Tuesday, 8 March 2011

It's Prince Andrew's job, not his fault

Few things grate my adenoids more than self-righteous priggery. For the last week or so stories have abounded about Prince Andrew chummying-up to corrupt foreigners in his capacity as an honorary trade envoy and there has been much snarling about our current and former governments being too polite to Libya's mad dictator. The reality is that we have to deal with whoever we have to deal with in any given country, and for much of the world that means some pretty nasty little shytes, the alternative is the loss of business to those who are not so uptight.

In this field there is a substantial overlap between government and business although government's position extends far beyond trade links. Everything is a matter of practicalities. Either we maintain diplomatic links and converse with the head of state or we don't; there are very few situations in which severing diplomatic relations because the incumbent egomaniacal kleptomaniac in Outer Bongobongoland is of greater benefit to the UK than biting our tongues and pretending to be nice to him while working to make sure we get as much as we can as a result. Everyone has known Gaddafi to be bonkers for decades. So what? He's bonkers but he's in charge so if we wish to deal with Libya we have to deal with him no matter how repulsive he is. The same applies to the tin-pot dictators of almost all the oil states and those of almost all countries in Africa. A thin veneer of democratic authority in parts of Africa does not mask the simple fact that whoever wins the election will be no less corrupt than the losing candidates and no less corrupt than the likes of Gaddafi in Libya and, until recently, Mubarrak in Egypt. If it comes to that, these people are not very much more corrupt than the leaders of many mainland European countries. It is unthinkable to break-off relations with Italy or France yet the levels of personal corruption among their senior politicians make a few million in fiddled Westminster expenses seem like feed for the chickens. The situation is a classic one of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer. The more we interact with them the more chance we have of being able to make a tiny little difference when it really matters and, more importantly of keeping the benefits of trading with those who have products we want and markets we need.

I sometimes wonder whether suggestions (and even laws) that British companies should not pay bribes are made seriously. If you are driving through France and are stopped for speeding when you have kept religiously to the limit you know the policeman who stops you has no more desire to issue a ticket than you have to receive one. He wants to open your passport and find a crisp 20 Euro note inside. Having inspected your paperwork and retained that of greatest importance to him he will wave you on your way. Oh how wickedly corrupt, the prigs will say, no doubt they would choose to delay their journeys and pay three times as much for the privilege of an endorsement on their licence; like buggery they will, they will pay the bribe and tut-tut over their tofu for weeks. There is no difference between that situation and a business greasing palms in order to secure a contract. It's a matter of practicalities. That's how business is done in some countries whether we like it or not and we either play the game or lose the deal. Of course commercial reality still triumphs and bribes are paid in more indirect and subtle ways than a wad of cash in a brown envelope.

Over the last two days the front page of the Times newspaper has featured criticism of Prince Andrew's cozying-up to dubious senior figures from a number of unsavoury regimes. One has to ask whether he would be doing his job if he didn't give these people the treat of meeting his mummy or the hint that she might proffer them a cup of tea and a cucumber sandwich at a convenient juncture. After all, there's not much point giving the role of trade envoy to a Royal with no business experience unless his royalty were used to seek advantages for British companies in highly competitive markets. There is nothing else he can offer to the job so it seems implicit in his appointment that this is exactly what he was meant to do - although no one would ever be so crass as to actually say he was expected to do it.

Equally misplaced is excessive criticism of the pathetic current leader of the Labour Party for heaping odious praise on Gaddafi's corrupt son prior to a lecture at the London School of Economics. It would be entirely fair to observe that socialist politicians will always heap praise on any overseas despot provided that despot calls himself a socialist. No matter how brutal and repressive he might be, these poor fools go dewy-eyed once the S word is spoken and see nothing but benevolence and a desire to fight the enemies of "the people". Exactly the same conduct by a political leader who denounces socialism is, of course, a crime against humanity and an affront to basic human rights. The magic S word is all it takes to define two identical things in opposite ways, but that's what happens when you are in thrall to an irrational religion.

The reality is that the UK has no practical option but to try to get on with all countries around the world if it can, and that means being far more friendly to vile political leaders than a purely human response would allow. If we are honest about it we can see exactly the same thing happening in every aspect of international relations including sport - who would think of pretending to be delighted to meet the puffed-up heads of the International Olympic Committee or FIFA unless they had to? There is no choice unless you are prepared to abandon your interests and see the largesse of the corrupt and powerful leaders being dispensed elsewhere. Unpalatable it might be, but sometimes real life is exactly that. We should not have a go at those who suck-up to scum on our behalf; we'd have to find a way to do it ourselves if they didn't do it for us.


john miller said...

Compare and contrast:

Shami Chakrabarti and Prince Andrew.

Shami accepts a few million dollars for the LSE to bung Saif a dodgy doctorate.

For her, feeling "buckets" of "embarrassment and regret" is sufficient atonement and the media never refer to her again.

In fact, calling yourself a socialist nowadays is akin to swiping the "get out of jail free" card from the Monopoly deck.

Be in favour of State education and despise public schools, but send your son to one.

Insist on all women shortlists unless your husband wants the job whence it becomes an all male shortlist of one.

Kill someone while sending a text on your mobile phone and get 4 days in the nick.

Ad infinitum.

Francis Urquhart said...

In this time of austerity, my government support the efforts of Prince Andrew. He is particularly cheap as other people pay him to do our work.


Woman on a Raft said...

What about all that foreign aid - isn't that supposed to be buying us influence? If not, we should stop paying it.

H.R. said...

You've nailed it, F.B.

At least the UK has Royalty that all the tinpot dictators would like to meet and greet so they can hang a nice photo of the occasion in their palace.

Stateside, we don't have Royalty so we use Hollywood stars as business-bait. Actually, that's quite an advantage as the politicians might arrange the meet-n-greet but they don't have to get their hands dirty, which might be used against them in an election.

It doesn't hurt that 97% of the Hollywood crowd are Socialists and love making the visits.

Barnacle Bill said...

Quite frankly the Royal Family has done more good for this country than a certain Tony Wot's His Name ever did.
Prince Andrew was batting on a sticky wicket for his country,it wasn't his doing the pitch had been queered by others, but he was still producing a fine innings.
As for his friends, certain parties in ZaNuLabor should look at their closeness to a certain figure living in a desert tent.

Tony,S said...

Didn't he stand up at a recent Bilderberg Meeting, spouting off about the UK competitiveness in foreign markets? Shook a few feathers then.

Paul said...

So, essentially you're arguing a realpolitik position. I don't necessarily like it or agree with it. It makes me feel dirty. But international relations is a dirty business at the best of times.

Your point is that the BBC and others aren't really living on planet Earth.

By comparison, we (and in that I mean the UK) are an extremely fair and tolerant society. Most of the world isn't.

And you're bang on about the Royals too. It appeals to foreigners, so why not let them have it?

Paul said...

I should rephrase what I meant - I don't like it or particularly agree with it but we have not much choice.