Thursday, July 14, 2016

Marina Hyde - The UK's Foreign Office diplomatic classifications now number four. They comprise: Europeanist, Arabist, Atlanticist and Piss Artist

Whichever way you slice it, Boris Johnson’s appointment forces an urgent update of the traditional Foreign Office diplomatic classifications. They now comprise: Europeanist, Arabist, Atlanticist and Piss Artist.

The Boris news is not so much a cabinet appointment as a three-episode comic subplot in Downton Abbey. It casts the UK as one of those failing theme parks where bad actors wander round pretending to be from olden times, even though their backdrop is a stinking food court and signs reading THIS TOILET IS OUT OF ORDER.

According to the cartographers, the sheer reach of Boris’s insults forms an alternative empire on which the sun never sets. Boris Johnson would have represented a parodic view of Britain in 1959. That was the year of release of the lovely movie Carlton-Browne of the FO, which satirises the misplaced vanity and upper class ineptitude of the post-imperial Foreign Office. Never mind history repeating itself as farce. This is a Terry-Thomas farce repeating itself as history.

Still, we gave the world all the great games – amirite, Brits? – and this is just the latest one. The race is now on to come up with the most accurate description of the UK at this moment in its national journey. I’ll start the ball rolling with “auto-satirical cardboard deathstar”, but expect other countries to swiftly come out on top. As they have in all the other games we invented.

In the meantime, there are so many questions about the style Johnson will bring to the global stage. Does he refer to America as “the new world”? Are there any countries he has yet to mug off? Will he trail future diplomatic incidents in his Telegraph column? Is it going to be possible for ironists to get him, Putin, and Donald Trump in a photo – the Yalta conference of extreme narcissism?

... my favourite bit of film yet to emerge came on Wednesday night, and features the three most senior Foreign Office mandarins welcoming Boris to his new Whitehall home. Is it CGI? Because I’m watching three men literally ageing 10 years in the process of a single minute’s footage. Here they are at the door, failing to hide the fact that they’re mentally cancelling their weekend plans – cancelling weekends, really – and preparing to make calls to 112 countries to offer a variant on “Yes, yes, well I’m sure he didn’t really mean it. He’s quite a character, you know!”

By the time they’re leading Johnson up the staircase, they are wearing the silent screams of people who know a non-medicated solution is now off the table, who now regard the decades of managed decline in their once-great office as the halcyon years, and whose diary entries that night will read simply: “Suez on a zipwire”.