Coffee House

How do you solve a problem like Baroness Ashton?

20 March 2012

Baroness Ashton has managed a return to diplomatic form by comparing the murder yesterday of three children and a Rabbi
at a Jewish school in Toulouse with ‘what is happening in Gaza.’ Plenty of people have already deplored her comments. But they present an opportunity to address one of the underlying
and too infrequently asked questions of our time: if you do not think Ashton is a very good politician, what can you do about it?

Ordinarily if a politician says or does something you do not like we, the electorate, are at some point given the opportunity to vote them out. There used to be considerable pride in this
arrangement. But Catherine Ashton is part of a new class of people who pretend to be politicians while never having to face the electorate on whose behalf they claim to speak. Though Ashton is the
European Union’s High Representative on Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (EU Foreign Minister) she has herself never been elected to this — or any — role. She was appointed to
it in a closed room in Brussels by a group of people who are also, like her, not accountable to any electorate. Just as we did not vote her in, so we cannot vote her out. If anybody can explain why
this is a good arrangement I honestly would like to hear it.

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It may be that there exists someone, somewhere, who thinks that Catherine Ashton is a Foreign Minister of whom we can be proud. But even that person should wonder what they would think if sometime
in the future we were unfortunate enough to have forced upon us a Foreign Minister who lacked Ashton’s political and diplomatic skills.

In other words, the problem is not simply the occupant — the problem is the role. Even if every citizen of every EU country disliked Catherine Ashton intensely, and found her unimaginably
embarrassing and inept, she would remain our ‘representative’ on Foreign Affairs. This seems to me a democratic problem which is worth addressing.

(Incidentally, for me the problem was crystallised when I bumped into Ashton while holidaying in Ramallah last summer. As I returned to the forecourt of my hotel I saw a cavalcade of ten to fifteen
identical armour-plated vehicles. It looked like President Obama was visiting, possibly with the Queen and Pope in tow. The whole area was brought to a standstill when down the steps, flanked by
scores of security personnel and advisors stepped Catherine Ashton and her entourage. I stepped out of the way and watched first with curiosity then with sadness as they climbed into their convoy
and roared past.  Three questions lodged, and stayed, in my head: who on earth is she going to see? What on earth is she going to tell them? And on whose behalf will they believe her to be

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Show comments
  • John Edwards

    The criticism of Baroness Ashton has been completely fabricated. She was addressing a conference called “Engaging Youth – Palestine Refugees in the Changing Middle East”. This is what she actually said:
    “We are gathered here because we have recognised the potential of the youth of Palestine. Against all the odds, they continue to learn, to work, to dream and aspire to a better future. And the days when we remember young people who have been killed in all sorts of terrible circumstances – the Belgian children having lost their lives in a terrible tragedy and when we think of what happened in Toulouse today, when we remember what happened in Norway a year ago, when we know what is happening in Gaza and Sderot and in different parts of the world – we remember yung people and children who lose their lives. Here are young people asking not to be the leaders of the future but to be taken seriously as leaders of today. And it is to them we should listen and it is to them that I pay tribute”
    This speech is about as anodyne and inoffensive as it is possible to get. She listed “all sorts of terrible circumstances” in which children get killed. As the conference she was addressing was about Palestinian refugee children it would be quite reasonable to mention the deaths of children in Gaza.

    The allegation that she “was drawing parallels between” or “comparing” anything on that quite long list of places children have been killed is a complete falsehood and fabrication.

    I’m afraid Douglas Murray has form in fabricating quotations. For example last year in a widely publicised speech at the Cambridge Union he alleged that the Iranian former leader Rafsanjani had said “we only need one nuclear bomb to deal with the Israeli problem”. I checked the actual speech Rafsanjani made. He made no such statement – Douglas Murray had just made up the “quotation” to suit the case he wanted to argue.

    • Windymac

      I disagree. And, even if one did concede that she wasn’t attempting to draw a parallel, that is a tiny part of the perfectly legitimate “criticism of Baroness Ashton”.

  • Ben from Harrow

    What do you want? A proper ‘european representative of foreign affairs’ throwing their weight around the world. We don’t need that.

