Did the Queen and Cameron speak out intentionally?
THE world of diplomacy is riddled with deceit and hypocrisy. Political representatives continually seek to maintain their facade of good relations by hiding their real views about other countries. As the American satirist Ambrose Bierce once put it, “Diplomacy means lying in state”.
However, sometimes the curtain is ripped away, providing us with a delicious glimpse into what our leaders actually think. This week has provided us with two such moments, both of which involved our sovereign.
One of them occurred at the first Buckingham Palace garden party of the summer, when the Queen was recorded in conversation with Commander Lucy D’Orsi, the senior police officer in charge of security during the Chinese state visit last year. Responding to the Commander’s account of the “testing time” she had experienced, Her Majesty said that some of the Chinese officials had been “very rude”, adding that their behaviour on one occasion, when they had walked out of a meeting, was “extraordinary”.
Remarkably, the other incident happened on the same day at Buckingham Palace, this time at a reception to mark her 90th birthday. Once more, a camera picked up a rare outburst of candour as David Cameron told the Queen of the arrangements for his anticorruption summit in London.
WITH ill-concealed relish at the irony, he explained that some “fantastically corrupt” nations had been invited, including Nigeria and Afghanistan, “possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world”.
Inevitably the diplomatic reaction from the two countries has been indignant, while much of the media has predictably described the remarks as “gaffes”. But there should be no cause for embarrassment. As Noel Coward once said: “It is discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty.” In both these cases the truth was spoken.
The Queen was absolutely right to express her dismay over aspects of the Chinese state visit, a stiff, awkward event that had signified our humiliating collusion with a totalitarian regime. Prince Charles revealed what he thought of the Chinese leadership by staying away from the official banquet last year, having just as famously described the ruling Communists as “appalling old waxworks” during his visit to Hong Kong in 1997.
Cameron was right to lambast Nigeria and Afghanistan for their institutionalised corruption. Amid all his scaremongering about the supposed risks of Brexit, these have probably been the most truthful comments he has made in recent days.
In Nigeria, according to the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, “petty corruption touches virtually every aspect of life and is accepted as normal and necessary”. This should be a rich country because of its massive oil reserves, yet much of the nation’s potential wealth has been lost through abuse and theft. At the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation alone, it is estimated that at least $20billion has gone missing from the accounts.
Afghanistan is as bad, with bribery, nepotism and fraud endemic. The New York Times once wrote that “corruption can no longer be described as a cancer on the system. It is the system.”
Given that the Queen and Cameron were expressing their opinions, it is intriguing to speculate as to whether these two incidents were manufactured deliberately. After all both of them are massively experienced operators, wellused to demonstrating restraint at events where cameras and microphones are present. The Queen has spent 64 years on the throne with barely a moment of political controversy, while Cameron has been Tory leader for 11 years, renowned for his smoothness.
Most commentators have dismissed the idea that they acted intentionally, though some Chinese critics have claimed that the Queen’s exchange with Commander D’Orsi comes across as “scripted and unnatural”.
It is also interesting that the cameraman responsible for recording the footage in both cases was the enormously respected Peter Wilkinson. No freelance maverick, he has worked with the monarch for 18 years. So perhaps the Queen wanted her frustrations with Chinese officialdom to be known publicly, just as Cameron may have wanted to crank up the international pressures in advance of his summit.
BUT this begs another question: if Cameron really believes that Afghanistan and Nigeria are “fantastically corrupt” then why is he pouring so much British taxpayers’ money into them in the form of foreign aid? In the past year they have pocketed no less than £435million in cash from our Government, an increase of 35 per cent since Cameron took office in 2010.
Yet because of corruption so much has been squandered. One survey found that a multimillion pound programme in Nigeria to boost education had produced “no major improvement”. A report by the International Crisis Group on Afghanistan found that, despite the aid, “institutions remain… unable to provide good governance”.
These two corrupt nations illustrate so much that is wrong with our aid budget – a gigantic £12billion a year project to feed the vanity of our politicians. Far from fuelling development it entrenches fraudulence and dependency. The real act of honesty would be to end this organised larceny masquerading as compassion.
‘Both are massively experienced operators’