KING Charles earned himself brownie points this past week when he used a necktie to troll his inept prime minister.
Just days after Rishi Sunak snubbed the Greek prime minister in a made-up row over the Parthenon marbles, the king turned up at the Cop28 conference in Dubai wearing a tie emblazoned with the Greek flag.
Fair enough. His da was a Greek prince, but he is supposed to be king of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Ties provide opportunities for tiny acts of defiance. In a former life I turned up at committee meetings wearing a tie emblazoned with snails – the pace at which my colleagues moved. If I was really frustrated I would dig out my dinosaur tie. It was a very minor act of rebellion.
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Charles’s people claimed the tie was just one of a number in his current wardrobe. That may be the case. But there’s no chance his valet just grabbed the first thing that came to hand.
Sunak seems determined to use every opportunity to prove that he is unfit for office. Perhaps we should be grateful he doesn’t give a damn for Northern Ireland – God knows what a mess he’d make if he did.
The marbles, removed from the Parthenon by the infamous Scottish kleptomaniac Thomas Bruce – better known as the seventh Earl of Elgin – are now on show in a purpose-built gallery in the British Museum, and they are magnificent. Even so, they would look even better back where they belong.
The British Museum, one of the world’s great ‘lost property’ offices, has used a number of excuses for refusing to return the marbles to their rightful home. Firstly it is claimed the carvings were lawfully removed as Elgin had received permission from the Turks who were then occupying Athens. Suffice to say, it’s not a strong claim.
It’s like getting permission from a shopkeeper to steal goods from a rival’s store.
The British then claimed that the Greeks could not be trusted to look after the looted marbles properly. It’s a classic colonial view which has been deployed to defend the retention of many contested objects from antiquity – among them the Benin Bronzes, created by craftsmen in Africa in the sixteenth century, and looted by the British in the nineteenth in an orgy of violence which left many dead.
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Some of Britain’s spoils of war are so toxic they cannot be seen. The Kohinoor diamond, all 105 carats of it, stolen for Queen Victoria from a 10-year-old maharajah in Punjab, was conspicuously missing from the coronation lest it inflame relations with India. Yet many of the jewels on show were ‘gifted’ by former colonies, including the fabled Cullinan diamond, one of the spoils of the Boer war.
Sunak, who seems to have taken on the the weaknesses of each of his predecessors – Cameron’s lack of judgment, May’s inertia, Johnson’s mendacity, and Truss’s incompetence – decided to snub the Greek prime minister to demonstrate his willingness to ‘stand up for British interests’.
In reality, he hacked off a much needed ally and further diminished Britain’s standing in the eyes of the diplomatic community. And he did it over a cause which resonates only with the hard right, people who are disappointed that rape and pillage is no longer a central part of British foreign policy.
Most reasonable people in Britain believe the marbles should be returned to Greece. The polls are clear.
The polls are also clear that Sunak has run out of road. His party is in free fall, every step he takes in foreign policy – witness his shambolic appearance at Cop28 – tells the world that Britain is no longer a player. Domestically, he is well on the way to destroying the NHS, the rivers are overflowing with sewage, and levels of poverty are rising. An election is coming, but it cannot come too soon.
Charles meets Sunak for a weekly audience. If he wants to borrow my dinosaur tie, he’s welcome to it. As for Sunak, extinction is too good for him.