Nigel Farage has been lapping up the attention bestowed on him following US President-elect Donald Trump’s suggestion that the former UKIP leader be appointed as Britain’s Ambassador to Washington.
Mr Farage responded by throwing a party at The Ritz (Mayfair’s working men’s club) at which he was presented with a pyramid of Ferrero Rocher chocolates (in reference to an ultra-corny TV advert in the late 1990s which featured an ambassador’s reception and remains the indelible impression the British public have of diplomatic life as one long succession of cocktail parties).
Mr Farage’s amusements are a distraction from a more serious point. Is it appropriate for a president-elect to intervene in the appointment of a foreign power’s representative (via Twitter, no less)? The British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson gave the idea short shrift, responding that there was “no vacancy” for the Washington job – and besides, Britain, unlike the US and many other countries, rarely sends a political appointee to top posts (although Prime Ministers usually check that the person in the job is “one of us” as Margaret Thatcher famously used to say).
And Nigel Farage is definitely not “one of us”. Although having someone in DC with such a close rapport with the US President has its merits. But if you are too chummy there is a high risk of contracting what the High Commissioner for Australia Alexander Downer calls “local-itis” – the diplomatic disease where you become so fond of a posting you lose your objectivity. It’s vital that an ambassador, especially to a close ally, is to be able to be frank. If you lose perspective and are too friendly things can go badly awry.
Of course giving an awkward politician a token ambassadorship to far-flung post where they can be removed from local politics and do no damage abroad can be useful. But Washington is no such post.
The episode also got tongues wagging about who would be taking up Residence in Winfield House once Ambassador Barzun has departed. Anti-Trump commentators hit back suggesting Bruce Springstein, a sworn Democrat and vocal opponent of Donald Trump.
Sadly, it’s highly unlikely that The Boss will be The Boss in London.