David Cameron broke with Downing Street tradition today by meeting Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. But Romney might now be wishing that, like François Hollande, he’d been snubbed by the Prime Minister until the elections were over.
He started his day with forgetting Ed Miliband’s name, calling him ‘Mr Leader’ instead when the two met. That wasn’t too bad: it’s not as if British people, or indeed the media, can remember what the Labour leader is called half the time, anyway.
But once in Downing Street, he decided to get out a spade and dig a rather large hole for himself in the back garden (which he accidentally described as the ‘backside’) by trying to make amends for the remarks Jonathan reported earlier describing British preparations for the Olympics as ‘disconcerting’. This afternoon he said:
‘My experience as an Olympic organiser is there are always some little things that don’t go as planned, but those get ironed out and then when the Games themselves begin and the athletes take over, all the mistakes that the Organising Committee, and I made a few, all of those are overwhelmed by the many things that the athletes carry out that capture the spirit of the Games.’
The PM had already taken a bit of a shot at Romney, who has the authority to label some aspects of London’s Olympics ‘disconcerting’ because of the role he played in salvaging the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games. Speaking at the Olympic park earlier, Cameron said:
‘We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world. Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic games in the middle of nowhere.’
Apparently the Prime Minister was talking about Burma, but perhaps Romney felt he needed to make amends when standing in the backside – sorry, back garden – of Downing Street. Describing the Olympics preparations as a bit ‘disconcerting’ is not unlike turning up at someone’s house for a lovely supper and pointing out they’ve forgotten to dust the coffee table.
Not content with slightly offending both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in his host country, Romney thought it best to let it slip as he left that he’d met with MI6 chief Sir John Sawers. Let’s hope Sawers didn’t tell him anything ‘disconcerting’ during that top secret briefing.
There is a serious side to all this sniggering at a shambolic Romney roadshow, though. One of the purposes of this visit was to big up his credentials on the world stage. He is also visiting Israel and Poland as part of the same tour. Romney does not enjoy a strong reputation when it comes to foreign policy, and his undiplomatic behaviour today has done little to change that.
P.S. Hats off to Simon Mason, who coined the brilliant ‘Romneyshambles’ pun even before the man arrived on British soil.
Give something clever this Christmas – a year’s subscription to The Spectator for just £75. And we’ll give you a free bottle of champagne. Click here.