Help! Send for the Mongolians

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Wednesday, on the last day before the Whit recess, and the Chamber showed few signs of previous afternoon's excitement. The lingering indentations of agitated Tory bottoms could just be spotted on the green benches. But where were the order papers that had been so bravely waved just 24 hours earlier? Where the echoes of the martial songs sung to celebrate a warrior nation's rediscovery of itself? Was this bare dispatch box really the place where that historic statement had been read to an impatient country?

All gone now. Dispersed to committees and poky offices, to constituency business and speeches to the YCs, to boroughs and hamlets - charged with preparing the British people for the struggle ahead. The Muster of England has begun.

Well, nearly all gone. A small few had duties still to perform in the House. And one such was William Powell, Conservative member for Corby, and chairman of the British-Mongolian Parliamentary Group. He was there to tell Jeremy Hanley (minister at the Foreign Office), a whip, me, the reporters from Hansard and three Mongolians in the public gallery, all about the burgeoning alliance between London and Ulan Bator.

Mr Powell's speech was in the best tradition of pre-war church hall slide- shows (William Brown, as I recall, was always subverting such occasions, substituting stills of saucy Parisian postcards for pictures of African children finding God). A missionary-like figure himself, speaking in vicarish tones, Mr Powell has also in his time served on groups liaising with Malta, Singapore, The Gulf, Sri Lanka, Italy, Taiwan and (most toothsome of all) Mauritius. Where other more parochial MPs have limited themselves to commuting between Westminster office and constituency office, gradually coming to regard a night out at a Berni Inn as exotic, Mr Powell has served his country by continually leaving it. And his sacrifice has not been wasted.

He started well. "Mongolia is not a faraway country of which we know nothing", he averred. So I tested myself. Could I name a country which was further away and of which I knew less? I failed. But that was exactly what Mr Powell was pledged to put right. As he did so he waxed poetic. "As we speak, darkness is descending over Ulan Bator, but it can be reached within 24 hours by air-transport." True, but so can the moon.

"To speak physically, there are very few clouds. The sun shines. The sky is blue." Kublai helps Mummy cut up the yak. "To the north lie the Arctic wastes of Siberia; to the south the Gobi desert; to the east the Great Wall of China; to the west the romance and mystery of Samarkand and Tashkent." But it had only the population of Birmingham.

Then the peroration. Mongolia made great vodka, terrific cashmere, well- educated children (so the comparison with Birmingham ends there), and could do with advice on agricultural matters (where we are the obvious choice). Mr Powell had been there recently, and he "went in friendship and was received in friendship". Finished, he packed his slides away and sat down.

This was news that Mr Hanley must have been grateful to hear. After all, we are not making a great fist out of our other alliances at the moment - so we may soon need the Mongolians. Indeed, the last time that they were over here in any numbers (in the middle of the 13th century) they made quite an impact.

Within 24 hours of our call, using "air transport", they could come riding to our rescue, their women-folk trundling behind them in motorised yurts, Helmut Kohl's head hanging by its sparse hairs from their leader's saddle- bow. "Take us to Genghis Major," they will demand, "so that we may pay homage to a real warrior."

Comments