Diary: International relations? It's all in a knight's work


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When the definitive history of last week's events in Brussels is published we shall know about the contrasting roles of two eminent civil servants, Sir Kim Darroch, Britain's current ambassador to the EU, and Sir Jon Cunliffe, the Prime Minster's Adviser on Europe.

Sir Jon is in the Gordon Brown mould, a man better at handling complex policy issues than handling people. He was moved from the Treasury into 10 Downing Street when Brown became Prime Minister in 2007. People who have worked with Sir Jon say it is entirely in character for him to come up at a late hour with a complex, brilliant new policy position to lay before an EU summit, and overlook the political spadework needed to get it through.

Sir Kim was born to be a diplomat, though he has a strange physical resemblance to Jeremy Clarkson. With friends and contacts all over Europe, he is just the man to do a sales job when Britain has special interests to defend.

Unfortunately, in the age-old Downing Street tradition of never co-operating with the Foreign Office, David Cameron's staff kept Sir Kim out of the loop ahead of last week's summit, and his diplomatic skills were wasted.

This does not bode well for the future. At the very time when the UK is at its most isolated in the EU, Sir Kim is being recalled to take over as National Security Adviser, and his successor Sir to be Sir Jon Cunliffe.


A twist on Member of Parliament

One thing we have learnt from yesterday's exchanges in the Commons is that the word "plonker" is acceptable parliamentary language.

It was applied to David Cameron in a typical intervention from the Labour firebrand Dennis Skinner. "Plonker" is an interesting example of how word meanings evolve. It is now a mild insult applied to someone who has does something stupid, having been popularised in the sitcom Only Fools and Horses. Further back in time, it was much ruder. Skinner, who is almost 80, may even remember when it was not a word to use in mixed company, being slang for a penis. If so, he has scored a parliamentary first by calling the Prime Minister a male sex organ in a packed House of Commons.


Mahmood not the genuine article

Mazher Mahmood, former investigations editor of the News of the World, is back working for The Sunday Times, despite having had "disagreements" with the newspaper when he worked there in the 1980s – "disagreements" being the word he used in his testimony to the Leveson Inquiry yesterday.

Oh come now, Mazher, you are not wont to be so mealy-mouthed! This "disagreement" took the form of your being sacked for "gross impropriety". In 1989, Mahmood altered a story written by a journalist from an outside agency, making it inaccurate. When confronted, he falsely blamed the agency, and tried to back up his version of events by going into the computer and deceitfully altering the copy it had sent in. He was sacked by the Sunday Times managing editor, Roy Greenslade, now professor of journalism at City University, in London, who has kept the relevant documents.

David's in tune with The X Factor

David Miliband was celebrating an election victory on Sunday – not perhaps as significant as his fraternal defeat in the Labour leadership contest, but watched by a vastly larger television audience. Perrie Edwards and Jade Thirlwall, two members of Little Mix, the cobbled-together quartet of girl singers who became the first group to win The X Factor, are from Miliband's South Shields constituency. "South Shields does it again! Congratulations to Little Mix and especially to Jade and Perrie," a delighted Mr Miliband announced on Twitter.