Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Stephen Harper grasps the nettle of international partisanship

 

The Canadian Prime Minister addressed both Houses of Parliament today in the Royal Robing Room. Since it’s big enough to have accommodated the entire House of Lords during the Second World War, the Queen must feel pretty lonely dressing up for the state opening here, which is what it’s actually for. But though it’s only No 3 in the hierarchy of venues for  these gigs, after Westminster Hall (which has hosted Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama) and the Royal Gallery (graced by Nicolas Sarkozy and Bill Clinton), it was pretty full.

Charisma is not the reason. Stephen Harper was named “the most boring person in Canada” at an awards event last month. But for the Tories he’s the man who led two minority governments – no pesky Liberal Democrats for him – before winning an overall majority. And a laudatory piece on the ConservativeHome website points out that the anti-gay-marriage Harper  “came from the end of the centre-right spectrum that might be lampooned... as ‘mad, swivel-eyed loons’”.

Inspirational rhetoric isn’t his thing. He didn’t – quite – resort to what Ernie Bevin, the wartime Minister of Labour when Mackenzie King was the last Canadian PM to address the British parliament, used to call “clitch after clitch after clitch”. But his homely proverbs, such as “a nettle once firmly grasped is on its way to being pulled out by the roots” or “if we want to spread prosperity we must be prosperous ourselves,” came perilously close.

He rightly applauded the Canadian servicemen who fought “voluntarily and passionately” alongside the British in the Second World War – though oddly, didn’t mention those that did so in the First War. Unusually, however, he was distinctly partisan, fulsomely praising the  Thatcher revolution and the “wise and principled” David Cameron. He was applauded when he backed the right of the Falkland- ers to self determination but not when he beat the drum for Israel, of which he has been the West’s  most uncritical ally. And he hinted at differences with Camer- on over Syria by warning of its “extremist, sectarian” opposition.

Harper won power after a reverse takeover of the Tories by his Reform party. Which is why he is a hero to Nigel Farage. Though the Ukip leader would have been less happy to hear Harper promote an EU-Canada free trade agreement as a “historic and monumental” step “for Canada, and for Great Britain as a member of the EU”. Assuming Britain still is one by the time it’s signed, of course.

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