“I recommend that we set up an interdepartmental committee with fairly broad terms of reference so that at the end of the day we’ll be in the position to think through the various implications and arrive at a decision based on long-term considerations rather than rush prematurely into precipitate and possibly ill-conceived action which might well have unforeseen repercussions.”
Yes Minister: Doing the Honours
Sir Humphrey would be aghast at recent developments in Whitehall, in particular the lack of co-ordination by civil servants, but not I imagine surprised at, from his perspective, the usual chaotic behaviour of politicians at Westminster.
Episodes of Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister are, as those who take a keen interest in the series know, invariably rooted in fact and even, in some cases, are actually based on real events.
A recent development in Government not anticipated by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, but which I am sure they would have exploited, if writing Yes Prime Minister for the BBC today, is the establishment of an Office of the First Lady of Downing Street (OFLoDS) at the heart of Government.
The recent ramblings of Dominic Cummings have to some extent only told us what we already knew about Boris Johnson’s style of government, but he has at least added to the evidence of that subject provided by others. Although, there are some who would deny him even that credit.
His love and latterly hate relationship with Carrie Symonds, now the third Mrs Johnson is, however, rather lacking in corroboration. Moreover, there is an understandable view that Mrs Johnson should not be held responsible for the actions of her husband.
“Carrie is seen as a force to be reckoned with in Downing Street, but an article in the American Harper’s magazine by Lara Prendergast, executive editor of The Spectator (see organogram below), makes the point that “any attempt to scrutinise her growing political influence is deemed misogynistic”. It suggested her influence over policy-making was real enough, even if she was “unelected and, in many ways, unaccountable”.”
Notwithstanding the above, Mrs Johnson is not some innocent hayseed who has blown into Number Ten and the arms of her beloved. She is a player in the Tory Establishment with a direct line to, none other than the Political Editor of The Sun, Harry Cole, an ex-boyfriend.
What other previous Prime Minister has had the date of his wedding (or similar significant event) advertised to the globe in a front page world exclusive in The Sun? Admittedly, the announcement was followed a week later by the marriage of Ms Symonds to Mr Johnson, fourteen or so months before the date trumpeted by The Sun.
There was a time when such events were announced by the quality, discreetly, through a personal advertisement in The London Times.
In another exclusive on Tuesday 5th July, a comment piece in The Sun, penned by Carrie Johnson and Damian Aspinall and written in the third person, explained why they were flying elephants from Kent to Kenya.
“Director of communications for the (Aspinall Foundation) conservation group is eco-campaigner and Prime Minister’s wife Carrie Johnson – and today she is speaking out publicly for the first time since marrying Boris in May.”
The Aspinall Foundation, planned, the duo said, to transport a total of thirteen elephants, weighing 25 tonnes, more than 4,000 miles on a Boeing 747 to a secret location in Kenya in a “ground-breaking step for this country (one assumes the United Kingdom, given a later revelation) and the conservation movement”.
Fans of Jim Hacker will know that the success or failure of his personal initiatives are measured in column inches.
The Sun exclusive, first timed on their website at 22:00 on 5th July was reported in a detailed article on the Daily Mail website, first timed at 02:08 on 6th July. And that article spoke of Damian Aspinall speaking on the record to The Daily Telegraph and a certain Angela Sheldrick, Chief Executive Officer of the Sheldrick Trust, telling The Guardian about the project.
Hacker would have been cock a hoop with such a publicity machine.
Then came the bucket of cold water.
On Wednesday 7th July, the Office of Public Communication of the Kenyan Government’s Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife put out a terse press release, clearly written in some haste, under the heading of “Purported Relocation of 13 Elephants From Kent Wildlife Park, UK, to Kenya”:
“The Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife noted with concern an article published in the Daily Mail, UK, stating that a herd of 13 elephants will be relocated from Kent Wildlife Park in the UK to Kenya in what is referred to as a “wild (sic) first rewilding project” by the publication.
The Ministry wants to state that neither them nor the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) have been contacted or consulted on this matter.