    Best leave her in place as an inept amateur. Proposing Catherine Ashton is the best thing that Brown did (apart from not joining the Euro)

  • Wedgie Benn

    Democracy only works if people are prepared to accept electoral results that they don’t like. The right ‘won’ electorally in the 80’s and the left lost. But they didn’t accept that and have infiltrated every aspect of modern life in order to subvert the democratic will. They of course do not see it that way, because they are ‘good and right and decent’.

  • telemachus’

    AWK think you should go back to your comfort zone/wall rather than abuse serious commentators.

  • Anne Wotana Kaye 1

    Is David Lindsay really ignorant or does his hate for Israel blind him to reality?
    Actually I think it is gross ignorance because his postings are so full of mistakes, both in substance and grammatically.

  • Old Blue Eyes

    Why do I think – Only Fools & Horses?

  • Clap Hammer

    David Lindsay – ‘Can you name a neighbouring country where the rulers of the nation would not turn out, nor would they declare a national day of mourning, for the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch (and there is one) any more than for the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, or the Latin Patriarch, or the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Patriarch, or the Franciscan Custos, or the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch, or the Greek-Melkite-Catholic Patriarch, or the Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarch, or the Maronite Patriarchal Exarch, or the Anglican Archbishop, or the Evangelical Lutheran Church Bishop, or the Syrian Catholic Patriarchal Exarch, or the Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarch?’

    Can you name a country that burns down Coptic Churches?

    Can you name a country in the Middle east where Christians don’t live in fear?

    Can you name a country in the Middle East where all faiths are equal before the law.

    Can you name a country in the Middle east where homosexuality is not criminalised?

  • David Lindsay

    Shenouda III was buried yesterday on a national day of mourning and with the rulers of the nation in attendance.

    Can you name a neighbouring country where the rulers of the nation would not turn out, nor would they declare a national day of mourning, for the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch (and there is one) any more than for the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, or the Latin Patriarch, or the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Patriarch, or the Franciscan Custos, or the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch, or the Greek-Melkite-Catholic Patriarch, or the Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarch, or the Maronite Patriarchal Exarch, or the Anglican Archbishop, or the Evangelical Lutheran Church Bishop, or the Syrian Catholic Patriarchal Exarch, or the Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarch?

    I’ll give you a clue: Shenouda’s body has been flown back to rest at the monastery to which he was banished by President Sadat for opposing the Camp David Accords.

  • David Lindsay

    John, now you are just having a laugh. Israel is an economic basket case kept going by aid which the Americans themselves can no longer afford. The working class is Arab, not Jewish, and the rapidly increasing ultra-Orthodox have used their electoral muscle to make everyone else pay them to do nothing economically.

    The Islamist citadel of Umm al-Fahm has voted almost unanimously to remain in Israel, Raed Saleh has the name of that State in that of his organisation, Ibrahim Sarsur uses his Knesset seat to demand that Jerusalem be made the capital of the Caliphate, and everyone born into certain ethnic minorities is automatically subject to Sharia law.

    “The Zionist entity”? What “Zionist entity”? Everyone who believes that Israel is an outpost of the West defined in Tory or in American Republican terms should be taken to Umm al-Fahm, to an ultra-Orthodox district of Jerusalem, and to Tel Aviv for the gay Mardi Gras, preferably, as is perfectly possible, all in a single day.

  • RocketDog

    Looks like we will be getting a new Director General of the BBC soon. The Independent seems to think that it should be a woman. When you look at the candidates and think about their political background they could be in the same ghastly cabal as Baroness Ashton. Might help explain how the Baroness managed to work so effectively under the radar for so many years …

  • Biggestaspidistra

    it may not be gallant but ellis000 @ 1:58 had the funniest answer.

  • Sir Graphus

    Quite right Fergus. We’ve had plenty of Foreign Secretaries who weren’t lookers. They were all men and no-one objected. I’m a bit of a potato head myself.

    Our objections to Baroness Ashton are; she’s unelected; her post is unnecessary; she appears to have few diplomatic skills; by having a pop at Israel, she isn’t even representing the EU position on the Israel question; there is no democratic means of removing her.

    Insulting her looks just detracts from the argument

  • Ron Todd

    At least the rest of us were polite enough to spell Verity correctly.

  • telemachus’

    EC-flattered by your understanding of my omipresence but not me.

