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Turns out, Dominic Raab was not, in fact, paddle-boarding as Kabul fell – because “the sea was closed”. Well that’s OK then and no doubt a massive comfort to the thousands of people still stranded there in the face of terror and uncertainty. “At least,” perhaps they’ll tell themselves, “we now know that the British foreign secretary was merely relaxing with a cocktail or admiring the view rather than actively engaging in some jolly watersports as the Taliban rolled into town.”
Of course, it may also come as a bit of a shock that the sea as an entity is capable of shutting down entirely... and yet more of a shock that Priti Patel has not yet weaponised this information to stop those pesky RNLI types and their predilection for indiscriminately saving lives.
Look, I don’t mean to be disingenuous. We all know what Raab really meant – presumably conditions were too rough for safe sea access. The thing is though, who really cares? It doesn’t change the thing that people are upset about – that he continued his holiday and apparently failed to take key actions, even in a situation that was a) completely within his remit and b) direly serious and a case of life and death. All that these kinds of bizarre, often barely believable and almost always irrelevant, statements do is distract the eye from the moral bankruptcy they conceal with their complete ridiculousness.
And sadly, Raab is far from alone in adopting this approach to justify the unjustifiable.
Just look at Dominic Cummings for instance. He would have us believe that the only responsible way to get your eyesight checked out is to load your wife and child into the car and drive to a local beauty spot at a time when your own restrictions expressly forbade such actions. Or Prince Andrew, who wants us all to know that he can’t possibly be the kind of monster who would use his rich and powerful friends to prey on young and vulnerable girls because he can’t sweat.
We’re at a point now where there is no real discernible difference between this kind of nonsense and the Little Britain sketch where a politician desperately tries to deny his various extra-marital adventures by suggesting he merely “fell” into his partner while trying to reach for a murray mint. It’s a “dog ate my homework” level of excuse making, about as sophisticated as a three-year-old insisting they didn’t touch the cake, despite the chocolate icing all over them.
But where children at least might think they can genuinely be believed through their cake eating denials, what makes the adult versions far worse is that they know what they’re saying is ridiculous and they know we know it too. It’s all an ugly pantomime, particularly stark and inappropriate in the light of the unending tragedy of Afghanistan.
That’s why we should resist the urge to shake our heads and pass these excuses off as mere quirks of the political classes. Not when supposedly serious politicians are willing to make them and stand by them in serious news conferences and interviews. Not when it is possible to be removed from the House of Commons for labelling another MP a liar, though not for lying itself.
And perhaps the worst thing of all is that there seems to be a contempt at the heart of these statements; contempt for the public whose outrage is expected to make little difference and, in Raab’s case, contempt for the people he could have helped but didn’t.
“The sea was closed,” seems pretty grotesquely inadequate under such circumstances.