Opinion Op Ed 13 Jul 2019 Can’t UK govt ...
In his words: "I am just a professional writer, which means I don't do blogs and try and get money for whatever I write."

Can’t UK govt correspond safely?

Published Jul 13, 2019, 2:42 am IST
Updated Jul 13, 2019, 2:43 am IST
In the case of Sir Kim Darroch, the UK’s recent ambassador to the United States, the plot took to the international stage.
US President Donald Trump
 US President Donald Trump

“You drowned yourself in fantasy
The heart grew bitter in that swell
Truth is there for all open eyes to see
— Oh answer the summons of that bell”
From Custom and Sharab by Bachchoo

The plots of Renaissance and Restoration plays often depended on letters falling into the wrong hands, revealing secrets or stimulating completely mistaken speculations and even paranoid fantasies.


In Othello, Shakespeare contrived the romantic implications of a dropped hanky as the fulcrum of the plot. The innocent moor was goaded on in his jealousies by the conniving sprite Iago.

In my modern interpretation (there isn’t one — it’s an allegory!) Iago wouldn’t be a corporeal human but rather a demon residing in the mind of Othello. In scenes with other characters, such as Emilia, this evil battles its counterpart — realisation! (National Theatre, any commissions?)

Perhaps it can’t be done — in Othello’s time, the hanky was a chivalric symbol. It’s supposed transference from his beloved Desdemona to the man Othello was beguiled into thinking was her lover conveyed the intended message. The medium of the time was the innocent handkerchief.

In later plays, the medium lost this innocence, or did so partly. The hanky, now a letter fallen into the hands of the character with a suspicious mind, carried with it the implications that the jealous mind imputed to it. Innocent or playful messages contained in the letter turned into phantoms and became in the plots of the plays, stimuli to interception and revenge. The medium became the mistaken message — but of course without the mistaken interpretation there would be no plot and no drama. Therefore, the mistaken interpretation had to be a plausible one. Any script editor knows that.

And as the world revolves and develops, the plot around the discovered or intercepted letter is yesterday’s instrument. No hankies and scribbled notes, now that we have the Internet with e-mails, Facebook and Twitter in charge. These are the media that have no need of playwrights to cast them into dramatic enactions.

Events, mistaken contrivances, revelations which fall into the hands of the wrong publicists or media are the bread and butter of the day of algorithms, WhatsApp groups and shared or pirated information.

In the case of Sir Kim Darroch, the UK’s recent ambassador to the United States, the plot took to the international stage. Sir Kim, as was his job and duty to do, began to assess the machinery of the US government with which his mission dealt. He found the Trump administration and its governance and factions inept and embarrassing. He reported this judgement back to London in confidential memos. He was of the opinion that the offices of Donald Trump’s government with which he had to deal were dysfunctional.

In the days of Thomas Roe, who represented James I of Britain as ambassador in Emperor Jahangir’s court, he wrote letters back to his monarch, and these went straight by hand to other hands and then safely on board a sailing vessel into the hands of the King.

No such exclusivity governs correspondence, official or personal, today. Sir Kim’s damning and accurate contentions about Mr Trump’s White House and possibly Pentagon fell into the hands of several civil servants and others in the Prime Minister’s Office.

The memos offering an opinion on the malfunctions of the present President were handed to a journalist and published in a right-wing newspaper on Sunday. They got the attention of Trump’s office and of the President himself and the yellow-haired thin-skinned one went on the rampage with a tirade of tweets.

The tweets on Twitter said, “We don’t like this guy”. They went on to characterise the British ambassador as stupid and arrogant. Most instrumental was the tweet in which The Donald said that he, and consequently the American administration, refused to work with Sir Kim.

The ambassador had an appointment to meet the UK’s present trade secretary and the US’ equivalent for dinner and was sent a “dis-invite” in the wake of Mr Trump’s tweets.

The outgoing Prime Minister of the UK, Theresa May, and representatives of the civil service of Britain rallied, as they must, to the support of their ambassadorial colleague. Ms May said the British government did not agree with his views, but they were a hundred per cent behind his right to confidentially express them. That’s what ambassadors have to do.

Sir Kim was officially due to resign that post in December.

Between Mr Trump’s tweet about refusing to work with him and Wednesday, a scheduled TV debate between the two contenders for the prime ministership, to be voted on by Conservative Party members and declared this month, took place.

The outsider Jeremy Hunt challenged the favourite, Boris Johnson, to declare unequivocally that he supported Sir Kim and, if he became Prime Minister, would keep him in post till he resigned in December. Mr Johnson dodged the question. He refused to commit.

On Wednesday, with his position having been made untenable and with no declared support from the possible Prime Minister who will take office this month, Sir Kim handed in his resignation.

He was due at any rate to go in December — an ambassador who is persona non grata in the country to which he is sent is in an impossible situation — and he probably felt personally damaged by the leak.

The hunt for the person who leaked confidential memos to the press has begun. One curious fact is that the journalist who wrote the article leaking the memos is a known associate of the extreme right-wing financier Aaron Banks and the leader of the Brexit Party, Nigel Farage. So was the leak a conspiracy to get Sir Kim to resign and leave Mr Johnson, when he gets to 10 Downing Street, to appoint an ambassador who is or can be thick as thieves with The Donald?

I admit, gentle reader, that this is a conspiracy theory, but then most constructions, deductions and paranoid delusions from leaked, sneaked or snooped constructions tend to be.