  • TGF Euros

    Baroness Ashton was appointed by the elected Government of the UK and can be fired by the elected Government of the UK. A problem Westminster is fully able to fix if it so chooses.

  • victor jara 67

    Wow thanks for the spelling lesson Verity. I really don’t know how lesser mortals manage without the born to rule elite like yourself , Cameron and Osborne etc.

    You know you could get some help with your narcissism, you just have to admit you have a problem.

  • EC

    Fergus telemachus’ @3:38am

    What you have to remember is, that whilst beauty may only be skin deep, ugliness goes right to the core.

  • John

    “The Zionist State is finished”
    Arabs have been saying that since Israel’s creation (filled by Jewish expulsion from Arab land) and look at it now. It has a stronger economy than all of it’s neighbours combined (without a drop of oil), and it continuously enriches the world, with technological and medical breakthroughs, it’s education, business start ups, agricultural and military advances. You are just a bitter little anti semite and I am finished engaging with your kind.

  • Ron Todd

    I am bigger than you I am king.

    My army is bigger than your army I am king.

    God wants me to be King

    We have always had a king can’t change now.

  • Sir Everard Digby

    Focus not on the outward appearance of the Baroness;look underneath and see what she really is.
    her political career started with enoblement by the Labour government and then a Minesterial position. She had a major role as Leader of the Lords in getting the Treaty of Lisbon through the Upper Chamber.

    What she is now doing is receiving the rewards for her faithful service.Not quite as grand as Tony Blair’s but worthwhile nonetheless.

    The question is did/does this ‘career’ really benefit Britain?

    Please rearrange the following letters to create the answer…..O and N

  • Ron Todd

    Verity never could spell; not embarrassed by it. Never claimed Queen was head of government just that she was unelected. The point was that countries with unelected heads of state (or house of Lords) are not fully democratic, not that we were the only country to have her or another person as unelected head of state.

  • Fergus Pickering

    Calling the Baroness ignorant and vulgar is OK. Calling her ugly is not OK unless you are a woman. What has happened to gallantry and opening doors to the fair sex? We are all Tories here are we not?

  • Archie

    Kaffee Ashton: the prototypical oxygen thief!

  • Genti

    “Her Majesty The Queen spoke of our democracy. What democracy allows such unelected fools to act on the world stage?”

    Her Majesty the Queen is unelected – she was born into her position due to an archaic method of choosing leaders based on deity sponsorship. Exactly why does it matter what a Monarch has to say on the subject of democracy?

  • Andreas

    @strapworld: Who is this

  • Verity

    Victor Jarra 67 – I love stupid posts around this time because they tide me over for amusement until cocktail hour. Thanks for this: “I see that mysoginy rears its ugly head among the right wing reactionaries and whatever happened to solidarity among sisters. Did it die with Thatcher?”

    “Misogyny” is spelled thusly.

    “Right wing reactionaries”. Wow! Not just right wing, but reactionary! Can it get any more dire?

    Re your notional “solidarity among the sisters” … I wouldn’t know. I never knew any lefties well enough to ask.

  • WIlliam Blakes Ghost

    Ashton has never faced an electorate. She is a lifelong political flunky and now she is Queen of Europe. It would be absurdly funny if it wasn’t such an obscene abuse of political power.

    We really do need to rid ourselves of this foul and odious political class (both nationally and in Europe) that claim to lead us.

  • David Lindsay

    Like the ultra-Orthodox Jews, the Arabs, including the Christians, face a clamour to denaturalise them because their healthy birth rates are making the chronically infertile secular Ashkenazi nationalist project – in a word, Zionism – a thing of the past.

    Desperately, Israel is instead flying in Russians who refuse to eat kosher food and who insist on taking their Israeli Defence Force oaths on the New Testament alone, Russian Nazis (seriously), East Africans who have invented a religion based on the Old Testament brought by Christian missionaries, Peruvian Indians (again, seriously), absolutely anyone at all. Even the Pashtun are now classified as a Lost Tribe with a view to airlifting them to Israel in future, since at least they are not Arabs.

    The Zionist State is finished. Most Zionists never moved there, and those who did never had anything like enough children. So they have only themselves to blame.

