It’s scarcely been updated, as a defence, since it was offered by the defence secretary himself, Ben Wallace, two days ago. The Afghan government was “melting away quicker than ice” on Friday, Wallace explained, so what would have been the point of the foreign secretary doing what he’d been asked to do and putting in a call to the Afghan foreign minister on Saturday?
It’s a tricky one, really. Because, as has already been pointed out many times, if you’ve deduced there’s no point calling up the government in Kabul because it’s melting away quicker than ice, then you should probably also have deduced it might be time for your summer holiday in Crete to do the same.
There are no hard and fast rules in diplomacy, but, generally speaking, a foreign secretary’s holiday probably shouldn’t be more robust than a government that’s been held up more than 20 years at the cost of the lives of 457 British military personnel.
Not that that’s even the point. The point is that there’s no point to Raab. If, by the government’s own admission, there’s no point to him doing his job at a moment of absolute maximum crisis then what are we meant to believe is the point of him the rest of the time?
Still, it is arguably a pity that the “there’s no point” defence hasn’t been deployed more frequently in the days since. There’s no point Raab breaking off his holiday to put in one phone call to get the ball rolling on the process of evacuating hundreds of UK-employed Afghans out of mortal danger. Yet there is point, apparently, of breaking off the holidays of hundreds and hundreds of MPs, to return to Westminster, to talk about how there’s no point doing anything.
And in further, self-parodying developments, at time of typing, large numbers of Tory MPs are being contacted by party whips, and told to send supportive tweets and Facebook posts about Raab, who has absolutely definitely been “working tirelessly” on all this, even during the period at which he was seen by several eyewitnesses on a Cretan beach playing paddle tennis while Kabul fell to the Taliban.
There are so many to choose from, but Joy Morrissey, MP for Beaconsfield deserves special mention. “The foreign secretary has worked tirelessly since the crisis began,” Morrissey begins. The “working tirelessly” part is the bit that’s come directly from central command. But then Ms Morrissey goes off-piste.
“That is irrelevant to the armchair and commons bench critics who predictably work tirelessly to apportion blame. Perhaps they should start with the Taliban?”
Quite a lot to unpack there, really. Your entry level WTFery of course is that people should stop criticising the government and start criticising the people whose fault all this really is and that’s the Taliban.
In some ways it is disappointing the hitherto unknown Morrissey wasn’t wheeled out sooner. If only the government had stumbled upon her out-the-box thinking this time last year. Then the evacuation of untested hospital patients into care homes, the failure to lock down fast enough, the non-existent test and trace system – all this could have been blamed on those really responsible, which obviously is Covid-19 itself.
Then, moving up the scale, you have the use of the phrase “armchair critics” as applied to those who are criticising Raab, whose chief crime, you may recall, was to have spent the hours of the most serious international crisis arguably in a decade or more, refusing to shift from his sun lounger.
And then, finally, you must consider that the “armchair and commons bench critics” Morrisey has in mind include a very high number of not merely MPs, but also former armed forces personnel, who have themselves fought in Afghanistan. It is arguably worth pointing out that at least two of these “armchair critics” of events in Afghanistan over recent days are more accurately described – thanks to their service – not as armchair critics but as wheelchair critics.
All of which leaves precious little time to discuss the most recent development that the call Raab refused to make wasn’t actually even delegated to a junior minister, it wasn’t made at all.
In relatively recent times, this is the sort of thing a foreign secretary might resign over. Those days are gone, of course, but there’s no point getting too frustrated about it. Publicly admitting to your own pointlessness is close enough. Why care so much if he stays or goes? He isn’t even there anyway.
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