The Telegraph
| Sunday, July 24, 2016 |


Eye on England

Eye on England

Eye on England
Amit Roy

Boris Johnson and the Indian connection

  • Free wheeling: Cycles stacked up at Marylebone station in London; 
    (above) Boris Johnson with Kajol in India in 2012

Boris Johnson has been rude about a lot of people, including Barack Obama ("part-Kenyan" with "an ancestral dislike of the British empire"); Hillary Clinton ("she's got dyed blonde hair and pouty lips and a steely blue stare, like a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital"); and Recep Tayyip Erdogan about whom he wrote a limerick suggesting the Turkish President had sex with a goat ("There was a young fellow from Ankara/ Who was a terrific w******r/ Till he sowed his wild oats/ With the help of a goat/ But he didn't even stop to thankera.")

At his first press conference as foreign secretary, when the American correspondents rounded on Boris, he responded meekly: "I'm afraid there is such a rich thesaurus of things I've said that have been, one way or another, through what alchemy I do not know, somehow misconstrued."

Thankfully, he has not targeted any Indian, possibly because his wife, Marina, is half Sikh, and their four children - Lara Lettice, Milo Arthur, Cassia Peaches and Theodore Apollo - quarter Indian.

When Mamata Banerjee was in London last July, she didn't meet Boris, possibly because she thought that as a chief minister she outranked a mere mayor and, in any case, could not give any appointments before 2pm. And Boris, possibly miffed, found no gap in his diary.

Boris, who was a King's Scholar at Eton, is probably the best educated man in the Cabinet. He could knock off his weekly column in The Daily Telegraph in 45 minutes. For this he was paid £2,75,000 a year which he dismissed as "chicken feed".

Now the mandarins at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office have persuaded Boris to give up his column, realising it could be a source of embarrassment. Anyone familiar with the TV comedy, Yes, Minister, will know how civil servants get their way. Boris has also had to postpone the biography of Shakespeare he had been commissioned to write for £5,00,000.

For the time being he will have to make do with a Cabinet minister's annual salary of £1,35,527, including £74,962 for being an MP.

Normally, the foreign secretary has exclusive use of Chevening, a country residence, but Theresa May has decreed Boris will have to share his rural idyll with two Cabinet colleagues - David Davies and Liam Fox, Brexit and international trade secretaries respectively.

One quality Boris clearly has is an ability to charm people - he certainly did so when he bumped into the actress Kajol at Mumbai airport in November 2012.

As mayor for eight years, he turned London into a cycling city - and the "cycle only" lanes have certainly made cycling safer. That's an achievement.

Winners & losers

From Delhi's point of view, it's useful that an Indian, Alok Sharma, will work with Boris Johnson as parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Foreign Office - and keep his earlier responsibility as the Prime Minister's infrastructure envoy to India.

Alok is really the man to whom mangoes should be sent.

Priti Patel is in the Cabinet as secretary of state for international development but it is unclear whether she remains the Prime Minister's "Indian diaspora" champion, a position created for her by David Cameron.

Boris Johnson's younger brother, Jo, 44 - dada is 52 - once the Financial Times's man in India, is also in the government as minister of state in the department of education, and in the department for business, energy and industrial strategy.

Sadly, two Indians have been sacked - Shailesh Vara, who had been parliamentary under-secretary in the ministry of justice and jointly at the department for work and pensions, and Baroness Sandip Verma, the outgoing parliamentary under-secretary for international development.

Toxic touch

  • Ringside view: Pippa (left) and Kate Middleton 

The Duchess of Cambridge's sister, Pippa Middleton, at 32, two years younger than her, has not been engaged to rich city financier James Matthews for five minutes and already women columnists are doing their best to poison the relationship between the siblings.

It is being suggested, for example, that although Kate has married the future king of England she is trapped in a golden cage, while her little sister is having all the fun - and getting much pricier trinkets.

A typical column by Jan Moir in the Daily Mail is headlined: "Sorry Kate, little sis has made a FAR better match! Clever Pippa scores a bullseye with her engagement to wildly wealthy James Matthews - and will live a life that the Duchess can only dream about."

Readers are told: "While Kate had to make do with the outdated and second-hand Ring of Doom - Princess Diana's Ceylon sapphire, given to her by Prince Charles, for ever the glittering symbol of a royal marriage that went spectacularly wrong - Pippa has an amazing chunk of brilliant diamond, chosen just for her by the man she loves."

Also, it is not very nice to say: "Both sisters wear pieces from Cartier's exclusive Ballon Bleu range - but while Kate's is an 'entry level' watch costing £4,850, Pippa's is worth an eye-watering £14,500."

Recent history tells us that Prince Charles and Princess Diana began to compete against each other - with tragic consequences.

Family lawyer

By and large, Bengalis in Britain don't make the news for the wrong reasons.

But Sanjay Roy, a 32-year-old barrister practising "family law" in Northampton, has just been found guilty at Nottingham Crown Court, for violently abusing Bebe Taylor Willcutt, an American woman he met in Houston, Texas, in 2012.

Sanjay, a Jekyll and Hyde character, "made her sleep on the floor, poured iced water on to her head, kicked her, tried to choke her, spat at her and made her undress, lay naked on the bed whilst he beat her with a belt buckle".

When she fell pregnant after a visit to the UK, Sanjay's immediate res- ponse was to threaten her: "If you even consider having this child I'll cut your throat."

The woman forgave him and Sanjay walked free from court after expressing genuine remorse, pleading guilty and being given an 18-month prison sentence suspended for two years.

Amir redeemed

The Financial Times was spot on with its cricket diary item on Mohammad Amir: "No ball villain to last-ball victor. Memories of a surreal day for cricket 6 years ago - and the tale of a comeback."

It read: "The only way he could completely earn total redemption would be to take the winning wicket at the home of cricket, and much to the annoyance of his detractors he did just that, late on the 4th day, rearranging debutant Jake Ball's stumps and sending a gripped crowd into a frenzy... If ever there was a case of pantomime villain reverting back to Prince Charming, this was most definitely it. Amir had come full circle."

Tittle tattle

Sharmila Tagore, eloquent in conversation with Sangeeta Datta at the London Indian Film Festival last week, refused to comment on the Central Board for Film Certification other than "today's set up needs to improve".

She chaired the CBFC for seven years and told people, "'Please don't call it the censor board.'"

"I really failed," she lamented.

When people telephoned, "(even) my office used to say, 'Censor Board.' So that name has stuck."