Tuesday 24 November 2009

Two nobodies and a local somebody

Few things are more frustrating than sitting through a long joke, novel, play or newspaper column, eagerly expecting a satisfying denouement, only to have it lamely fizzle out.

My wife was rather aggrieved recently after we invested five hours watching ITV’s drama serial Collision, only to discover that the catastrophe was caused simply by a wasp.

Yet the selection of an insect to be the first President of Europe would have been a positively enthralling result compared with the one we got last week, the haiku-writing Belgian Herman Van Rompuy. Risking great confusion in all the capitals of the world apart from Brussels, given that the President of China’s name is also pronounced “Who?”

The former French head of state Valery Giscard d’Estaing, the prime mover of the EU Constitution, hoped that Europe’s first President would be a figure like George Washington (or, as he was just too modest to say, Valery Giscard d’Estaing). Instead we have got a George with all the charisma of the one who was married to Mildred in the 1970s sitcom.

As for the High Representative for Foreign Affairs, I do not count myself a political obsessive, but I do read at least two quality newspapers and listen to several news broadcasts every day, and I had never heard of her. Knowledgeable commentators snigger that our Prime Minister has been conned by those wily Continentals Merkel and Sarkozy into accepting the external affairs job for this nonentity so that they can insert their own nominee into the EU’s key economic role, and proceed with their mission of destroying London as the world’s leading financial centre.

This is highly credible, given that Mr Magoo could probably outmanoeuvre Gordon Brown on his recent form, though after the recent triumphs of our banking industry I am not sure I care too much about the City’s fate. Even so, I prefer the alternative theory that Baroness Ashton of Upholland owed her elevation to fanatical support from the Dutch, who mistook her title for a declaration of intent.

But can this really be the conclusion of the decade-long saga of the European Constitution, for which ways had to be found to defy the wishes of the voters of France, the Netherlands and Ireland? Can it really have been so vitally in the interests of Britain and Europe to install these two nobodies in grandly titled and well-remunerated positions that Labour had no alternative but to renege on its manifesto commitment to a referendum?

A little hard to believe, is it not? Leading one inexorably to the conclusion that the political leaders of Europe must have some other motive that we are deemed too stupid to be told about.

Last week I attended a fascinating and highly entertaining talk in Newcastle by another leader few people have heard of, His Most Eminent Highness the Prince and Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta, Most Humble Guardian of the Poor of Jesus Christ (a title even Lord Mandelson might envy).

Fra’ Matthew Festing, as he is also known, is a most distinguished Northumbrian elected by his fellow knights to head this enormous global charity dedicated to giving practical help to the needy: running hospitals and homes for the elderly, and assisting refugees and the victims of natural disasters across five continents.

The Order maintains diplomatic relations with 104 states that acknowledge its sovereignty. It is not recognised by Her Majesty the Queen of the United Kingdom, though curiously Her Majesty the Queen of Canada has no such scruples.

My modest proposal is that we should recognise Fra’ Matthew’s Order immediately, and tell President Van Rompuy to take a running jump. After all, which of them is the greater force for good in this world, and has our best interests closer to his heart?


Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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