Update: More here.
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Looking this morning on the FCO’s website for the official statement of grovelling apology over the infamous Pope Visit memo, I spotted this horror:
12 Feb: The Chandler’s – FCO’s position misrepresented
Under Latest News, nothing.
So, over to the mainsteam media.
Such as the Times:
Advisers to the Pope in Rome are starting to regret that he accepted an invitation to visit Britain this September after official papers emerged that suggested he should be asked to open an abortion clinic, bless a gay marriage and launch a Benedict-branded condom range on his state visit in September.
The document also suggested the National Anthem be changed, from God Save the Queen to God Save the World.
As the Foreign Office was forced into a rapid damage-limitation exercise with an official apology for an "unacceptable" document, sources told The Times that the entire visit could now be in jeopardy…
Some senior Catholics in Britain attempted to downplay its significance but The Times has learned that the document has caused enormous anger in Rome. It is regarded as just the latest but by far the most serious in a series of anti-Catholic episodes emanating from the UK which threaten to cast a cloud over the four-day visit to England and Scotland.
My former colleague Sir Ivor Roberts in full flood:
"I cannot think of a Papal visit anywhere in the world where the host government has had to apologise so profusely and abjectly in advancing for the appalling behaviour of one of its officials."
He said: "It is quite disturbing that they should be so badly organised to have someone in charge of the visit at the Foreign Office who has so little common sense and such a puerile sense of humour and who does not seem to realise he is in a department of state which by and large tries to improve relations between states and organisations, not make matters worse or create tensions where they did not exist.
He or she might want to think about whether they should take another job, such as in the Treasury, where they can’t do much harm."
David Miliband is said to be ‘furious’, as well he might be since Labour’s dwindling chances of winning any Catholic votes just went up in flames:
A senior source close to Mr Miliband said he had been outraged and backed the disciplinary action taken against those responsible.
But the source blamed a group of three or four ‘kids’, part of a Foreign Office team working on the papal visit, who had engaged in some ‘blue sky thinking which had gone so far off into the blue sky they ended up in outer space’.
He said they then compounded their error by circulating their thoughts in a document, but ‘the grown-ups’ had acted as soon as they were aware of it.
This gruesome business speaks for itself. A trite, junior and above all embarrassingly unfunny attempt at ‘thinking outside the box’ which went wrong as soon as someone pressed Send.
It is not clear to me why these hapless morons were wasting taxpayers’ time on this sort of thing, nor why they thought it appropriate to scatter their trashy thoughts around Whitehall.
That said, the blunders an organisation makes tell us about about that organisation.
In this case, that the ‘grown-ups’ said to be running the shop have created and are presiding over a culture of trivial disrespect – and that some junior FCO staff simply have no sense of responsibility, of understanding what they represent.
And who sits on top of this bedraggled system?
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?
Challenge: £5 for the first person to email me an unedited copy of the infamous document, with the names of the guilty originators on it.
Come on, former Whitehall colleagues. You can do it.