Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Foreign Office Shambles and the Tragedy of William Hague

Everyone knows it's difficult running the British Foreign Office, having to deal with those pesky foreigners and not having a clue which country's going to stage a revolution next against one of our chummy autocrats. But really, William Hague seems to be excelling himself in his frontman-for-a-lost-cause routine. A few days ago he was telling us that the firmly Libya based Colonel Gadaffi was on his way to Venezuela. Now he's trying to explain why Britain can't even match Turkey in evacuating our nationals from Tripoli. Actually, to be fair, he finally gave up on the task of fronting one of the British Foreign Office's most lamentable performances to date by not even appearing on a predictably aggressive Newsnight interview, leaving the field to his rather clueless junior minister Alistair Burt whose only line was that we did well in Tunisia and Egypt.

I've not got a huge amount of sympathy for the Brits who have been busy propping up the Gaddaffi regime with their corporate involvement in his wretchedly governed state, but I do think the Foreign Office might still try and manage to charter a couple of planes to get its own people out. They probably encouraged them to work there in the first place after all.

One of the more ludicrous aspects of the Burt interview on Newsnight was when interviewer Kirsty Wark turned the conversation to Hillary Clinton's hint that the US might use military force to intervene in Libya. Burt was asked whether Britain would hold a similar line. Now wait a minute - here we are, having failed to get either military or commercial planes into Libya to rescue a few benighted British citizens, possibly because we've cut so much of the RAF there aren't any spare planes to fly out there in any case, and a British Foreign Office minister is seriously being asked whether we're up there planning military action with the big boys? I know the Foreign Office still lives with the illusion that we count for something in international affairs, but do the BBC have to nurture the illusion quite so gratuitously?

Anyway, whatever the outcome of today's failure, it looks as if William Hague has made some powerful enemies within the Foreign Office. Perhaps his attempt to shoehorn Chris Myers in as an unqualified Special Adviser last year is still smarting, but one mainstream magazine blogger mentioned that he had heard 'journo after journo' criticising Hague today, and concluded that someone, probably from the FO, was briefing against him. He wondered whether the Venezuela comment had embarrassed someone there as well - the hostile briefing could be their revenge!

Hague's already announced an enquiry into the poor British evacuation effort, but that's not going to get 540 Brits out of Libya, and it may not manage to save Hague's job either. The lecture circuit could be beckoning again.

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