Thursday, 19 November 2009

The soft power of Cathy Ashton

The soft power of Cathy Ashton

She may have been a surprise candidate and she may be new to the field of foreign policy, but the election of Baroness Catherine Ashton as first EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs is an excellent choice. It is not only a good sign for the EU that one of the two new top jobs went to woman. Cathy, as she prefers to be called, brings along a certain kind of soft power: She is known to be extremely bright and an excellent negotiator and is, as anyone who has ever met her will confirm, utterly charming. These are qualities she will need badly to get the job done.

The continental European in me is obviously disappointed that the top jobs were not given to stronger, more charismatic personalities. But the hay may around the Lisbon Treaty showed that not all 27 member states want a more integrated Europe. These sentiments have to be respected; I believe last nights appointment were made in that spirit.

The post of Foreign High Representative combines several new jobs. Apart from sharing the monthly meeting of the EU Foreign Secretaries and leading 8.000 diplomats of the new European diplomatic service, she will also act as Vice-Chief of the European Commission. She will have to handle big egos and differing agendas. She will have to listen to 27 sometimes conflicting voices and create a consistent one; she will have to represent a European Common Foreign Policy on the international stage which has failed to be united on many occasions in the past.

But Cathy Ashton has proven that she has the talent to bring conflicting parties together and building consens. She was responsible for taking the Lisbon treaty through the House of Lords. She has a strong track record in campaigning for social rights and equality, which gives reason to hope that human rights will continue to play a strong role in Europe's Foreign Policy.

No, she is not as experienced and glamorous as Hillary Clinton, neither does she have the standing of an Angela Merkel. But giving the foreign top job to a British woman with a strong talent for bringing together parties at odds is a clever way of making sure that Britain remains at the heart of Europe without antagonising its European Partners. It is a good result for women, it is a good result for Europe, and it is most certainly a good result for Britain.

Monday, 9 November 2009

The Sun triumphs again with distasteful journalism

I watch in horror today as the bereaved mother of a dead solider is presented to the media to criticize Gordon Brown's handwriting and question his intention and sincerity. The Sun newspaper banner framing the shot conjures up images of Sun newspaper journalists snickering together, at that very moment, gleefully enjoying the spectacle they have created...

What a despicable thing for a newspaper to do to a woman who has lost their son, a time when a person is desperately trying to come to terms with their suffering and loss, with the blackness of bereavement sinking in, the reality that they will never see their son again and trying to do so with some dignity. The Sun has exploited this woman in her darkest hour citing a clearly well intentioned letter, attempting to humiliate the PM. These are crude, bully boy tactics in a situation requiring great delicacy. Do the Sun think the general public are stupid? They saw that the Sun shifted it's allegiance to the Tories at a moment carefully timed to undermine Gordon Brown after his conference speech, you can be sure that they see this act for what it is, a very cruel abuse of a grieving mother for political ends. The BBC news reports that their emails and texts are mainly in support of Gordon Brown in terms of his good intentions.

But I'm not surprised at their cruelty. In very emotive subjects they like to fuel the fire rather than report a balanced picture - I remember over ten years ago at a time when there was a debate over Japan granting an apology for events in the war decades before, they published a picture of a Japanese person distorted beyond recognition to play to people's stereotypes and fears, and stir the basest and most unhelpful emotions up to the surface. Their level of acceptability has simply not moved on from these tactics.

There is nothing worse than feeling that you have hurt and wronged a grieving person, it is a time when each bereaved person deserves respect and space, and heartfelt sympathy and support. I don't doubt that this mother was offended by a lack of sentiment in the letter or by other means which she has reason to complain about, and this should be heard. However the Sun newspaper lending their ear and making a public spectacle of it is exploiting her for their own ends at this time and unlike GB's gaffe however hurtful, is fully intentioned and politically targeted.

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