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18 July 2018

The Telegraph is back to being the Daily Borisgraph

Paper not only published Johnson’s Pravda-style piece but ran a summary as the front-page splash.

By Peter Wilby

Boris Johnson, after a brief, merciful silence following his resignation from the government, surfaces in the Daily Telegraph. He won’t, he writes, “bang on about Brexit”. Instead, he offers a defence of his record as foreign secretary. He was not, he explains, pursuing anything so mundane as “a policy” but “a vision” of which he is “immensely proud”. It was of “Global Britain… a country… more open, more outward-looking, more engaged with the world”. As a result, British embassies are promoting “British trade, culture and interests” (gosh, who would have thought it?) and the UK helped “to concert the biggest ever expulsion of Russian spies” with 28 countries involved.

I shall believe the Telegraph is a serious newspaper again when it declines to print such self-regarding drivel. However, it not only published Johnson’s Pravda-style piece but ran a summary as the front-page splash. No wonder the paper is now widely mocked, even among its own despairing staff, as the Daily Borisgraph.

War on trade

Johnson argues that Britain should “militate ceaselessly for free trade deals”. Is it possible to “militate” for deals? It is a curious verb to use in this context, with its implication that some kind of force or pressure should be involved. I suppose Donald Trump, whom Johnson admires, “militates” for deals in such fashion.

Sub standard

The story of how 12 Thai boys and their football coach were saved from a flooded cave should be cause for celebration of the expertise, ingenuity and heroism of the international rescue team. But even the best stories now degenerate into exchanges of foul abuse. Asked about a child-sized submarine that the tech entrepreneur Elon Musk offered, the British cave diver Vernon Unsworth, who helped marshal the rescue efforts, could have said something such as: “We were grateful for the offer, and gave it careful thought, but we feared it might not get round corners and other obstacles.” But, no, he called it a “PR stunt” and said Musk could “stick his submarine where it hurts”. Musk could then have said something along the lines of: “Well, I guess he’s been under a lot of stress.” But, no, he called Unsworth a “pedo guy”, for which there is zero evidence except that Unsworth is a Westerner living in Thailand. Is nobody now capable of elementary good manners?

Superpower blues

President Trump’s complaint that the US bears an unfair share of Nato’s costs is absurd for two reasons. First, Nato was never designed as an alliance of equals. After the Cold War, American policy was to create a world with just one superpower. The US wanted no military rivals, not even friendly ones. Other countries might use force but only under American leadership or at least with American agreement.

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Second, direct funding of Nato – covering, for example, its strategic commands and associated information systems – is relatively small at a little under £1.2bn for 2018. The US meets 22 per cent of those costs; the UK, Germany and France contribute 36 per cent between them. It is in the overall defence capabilities of each member state, on which Nato draws in the event of joint
action, that the disparities arise.

The US spends around 3.5 per cent of its annual GDP – more than $600bn or £450bn – on defence. Only four other Nato members spend more than 2 per cent. But the US projects its military power across the globe. The large majority of Nato countries, particularly Germany, don’t, and most of us would be alarmed if they did.

Has Trump noticed that the country spending the second-highest proportion of GDP on defence is not the UK or France, the only European countries with pretensions as global powers, but Greece? And Greece’s aim is not to strengthen Nato collectively, but to protect itself from another Nato member, its historic enemy Turkey.

Taking the pulse

All newspapers had a field day with Mark Boon, operations manager for Southern Rail’s parent company Govia Thameslink. After telling commuters on a packed Southern service not to sit in first-class carriages, he was pictured in a first-class seat with his bag and coat occupying another seat next to him. But the Daily Mail always goes the extra mile. Its columnist Tom Utley described Boon’s “ghastly, oh-so-neat haircut… his dazzlingly white shirt, the gold rings on both hands, the pastel blue tie with pink stripes… his garish, brand-new bag” and branded him “the worst kind of Corporate Man… vain, arrogant and insufferably pleased with himself”.

You can look at this in one of two ways. It was nasty, personal abuse of a relatively junior executive who was just doing his job. Or, with the Mail’s unerring instinct for the public pulse, it expressed exactly what thousands of commuters said to themselves when they saw that photograph. I suspect it’s the latter.

Oh, to be in England

A first visit to Broadstairs on the Isle of Thanet, Kent, where Edward Heath was born and Charles Dickens wrote David Copperfield. We found an English seaside resort reminiscent of our 1950s childhoods: beaches of golden sand packed with holidaymakers and day trippers; children playing in the sea or building sandcastles; deckchairs for hire; seagulls cackling; the smell of seaweed; youths diving off the harbour wall; fish-and-chips and ice-cream; a police band; a mini golf course. On a hot and sunny Sunday, you could imagine that all was well with England’s seaside towns.

The residents of Thanet, which has  some of the most deprived areas in England and also includes the seaside towns of Margate and Ramsgate, voted 64 per cent to leave the EU and would probably welcome a hard Brexit if it made it more expensive and difficult for Britons to holiday overseas. You can’t blame them.

This article appears in the 18 Jul 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump-Putin pact