kenny hodgart

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When Xi meets the Queen – what won’t happen

This blog post can also be read at SCMP.COM –

The last time a Chinese leader was given a state reception in Britain, in 2005, Queen Elizabeth pulled on her smartest red hat and coat and put it to President Hu Jintao and his lady wife: “Have you come far?”.

The monarch’s civility was slightly undermined, however, by her heir to the throne – Prince Charles played truant, muttering off-stage about human rights and the Dalai Lama. The UK’s then-Prime Minister, Tony Blair, meanwhile, spoke excitedly of “an unstoppable momentum” towards democracy for China. When the Chinese delegation left, the staff of Buckingham Palace were ordered to count the spoons.

OK, fine, that last bit was guesswork. It is impossible to know what goes on in the households of heads of state. It may be that Prince Philip, aka the Queen’s other half, aka Phil the Greek, hides spoons in guests’ luggage for his own sport. Still, now that Britain is desperate to become “China’s best partner in the West” – as the country’s Finance Minister George Osbourne put it in Beijing the other week – the parameters for any meaningful exchanges not involving the (proverbial) hoisting up of British skirts when Xi Jinping touches down in London later this month have narrowed.

In any event, here are just a few of the possible turns unlikely to be taken by events after plain-speaking Phil, 94, has broken the ice with a joke or two about the Japanese and fallen sleep.

1. David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, will insist that in return for a) welcoming Chinese involvement in new UK nuclear power plants, b) turning a deaf ear to American concerns about the security implications thereof, c) jumping on board with the Beijing-led Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, and, above all, d) investing £700,000 (HK$8.2 million) to assist Chinese citizens who may wish to go on holiday to places in the north of England, British ministers do not in future expect to incur the Chinese state’s diplomatic wrath for talking to harmless old men from Tibet.

2. Mindful of the Chinese love of pork, Mr Cameron will then seek Mr Xi’s advice on how to handle those who write and publish materials alleging Prime Ministerial misadventures involving dead pigs. And how to stamp out seditious communications in general.

3. Mr Xi will thank the Prime Minister for dancing so nimbly to China’s tune but remind him, portentously, that always someone must pay the piper. The Queen’s bagpiper will nod sagely. China’s paramount leader will then thank his hosts for knowing when to “shut up about all that human rights crap, not like the Americans”, adding that Mr Osborne is a man of high principle who is respected throughout China and the world and that the two countries are now best friends forever. He will also promise to keep throwing chickenfeed at the minister’s pet projects and that the £700,000 will not be spent by officials on a night out in Macau.

4. Onto his second whiskey sour, Mr Xi’s charm offensive will continue with an apology to Britain’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee, whose members were barred from entering Hong Kong earlier this year. He will blame the unfortunate episode on an administrative cock-up, praise Britain for giving the world parliamentary democracy and vouch that his administration approves of universal suffrage – for voting out contestants on Chinese Idol.

5. The Queen will ask after the well-being of Zhou Yongkang and observe that by contrast to the unfortunate former Minister of Public Security’s grizzled rug, Mr Xi’s own hair seems vibrant for a man of his years. She will then ask the President if he would like to pet one of her corgis.

6. Jeremy Corbyn, the new hard-left leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, will attempt to engage Mr Xi in a discussion of Lenin’s 1904 pamphlet One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, and about the timetable for achieving socialism on earth.

7. Charles will announce “sod it, I never wanted to be a constitutional monarch anyway”, harangue Mr Cameron for being a pushover, and for doing so little on behalf of the endangered Patagonian Toothfish, let rip on China for being ghastly and appalling, and then finally settle in to some light Buddhist chanting, the noise from which will waken Phil the Greek from his slumbers.


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Let’s hawk more of Prince Andrew

This article appeared in The Herald

Like many people, I was once rather convinced of the merits of republicanism. After being hectored by faux-proletarian Trotskyite agitprop vendors outside Glasgow University library every day for four years, however, the condition eased.

Those who would have done with constitutional hereditary monarchy seem disinclined to acknowledge that revolution never spared France or Russia from despotism, that Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a sociopath, that banishing Constantine II in 1974 hasn’t done Greece much good or that 69p per citizen per year is excellent value for the entertainment Prince Philip alone provides.

That said, it seems only right – in a democratic age – that as we brace ourselves for years of strikes and potholes and libraries closing down, the Queen should also draw in her horns, so to speak. To that end, George Osborne announced this week there will be no rise on the £7.9m the royals receive each year through the Civil List.

Of course, the Queen does surrender the revenue from royal property held by the Crown Estate – believed to be upwards of £200m every year – and is loved by all foreigners, even the French, Russians and Greeks, thus swelling the coffers of UK plc via tourism and helping to fund history lessons in our schools about the evils of her forebears and the hereditary principle in general. But, still, maybe the royals could do a bit more to help reduce the deficit.

Even before she was caught offering industrialists access to her ex-husband Prince Andrew for £500,000, the palace thought Sarah Ferguson unspeakably common, but what if she was on to something? If people exist who believe access to Prince Andrew might be of any use whatsoever, what harm punting his services by the hour for the country?

In a similar vein, if Phil agreed to make a donation to the Exchequer every time he offended a foreigner, those tours of the Commonwealth might pay for themselves. Charles, meanwhile, might simply be given some gentle encouragement to stop talking about homeopathy, Gaia and so on.

The point here is that there is time for the royal family to save the country from itself and thesselves from the gibbet. The alternatives are unthinkable: either we’d have to elect a career politician head of state or we’d end up at the mercy of quangocrats or J K Rowling or Ant and Dec.