Andy McSmith's Diary: No such thing as a job for life? Tell that to the Kazakhs


Tony Blair has been much criticised for his lucrative links with the government of oil-rich Kazakhstan, a former communist republic.

Other members of the old Blair gang have also been in and out of Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, with advice on how to govern. The latest is Jonathan Powell, former Downing Staff chief of staff, who has warned the Kazakhs against making it too difficult to sack incompetent officials.

Tengri News reports that he told a high-powered audience: “When we came to power in 1997, there was a high-ranking official in the Agriculture Ministry who was fully accountable for the outbreak of mad cow disease in the country. Nothing happened when we asked him to resign. We were told that it was impossible to fire him and the best option was to promote him to take him off this position.

“So we had to promote him, and even that was too difficult. In the end, to avoid him, we had to pay him £1m worth of termination fee. It is very difficult to get rid of such unwanted officials.” He added that such people have to understand that their jobs are “not work for life”.

On the theme of jobs for life, Nursultan Nazarbayev, aged 72, has been President of Kazakhstan since the break-up of the USSR in 1991. Before that, he was First Secretary of the Kazakh SSR communist party.

Tory-shaped hole in Lancashire

Good luck to David Skelton, as he leaves the think tank Policy Exchange to take on the much harder task of persuading people in the north of England to vote Tory. Since this year’s Conservative Annual Conference is to be in Manchester, maybe one aim he could set himself is to get a Tory on to Manchester City Council. There was a Tory on the 96-strong city council once. In 2008, a Liberal Democrat councillor named Faraz Bhatti announced that he was defecting to the Conservatives, which so delighted their high command that David Cameron rushed to the city to spread the news. Bhatti’s membership was suspended in 2010 when he was accused of threatening to kill his wife. Though he was later acquitted, he did not seek re-election.

Rage, rage against the digging of the graves

There are alarming reports from Laugharne, in Carmarthenshire, of badgers digging up graves in the cemetery where Dylan Thomas is buried. Simon Hart, the local Tory MP, says that in places it looks like a ploughed field. Since badgers are a protected species, there is not much the church can do about it. To which I can only add – do not go gentle into that good night; rage, rage against the badgers.

I know Kim Jong-un… he’s an awesome kid

It is hard to believe that North Korea’s hereditary ruler, Kim Jong-un, would really want to subject the US to nuclear obliteration even if he could, given his fascination with aspects of American culture. During his private education at the costly Liebefeld School near Berne, he was – according to fellow pupils – a huge fan of the basketball star Michael Jordan and his team, Chicago Bulls, choosing to arrive for lessons clad in the club’s merchandise.

Last month, young Kim was visited by another basketball superstar, Dennis Rodman, who described him as an “awesome kid”.

This remark did not much impress the Secretary of State, John Kerry, who told NBC: “You know what? Dennis Rodman was a great basketball player, and as a diplomat, he was a great basketball player. And that’s where we’ll leave it.”

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