Friday, December 09, 2016

On Boris, Saudi Arabia and his critics

Paddy Ashdown trotted out yet again one of the oldest chestnuts in the lexicon of British political insults this week, when he compared Boris Johnson's appointment as Foreign Secretary to the supposed appointment by the Roman Emperor Gaius Caligula of his favourite racehorse as Consul.

Familiar as it is, this legend probably isn't true: the only evidence we have either way, as I previously wrote here, is that some eighty years after the reign of Caligula the historian Suetonius recorded a rumour that the Emperor had planned to have the horse, Incitatus, made a consul.

But why let the facts get in the way of a great insult?

Ashdown actually agrees with Boris Johnson's comments about Saudi Arabia but tweeted that "I'm not the Foreign Secretary of a government that doesn't" and added his agreement to the suggestion that Boris "will be fired for one of the few true things he's said."

I would not hold your breath, Paddy.

Someone of Lord Ashdown's experience should be well aware that governments often operate a "good cop, bad cop" policy and sometimes deliberately choreograph a warning to another power by deploying the tactic in which a more junior official says something true but undiplomatic which is hastily "disavowed" - note the inverted commas - by the next level up.

I think there is a lot to be said for Iain Martin's position that

"The campaign against Boris as Foreign Secretary is becoming ridiculous."

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