I was a tad disturbed to hear on open television yesterday that Hague’s first briefing was on Afghanistan, and his second on the US/UK relationship. My only question here is “Why?”
The FCO had a bad time of it with the Blairites. Their arrogantly casual tendency to circumvent normal channels in favour of half-baked consultants and US CIA agents ensured Tony Blair’s cabal left the Mandarins out of the loop for much of the time. I understand the FCO pinstripes decided, prior to the election’s final outcome, that this time they would take the Jack Charlton approach to Minister-marking.
Jack was infamous as a player for his self-confessed aim of “kicking my mark six yards over’t’ touchline in the first five minutes” just in case the opponent might be in any doubt about his enthusiasm for the fight. So I’m not surprised that the FCO rushed Willy off his feet – and away from any consideration of the three-dimensional bunfight developing across the Channel.
As a former management consultant, there’s a part of Hague that’s prone to bullshit – and forgetting that he is now the client – not the Mandarins. When briefly leader of the Opposition, he spent far too much time listening to airhead spin-doctors, as opposed to just being himself. The new Foreign Secretary has grown in status since then; and a few of his contacts have told me more than once that these days he is far more his own man.
This is encouraging, but the ‘priorities’ weren’t offered to him by the FCO so much as dictated; and as usual, they are the wrong ones.
The men from the Foreign Office are always wrong. They were wrong about Hitler, Nasser, Rhodesia, the Falklands, the Soviet Union’s imminent collapse and the Special Relationship. Now they are wrong about the EU which – unless one is both blind and mad – is the number one priority for any British Foreign Secretary….and the new Government as a whole.
The other problem the FCO has always had is a history of spineless appeasement. (See names already listed above). The ultimate lack of bottle emerged after Blair’s Chilcot lies sorry evidence, when more than once The Slog was assured by diplomats that the former PM’s correspondence with Bush would be leaked in due course – and destroy Tony Blair’s reputation forever. We’re still waiting on that one.
But worst of all, the chaps down the Foreign & Commonwealth Office are not what you’d call commercial. So when it comes to the financial mayhem undermining most of the foundations of the European Union at the moment, they’re not in a position to give an informed judgement. Bizarre, but true.
Last night, George Osborne announced £9 billion of immediate cuts. A good idea, but this will be almost instantly wiped out by the balancing part of the EU bailout fund – into which we are required to pay £8.3 billion right now. We have Brown and Darling to thank for that (and Blair before them) but this is no longer about spilt milk: we must cap the currently infinite balancing fund by any and all means possible – otherwise it will, literally, sink the UK.
There is no greater priority for William Hague right now than this. It means threatening to withdraw from majoritarian voting in Brussels – or at the very least, reneging on the balancing fund agreement. While the French and Germans are laughing their heads off at having engineered a gradual undermining of London’s financial role, yesterday President Sarkozy bragged that Haig “will start out Eurosceptic and then become one of us”.
There’s nothing the brainless FCO would like better than for William Hague to go native. He must make it clear instantly that he isn’t going to – before this gets horribly nasty for all concerned.