Philip Hammond’s not sexist, he’s serially confused. Which bodes ill for British foreign policy

To be the victim of one fiasco may be a misfortune. Twice looks like a pattern

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With a pre-election reshuffle expected in the summer, we look to the Prime Minister to find a less potentially explosive job for Philip Hammond. Concerns about the Defence Secretary’s mental frailty mount towards a crescendo of anxiety after Philip’s performance on BBC1’s Question Time, when he repeatedly mistook Labour’s Liz Kendall for her front-bench colleague Rachel Reeves.

Inevitably, in the current mood, this provoked accusations of Tory sexism, though that is unfair. Archive research confirms that Philip is a cross-gender name-confuser.

Last August, on Newsnight – and if that programme’s editor regards Ms Reeves as “boring-snoring”, what must he make of a man who could tranquillise a herd of stampeding rhino with a three-word sentence – Hammond responded to the Government’s defeat over its proposal to launch strikes on Bashar al-Assad’s forces. Having spoken of the need to “deter Saddam Hussein from further use of chemical weapons”, the human soporific acknowledged the Commons vote by declaring that “Britain should not take part in any action against Saddam Hussein”.

To be the victim of one such fiasco may be counted a misfortune. Twice in a few months looks like a pattern to raise doubts about the Leslie Welch of the Cabinet’s fitness for his post. Imagine that the lure of post-imperial willy-waving reasserts itself, and Mr Cameron for some reason decides to attack Libya. With muscular right-winger Philip running the MoD, it is even money that he would give the order to bomb Liberia. As for any military action that might be required in Niger… well, you can barely imagine the diplomatic chaos as the Cruise missiles rain down on downtown Lagos.

Don’t cry for me, David Cameron!

Little gladdens the heart like a political intervention from the world of entertainment, and a packed weekend brought double merriment there. The first came from Sir Tim Rice – or “Sir Anneka” as he is known to Philip Hammond – who has given Ukip £7,500 from a £149m fortune built on musicals such as Evita and Joseph. This political turncoat of many colours (all right, two colours) has fled Pharaoh Cameron’s house of bondage for the Ukip promised land in which the landscape is rid of the wind farms that Tim hates with a passion. While this is manna from heaven for Nigel Farage, the PM may not be too dismayed by the defection.

In 2007, Tim confided to readers of The Spectator that his chance of a peerage was fading, and his patience with the new regime running low. “Dave and his young, dynamic, thrusting team are simply not interested in me or my Neanderthal views,” he wrote then. “They couldn’t give a stuff what I think. And I don’t blame them.” Me neither.

Strictly a matter of dinner at Chequers

Also dipping a dainty toe into the frothing waters of political debate, is Tess Daly. Sir Brucie’s Strictly sidekick is no stranger to high politics, having been a dining guest at the PM’s country residence with husband Vernon Kay, the Isaiah Berlin of All Star Family Fortunes, during the imperium of Murdoch consigliere Mr Tony Blair when the Chequers’ dining room was virtually indistinguishable from the All Souls high table.

In this era of food banks, Tess’s paramount social-affairs concern is the iniquity of inheritance tax, which she regards as both “disgraceful” and “an insult”. Tess, who may yet join Esther McVey and Gloria del Piero in the exodus from TV to the Commons, also dwells, in The Mail on Sunday, on the childhood addiction which led to the ritual burning of her dummy at the age of five. Having recovered bravely from that, she now relies for succour on Vernon Kay. Plus ça change…

Bernie Ecclestone, friend of Vladimir

However significant the contributions of Tim and Tess, neither rivals Bernie Ecclestone as our most scandalously underrated political commentator. As he awaits his bribery trial in Germany, the Great Dictator of Formula One considers the Russian legislation banning the publicisation of “homosexual behaviour”. By uncanny coincidence, with the inaugural Russian Grand Prix scheduled for October in Sochi, he is in full accord with Vladimir Putin about this, and believes that 90 per cent of the global population is, too.

One of so many things to love about the wizened old sparrow is his resilience. Less robust intellectuals would have been cowed by the response to his thoughts of 2009, when he analysed Hitler as an otherwise effective leader duped by underlings about the Holocaust, and expressed disdain for the concept of democracy itself. But Little Bern is indestructible, as we pray he will confirm when he stands trial in the Führer’s Bavarian stronghold of Munich in the spring.

You can take a man out of the Valleys...

Depressing news from the BBC, which wastes no time in ending the rising tension about its 2015 general-election coverage. A nation that had expected Huw Edwards finally to take the prize which has for so long been his due is dismayed to learn that David Dimbleby will be retained as front man for one last hurrah. It is small consolation that the newsreader likened by Jeremy Paxman to “an evangelist preacher on a wet Sunday morning in Merthyr Tydfil” will take over the following morning.

Huw is the most effective anchorman of the age – the telly vessel he could not drag down has yet to be built – and if this denial of his talent isn’t the worst example of Welshism since Mr Blair referred furiously to the “f*****g Welsh”, then I’d like to know what is.

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