t up to the job. We are all having a collective nervous breakdown. And finally the current British ambassador to the US told us (though he didn’t mean to tell all of us) that the current US administration is inept and incompetent and the White House dysfunctional. Will he get a summons to the State Department? I doubt it. I rather think the POTUS couldn’t care less. I did note that the Foreign Secretary disowned the ambassador’s opinions. He said these opinions were personal and the holder was perfectly entitled to hold them, and that it was perfectly appropriate, indeed, essential, that he express them (in confidence). I think this was Mr Hunt assuming an air of “British” politeness, while simultaneously hanging the ambassador out to dry. It has been suggested that the next British ambassador to the US could be Nigel Farage. I don’t think Mr Farage would turn his back on the Stars and Stripes. Mr Hunt expressed full confidence in the president. After all, if the UK is getting up the noses of Europe, we daren’t get off-side with the US, especially as we are already off-side with the Chinese, the Spanish, and the Argentinians. (Not to mention the troublesome Scots.)
Who to insult next? Perhaps Gary Lineker, that modestly paid BBC employee, will express astonishment that the participants of the recently concluded football World Cup, God bless them, could understand the off-side rule.