“Is that a rendition order in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?”
By Alison Rowat in The Herald
Condoleezza Rice is expected to pop the question when she arrives in Britain for her visit to Jack Straw’s constituency. The world’s most powerful woman and most eligible bachelorette might come out with it at the airport. Or she could wait till they are in Blackburn itself. But when the moment is right the US secretary of state will look into the British foreign secretary’s eyes and utter the immortal words: “Is that a rendition order in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?”
Expect a lot more of this as the love-in between Straw and Rice spreads across the weekend papers like an oil slick. When Straw visited her last October in her home town of Birmingham, Alabama, she took him to a football game and to a family dinner. He will escort her to what is billed as “a major industrial site” (Blackburn men know how to show a girl a good time), a school, and then on to Liverpool, home of Rice’s favourite band, Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Or it might have been The Beatles. Anyway, all will be revealed as Rice and Straw skip their way, hand in hand, through fields of swaying anti-war protesters.
So far, her visit to a mosque has been called off due to the threat of protests, and the host of a concert she is due to attend has pulled out. Faced with this level of discontent, any other pair would call the whole thing off and stay in London. Not these two. Not the Warrior Princess and the Straw Man.
Jack and Condi: not so much a match made in heaven as a computing error at Dateline. What they have in common is anyone’s guess. It will likely become clearer when Straw writes his memoirs. We know he will be writing them because he told MPs so this week, shortly after he explained why he was banning civil servants from doing the same.
Perhaps this is what the Rice visit is about ‘ gathering material for his book. A spot of student activism aside, Straw has led an honourable if largely uneventful life.
There was that moment after he switched from specs to contact lenses and shook Mugabe’s hand by mistake, but you can’t build a weighty tome around one incident. Not when you are up against T Blair for the Christmas No 1 spot in Waterstone’s.
Another reason why Straw might have invited Rice here at vast expense to the British taxpayer is that he has decided to run for the Labour leadership. Never underestimate the quiet man of Blackburn. He has been around Westminster for more than 30 years, starting off as an aide to Barbara Castle and rising steadily through the ranks as Labour leaders came and went. Only the wiliest of coyotes survive that long in politics.
As an aspiring Labour leader, Straw has been led to believe that this season’s must-have accessory is an American politician. Gordon Brown has been basking in the southern glow of Clinton, so Jack gets his picture in the paper with the woman who could be America’s first female president.
But we mustn’t mention the P word. Everywhere Rice goes she is asked if her visit is part of a warm-up for a run at the presidency in 2008. Despite her protestations, and hints that if she aspires to anything it is the vice-presidency, her fans refuse to buy the denials. The “Condistas” watch her every move for signs of a candidacy, the latest being that she has taken up golf. Her biggest fan, however, remains Laura Bush. “I’d love to see her run,” the first lady has said. “She’s terrific.”
Straw certainly thinks so. In advance of her visit, he sent an open letter to the people of Liverpool, outlining why they should give her a warm welcome. No achievement went unlauded. Condi was the former head of a world-class university, Condi speaks fluent Russian, Condi plays the piano. The usual stuff of a thousand Condi profiles.
You do have to admire the woman. When it comes to Teflon politicians, she makes Straw look like a burnt-out chip pan. The British public, like the American people, are meant to be so dazzled by her achievements that they forget the other parts of her CV. Like the Iraq war part.
There are two ways to look at Rice’s role in Iraq. Either she tried to play the part of wise counsel to a lot of war-hungry old men but was not up to the job. Or she simply saw it as her duty to tell the president what he wanted to hear. Either way, it’s not good.
Hopefully, Rice’s visit will pass off peacefully and she will enjoy her time here. We are nothing in this country if not polite. Let her go to Blackburn, Lancashire, and find out why there should be 4000 holes there (it’s bothered her since she bought her first Beatles record, apparently). But if we could just keep the Brief Encounter in Blackburn stuff to a minimum it would be much appreciated.
Like the female star of the real Brief Encounter said, there will come a time in the future when we shan’t mind so much about things like Iraq any more. We’re a long way from that point yet, chuck.