Relocation and rehabilitation of an animal from a zoo is not easy and is an expensive affair.”
This aspect of the story got wide coverage in the world’s media.
The Daily Mail report of the Kenyan response spoke of previous meetings, discussions etc undertaken by the Aspinall Foundation with the Kenyan authorities, although no claim that a definite plan had been agreed.
The original Daily Mail report had, however, said that the Foundation’s project was actually being run with the KWS and the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.
One wonders how much oil had to be poured on troubled waters over this incident by the UK’s Ambassador to Kenya.
A task unlikely, one imagines, to have been assisted by Mr Johnson’s outspoken views on Africa; its people; its Governments and, in particular, the Kenyan ancestry of a former President of the United States.
The Aspinalls themselves have a colourful past, linked to the sort of chaps who used to run the Empire and for whom the rules and conventions of society are more like suggestions than anything else.
On the death of his half brother in 2000, “James Osbourne said his two wild animal parks would continue to be run by the John Aspinall Foundation “in the manner and philosophy of their founder”.
The parks have been dogged by controversy after five zookeepers were killed in 20 years, three of them mauled to death by tigers. Yet Aspinall maintained his belief that keepers should be allowed to enter the enclosures where tigers roamed and bond with them.”
In March this year, against a background of some disquiet in the Kenyan Parliament, members of that Parliament ratified a Kenya United Kingdom Economic Partnership Agreement. The Kenyan Parliament had a veto over the agreement, unlike their counterparts in the UK Parliament.
The Agreement is, however, subject to challenge in the Nairobi High Court. The case there may drag on for months, delaying progress in taking advantage of the agreement.
The UK Government entertains hopes of extending the agreement to other East African Community states. Kenya being one of the six countries making up the EAC. The others being Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda.
Progress in Kenya will, therefore, be watched closely in neighbouring countries.
How one wonders will they have regarded the high handedness of the third Mrs Johnson in seeking to plonk thirteen elephants down in the Kenyan bush without the by your leave of the Kenyan Government?
Former colonial masters getting high on their Global Britain fantasies?
More pertinently, what advice did the Prime Minister receive, assuming he sought any, about the advisability of his wife being associated with this scheme, given the sensitive nature of UK Kenyan diplomatic relations?
Moreover, given that Mrs Johnson’s skills in media communications are not that great they would have benefited from significant assistance from a third party, for example, the Whitehall communications machine, paid for by the UK taxpayer, and/or her loving husband with his little black book, containing the telephone numbers of the editors of national newspapers.
On 12th March 2020, as officials scrambled to devise a strategy for fighting Covid-19 and held top-level meetings about potential military action in the Middle East, Carrie Symonds’ focus was allegedly captured by a story in The Times about her pet Dilyn.
The story in question, published a day earlier, carried claims the couple planned to have Dilyn re-homed once their baby was born because they had “grown weary” of it. Ms Symonds responded angrily that the suggestion was “total crap”.
Mr Cummings claimed in an explosive evidence session with MPs on Wednesday that Ms Symonds demanded the press office “deal with” the coverage even as ministers and national security officials tried to juggle the looming health crisis with demands by Donald Trump’s White House for joint bombing raids in Iraq.”
Dilyn is so important in the eyes of the Editor of The Tatler that he takes pride of place in a recent pictorial run down of the Court of Carrie Johnson wherein he is described as “the most beloved member of Carrie’s crew”.
Curly haired tot, Wilfred Johnson is not pictured or even referenced.
The current Government may with impunity set aside the domestic checks and balances of our Unwritten Constitution and ignore long recognised conventions of government with seemingly little serious fear of repercussions to itself. However, in the world beyond our shores, even the innocent hobbies of a Prime Minister’s spouse may cause serious problems for the UK’s diplomatic relations and its trade.
Odds on, they do not need us more than we need them and they do not, in the case of our former imperial possessions, think they would be better off, if they were still governed by the British.
Uxorem Caesaris tam suspicione quam crimine carere oportet.
Who, though, is going to tell the third Mrs Johnson (and to whom is she accountable)?