In March of this year the Turkish government complained about an item on German television which was critical of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. A fortnight later – to prove that Germany was a free country – Jan Boehmermann read out a poem that was rude about Erdogan on his evening comedy show. Not only did the Turkish government complain but the government of Germany acceded to the prosecution of Boehmermann in Germany. Boehmermann himself had to enter police protection.
Happily the fate of poets is different in Britain to that of our kind in Germany and in the wake of the affair I instituted the ‘President Erdogan Offensive Poetry Competition’ to celebrate this fact. Had I not been judge and jury my own inaugural lyric should have won any and all awards intended to insult the Sultan. But I graciously opened out the competition to the general public. From around the world thousands of people entered, lured by a deep belief in freedom of speech and, doubtless, a £1,000 cash prize. What the entrants did not know was that a much larger prize was already at stake and that the winner of my competition was in fact to be rewarded with the post of Foreign Secretary. After mulling over giving the award to a child from the north of England who wrote an admirably disgusting lyric with the help of his mother, in the end I decided to name Boris Johnson the winner and in due course he took on the role of Foreign Secretary as promised. Here is the winning poem, which came via an interview by the Spectator’s Rome correspondent Nick Farrell and the Swiss journalist Urs Gehriger for Die Weltwoche :
There was a young fellow from Ankara
Who was a terrific wankerer
Till he sowed his wild oats
With the help of a goat
But he didn’t even stop to thankera.
Tomorrow sees the fruits of all this labour as the Foreign Secretary is expected to finally meet his – and my – muse. There will doubtless be much rejoicing in Ankara, and many a fine toast will be drunk. But amid all the celebration I hope that our Foreign Secretary will remind his hosts of how little the world thinks of a government that pursues its critics abroad and imprisons them by the hundreds at home. Had Boris been born in Turkey his career path might have gone very differently. For my part, I think that in order to celebrate the meeting I will finally get around to publishing some of the glorious odes which came in as runners-up. Had they got their rhymes that little bit better it could have been them shaking Recep’s hand in Turkey tomorrow.