UK's `response' to Ossetia underwhelming

THIS most surreal of political climates gets more bizarre by the day.The Russian invasion of South Ossetia and the bombing of Georgia on the opening day of the Olympic Games caught the world off-guard.

Graham Dines

THIS most surreal of political climates gets more bizarre by the day.

The Russian invasion of South Ossetia and the bombing of Georgia on the opening day of the Olympic Games caught the world off-guard. As, of course, it was meant to.

But it's absolutely extraordinary that the British Government, busy with internal plots and senior ministers briefing against each other, is so weakened and paralysed that it was left to opposition leader David Cameron to make the first public statement on the crisis, forcing Gordon Brown to cobble together a few rushed words of encouragement for the Georgians.


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Even worse for the image of the Government was Cameron's arrival in Tbilisi for a face to face meeting with President Mikhail Saakashvili and to offer his support to Georgia. In a flap and to cover his shortcomings, Brown instructed Foreign Secretary David Miliband to fly to Georgia to repair some of the damage done.

August is always a funny in politics. The parties are preparing for their conferences, which is where most major policy announcements are made. It's also the slowest of slow news months, but this year it's been made more difficult by the inertia in Whitehall, as Brown goes raiding the Treasury to fund initiatives as part of his relaunch next month to head off Labour rebels.

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But prime ministerial dithering should not spread to foreign affairs. Geographically Georgia might be in Asia, but it is within the European sphere of influence. As such, our own Government at least should have looked as if it was interested in Russia's hegemony.

The United States got on its high perch and sounded all righteous at the incursion while Europe left it to France - which currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU - to launch a peace initiative.

Notwithstanding French diplomacy, the UK should have said something. Nothing but silence came from Gordon Brown - who had moved from his holiday in Suffolk to his lair above Kirkcaldy on the north banks of the Firth of Forth - and not a word was muttered by Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who was too busy organising his own coup against Brown.

So it was left to Tory leader David Cameron to declare his support for Georgia, flying to the beleaguered Caucasus state for talks.

Labour and Liberal Democrats whipped themselves into a frenzy accusing Cameron of opportunism - the typical reaction of politicians who not only have been upstaged, but who know they've been totally wrong footed - but the damage had been done.

Russia's intentions are unclear. But by exercising its military muscle, it is warning Nato that it will not be cowed.

Nor can it be - the UK and the west depend on Russia for oil and much of their natural gas. Moscow may have lost the cold war, but if they demand double or treble the price for the supply of raw materials, they will win any economic confrontation and could bankrupt us all.

MAKE FOREIGN SECRETARY THE DPM

IN the Gilbertian land of Topsy Turvey Britain, where the leader of the opposition seemed to be the only politician on duty, it was unforgiveable that both the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary should be on holiday at the same time. Granted Brown stayed in the UK and was easily contactable, but surely it doesn't take much diary planning for the two senior officers of state to stagger their breaks.

I'd go further and suggest that whoever is Foreign Secretary should be also Deputy Prime Minister, preferably de jure rather than de facto. Since 1992, our foreign secretaries have been Douglas Hurd, Malcolm Rifkind, Robin Cook, Jack Straw, Margaret Beckett, and now Miliband - all of whom would have made good DPMs.

SMITH'S PR STUNT FALLS FLAT

WHEN you're down on your luck, even the most simple public relations stunt backfires. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith arranged to launch the crackdown on paedophiles to coincide with the return to Britain of disgraced pop star Gary Glitter, who was caged in Vietnam for three years for under-age sex with girls.

Unfortunately for Smith, Glitter didn't play ball and refused to board the flight to London. He was in the transit lounge of Bangkok airport as the Home Secretary's noble plans were upstaged in the media by Glitter.

NO POLL JOY FOR LABOUR

A NEW poll offers some relief for Gordon Brown against the massing ranks Milibandits by suggesting Labour would not improve its chances against the Tories if it dumps him for the Foreign Secretary.

An ICM survey this week for The Guardian found that voters preferred David Cameron as Prime Minister over both Mr Brown and Mr Miliband by the same 21 point margin. Asked to choose between the Tory leader and Brown, 42% preferred Cameron while 21% said Brown. In a contest between Cameron and Miliband, 40% said Mr Cameron, while just 19% opted for Miliband.

MAJOR SHOULD TAKE OLYMPICS CREDIT

THE title of proudest politician at Great Britain's successes in the Beijing Olympics must be Sir John Major, who as Prime Minister set up the National Lottery in 1994, enabling serious money to flow into sport.

Sir John is vilified for the decline and fall of his administration, but no-one can take away from the sports mad former premier his vision of a golden future for British sport paid for by the sale of lottery tickets. It will be his lasting legacy.

Incidentally, why are we competing as Great Britain and not the United Kingdom? No wonder foreign nations get confused and end up referring to us simply as England, no matter where on these islands we live.

RUFFLEY SLAMS STOWMARKET DECISION

BURY St Edmunds MP David Ruffley is opposing the proposed closure of the Stowmarket Jobcentre Plus office, claiming it “makes no sense at all when the demand for its services is likely to rise” due to the economic downturn.

“To deprive Stowmarket residents of their local Jobcentre just when they may need it most is short sighted in the extreme,” says Mr Ruffley. “Telling job seekers that they must travel to Bury St Edmunds or Ipswich to access the full range of Jobcentre Plus services demonstrates how out of touch the Government is with rural areas. If you haven't got a job you can't afford to travel to and fro - you need services to be provided locally. Neither can it be assumed that everyone can access Jobcentre services online.”

ABSE'S FELLATIO STUNNER

LEO Abse, a Labour MP for 30 years who died this week, was as colourful a figure in the literary world as he was in the Commons. In 2000, he penned Fellatio, Masochism, Politics and Love, in which he offered “an analysis of the repressed homosexual components of the relationship between Gordon Brown and Tony Blair.”

A year later, he created a political storm by suggesting that the late Lord Tonypandy (formerly Mr George Thomas), the ex-Speaker of the Commons, was a secret homosexual in the days when homosexuality was a criminal offence.

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