Baroness Ashton has managed a return to diplomatic form by comparing the murder yesterday of three children and a Rabbi
at a Jewish school in Toulouse with ‘what is happening in Gaza.’ Plenty of people have already deplored her comments. But they present an opportunity to address one of the underlying
and too infrequently asked questions of our time: if you do not think Ashton is a very good politician, what can you do about it?
Ordinarily if a politician says or does something you do not like we, the electorate, are at some point given the opportunity to vote them out. There used to be considerable pride in this
arrangement. But Catherine Ashton is part of a new class of people who pretend to be politicians while never having to face the electorate on whose behalf they claim to speak. Though Ashton is the
European Union’s High Representative on Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (EU Foreign Minister) she has herself never been elected to this — or any — role. She was appointed to
it in a closed room in Brussels by a group of people who are also, like her, not accountable to any electorate. Just as we did not vote her in, so we cannot vote her out. If anybody can explain why
this is a good arrangement I honestly would like to hear it.
It may be that there exists someone, somewhere, who thinks that Catherine Ashton is a Foreign Minister of whom we can be proud. But even that person should wonder what they would think if sometime
in the future we were unfortunate enough to have forced upon us a Foreign Minister who lacked Ashton’s political and diplomatic skills.
In other words, the problem is not simply the occupant — the problem is the role. Even if every citizen of every EU country disliked Catherine Ashton intensely, and found her unimaginably
embarrassing and inept, she would remain our ‘representative’ on Foreign Affairs. This seems to me a democratic problem which is worth addressing.
(Incidentally, for me the problem was crystallised when I bumped into Ashton while holidaying in Ramallah last summer. As I returned to the forecourt of my hotel I saw a cavalcade of ten to fifteen
identical armour-plated vehicles. It looked like President Obama was visiting, possibly with the Queen and Pope in tow. The whole area was brought to a standstill when down the steps, flanked by
scores of security personnel and advisors stepped Catherine Ashton and her entourage. I stepped out of the way and watched first with curiosity then with sadness as they climbed into their convoy
and roared past. Three questions lodged, and stayed, in my head: who on earth is she going to see? What on earth is she going to tell them? And on whose behalf will they believe her to be