Letter from the Whitehall Editor: 'Take Out The Trash Day'

  • @oliver_wright


There is a phrase used by political spin doctors that crudely describes how to get “bad news” out of the way before it becomes more damaging. It was made famous in the American TV series The West Wing in an episode simply called “Take Out The Trash Day”.

That, without question, is what Downing Street is doing today with its announcement that David  Cameron will go soft on China’s human rights record when he visits the country next week.

Last year the Prime Minister infuriated Beijing when he met the Dalai Lama and, in the words of one diplomat, “put Anglo-Chinese relations into the deep freeze”.

Now after months of assiduous courtship, relations are back on track and tomorrow Mr Cameron, a clutch of cabinet ministers and more than 100 businessmen will board a plane to China in the largest state delegation to the Middle  Kingdom in more 200 years.

But this puts Mr Cameron in a bind. He badly wants Chinese investment into Britain and  better access to Chinese markets for UK businesses. This simply won’t happen if he publicly embarrasses China over Tibet.

At the same time he knows that the travelling press pack will focus on his remarks earlier this month when he justified attending the Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka on the grounds that it would “shine a spotlight” on the country’s abysmal human rights record.

So Downing Street has decided the best course of action is to “put out the trash” and admit that  Britain’s ethical foreign policy can be a bit less ethical when we want something badly enough.

Not very edifying. But it’s always been thus.