UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband is having a thin time of it.
His visit to India featured several apparent misjudgements (wrong tone on terrorism, ill-judged observations on Kashmir and an inappropriately Nu Labour matey conversational style with senior Indian interlocutors). See this vivid demolition job.
Plus there is a claim that he has offended members of the UK Jewish community:
The word is that, at a meeting last week with a group of senior Jewish community figures, he told them that they should "tell your government" to stop bombing Gaza.
The has been denied by the FCO, albeit in a curious formulation:
We do not recognise this account of the Foreign Secretary’s remarks. He categorically did not say what Stephen Pollard attributes to him. The Foreign Secretary has not questioned, and nor would he, the nationality or loyalties of either Britain’s Jewish community or other communities in the UK. As he has said many times, Britain’s diversity is its strength.
That to me has a hint of shiftiness about it. He may not have said exactly what Stephen Pollard wrote – but did he say something along the same lines?
Back to that India visit. See here the Foreign Secretary visiting the constituency of Rahul Ghandi. Is this open-necked look the right way for him to dress for going out and about in India, even if one is sleeping in a local mud hut?
It reminds me of the visit by then Prime Minister John Major to war-torn Sarajevo. Bosnians were appalled and insulted to see the UK Prime Minister in a jumper for meetings with the Izetbegovic leadership, talking about it dismissively years afterwards.
The politics of these visits are one thing. But the style is what often makes the biggest impact.
And what they hear is a lot about what they see, and feel.
In this India case, the Indians ‘heard’ condescending. The Foreign Secretary appears to have been too ‘familiar’ with his Indian interlocutors:
The Foreign Secretary has been accused of upsetting his hosts in India with his ‘patronising’ manner and ‘offensive’ remarks on terrorism.
Mr Miliband, 43, was said to have referred to counterparts decades his senior by their first names, even though they scrupulously called him ‘Your Excellency’, as is customary for foreign dignitaries.
There we have it. After all those long years of Labour finger-wagging about Diversity and Cultural Sensitivity, we end up with elementary mistakes like this at a high and important level.
In Labour’s case it all wends its way back to Tony Blair’s insouciance – the idea that the world’s problems could be tackled ‘informally’ by lots of charm, lying back on comfy sofas rather than sitting upright at a grown-up polished table.
When I left the FCO last year a letter arrived from David Miliband thanking me for my hard work over the years. The letter was on FCO blue-crested paper, but sent in the cheapest possible recycled brown envelope. Thanks.
Is it that at the high levels of the British government they no longer care about projecting good standards of behaviour and presentation?
Have they consciously decided to dumb down standards?
Or is that they simply have never heard of them?