Tony Abbott’s new role as senior trade advisor to the UK government has sparked controversy.
Russell T Davies, the Dr Who screenwriter, and Sir Ian McKellan won’t be pleased at the confirmation that Tony Abbott, the former Australian PM, is to be a trade envoy for the British Government. They, and two dozen other people who have signed an open letter against the appointment, take a dim view of Mr Abbott, who is a practising Catholic, because he is anti-abortion and describes abortion as “the easy way out”; he has campaigned against gay marriage and takes a sceptical approach to climate change. Oh, and he has expressed views about women in positions of leadership that make feminists suck their teeth.
Boris Johnson, defending the appointment, doesn’t suggest that he actually goes along with Mr Abbott’s opinions. “I don’t, obviously, don’t agree with those sentiments at all, but then I don’t agree with everyone who serves the government in an unpaid capacity on hundreds of boards across the country,” said the prime minister during Friday’s visit to Solihull. “And I can’t be expected to do so. What I would say about Tony Abbott is this is a guy who was elected by the people of the great liberal democratic nation of Australia. It’s an amazing country, it’s a freedom-loving country, it’s a liberal country. There you go, I think that speaks for itself.”
Actually, I think it would have been a very dangerous precedent if the PM had bowed to pressure from the disaffected liberals on this appointment. It would have suggested that conformity to certain received ideas entirely unrelated to trade is a requirement for public service. Which would, at a stroke rule out many Catholics, including those who are as worked up as anyone about climate change, and many women, from undertaking a public role. Good Lord, I would be disqualified as a future trade envoy on that basis.
Boris Johnson has got himself a useful trade envoy with a great deal of experience of negotiating trade deals. And he has also made clear by this appointment that a Catholic view on abortion and gay marriage is not in itself an impediment to working for the government. That’s something.
Melanie McDonagh contributes to The Spectator, London Evening Standard, The Telegraph, the Guardian and others.
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