  • David Lindsay

    John, your ignorance is astounding if you do not realise that the Christians and the Bedouin in Israel are Arabs (Christians have always been prominent among Arab nationalists, both as intellectuals and as activists), or that they frequently live in villages that appear on no map and are denied basic ameenities, or that the party of the present Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister wants to denaturalise them (and then what?) along with the ultra-Orthodox Jews.

    Compare and contrast the Christian-majority provinces and the Christian festivals as public holidays in Syria (unless the rebels win), the day of national mourning for the fiercely anti-Zionist Coptic Patriarch who has died of nothing more than old age in Egypt, the reservation to Christians of the Lebanese Presidency and half the seats in Parliament, the Christian quotas in the Jordanian Parliament and the Palestinian Authority, and the reserved seats for Armenians, Assyrians, Zoroastrians and Jews (yes, Jews) in Iran.

    Armenian Christians are an awful lot better off, to put it at its mildest, in Iran than in either Israel or NATO, putatively EU Turkey. Assyrian Christians are a great deal better off, to put it at its mildest, in Iran than in Israel or in “liberated” Iraq. Byzantine Orthodox, Melkite Catholic, Syrian Orthodox, Syrian Catholic, Maronite Catholic, Latin Catholic and other Christians are great deal better off, to put it at its mildest, in Syria now than in Syria if we “liberate” her or in Israel ever.

  • ellis000

    Ron Tod – The Netherlands, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium and most of the Commonwealth.

  • bojimbo

    Hello , she’s woken up again .

  • ellis000

    Victor jara 67 – no, with that hideous tub of lard Roy Hattersley – you left wing muppet.

  • Peter From Maidstone

    It seems that none of the trolls online at present are able to spell? Or are they all telemachus’?

  • Peter From Maidstone

    I see the Spectator has decided to allow the telemachus’/Patriccia Shaw (and other names) troll to continue to post and drive away decent comment. It would be interesting to know if this is part of a Barclay Brother’s strategy to drive away all conservative comment and the conservative audience as they reposition it as LibDem publication?

  • Verity

    Hereditary monarchy … And New Zealand … and Jamaica, Barbados, Malta, the Falklands, etc.

  • victor jara 67

    I see that mysoginy rears its ugly head among the right wing reactionaries and whatever happened to solidarity among sisters. Did it die with Thatcher?

  • Nicholas

    “I wouldn’t get too exercised about Common Purpose, least of all in support of a post by someone from the truly sinister Henry Jackson Society.” etc.

    Gosh, I see that in respect of any think tanks to the right of Maoism the relativism of the Left does not extend beyond the partisan views of the Guardian.

    Well, last time I looked the British civil service, police, local government and public sector were not infested by graduate members of the Henry Jackson Society. That Society does not, I believe, have a strategy of “leading beyond authority” in a “post-democratic society”. It actually believes in liberal democracy which means electing those who seek to lead us. Remind me again who voted for Baroness Ashton and how she got her job.

    As for Common Purpose, if it so benign, why is it so secretive about its teaching? Why are its members and graduates so reticent to talk about what goes on behind its closed doors? How did it get its enormous funding in the days following the collapse of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact? You want “sinister”? Sinister is a matter of record not of accusation Mr Lindsay.

  • Verity

    Ron Tod .. HM is our head of state. She is not the head of government. This may be a difficult concept for the ill-educated, such as your good self to grasp. To save you future embarrassment, hereditary is spelled thusly.

  • John


    your ignorance is astounding. Israel IS a multiethnic state. There are Christians, Bedouins and Arabs all living side by side with the same rights (unlike most other countries in the ME where minorities are persecuted and oppressed). There are mosques, churches and guaranteed religious freedom. In Gaza, however there are no jews!

  • John David Barnett

    hat ‘democracy’ has a hereditory monarch?

    The UK, Sweden, Holland, Denmark, Belgium, Japan, Australia, Canada … I could go on.

  • Nicholas

    “For freespeechophobia I refer you to the 3.41’s playtoy.”

    Indeed. The biter bit and rightly so. As usual the multi-identitied troller is much more interested in what others have to say and in refuting that than in focussing on any coherent expression or argument that might vindicate a belief in authoritarian leftism.

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