26 Nov 2014

UN role for Cameron’s mate Lansley would be ‘appalling’

The world is in crisis. Syria, Iraq, Ebola, South Sudan and Central African Republic – five major emergencies are pre-occupying UN aid agencies and non-governmental organisations. With so much need, and so few resources, the food ration for displaced Syrians is being cut.

So who would you recommend to head the UN agency handling this desperate situation?

Step forward the man the Prime Minister sacked as Health Secretary and Leader of the House: Andrew Lansley.

Surprised? So are many senior officials at the UN.

“The principle of the most important job in the humanitarian world going to someone because he’s a mate of the Prime Minister is appalling,” said a UN official who wanted to remain anonymous.

The current UN Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs is Baroness Valerie Amos, another political appointee, albeit one with previous experience as Africa Minister and Secretary of State for Development in the British government.

U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos gestures as she speaks during a news conference on Ebola at the United Nations in GenevaAfter four years, during which time she’s had to negotiate with President Bashar al Assad to allow humanitarian supplies across frontlines and manage aid in the dangerous civil war in the Central African Republic, she plans to step down next March.

By tradition, senior UN positions are distributed amongst powerful countries and at the moment Britain gets the top humanitarian job.

You might argue – and many do – that such jobs should be appointed on merit not nationality, but Britain does have many people with vast international and humanitarian experience.

So why Mr Lansley, who has no background in anything other than domestic politics, and appears to have no interest in humanitarian emergencies? (He lists his interests as “spending time with family, history, films, travel, member of the Church of England.”)

“I think this is frankly a case of political dumping,” said Mark Malloch Brown, former UN Deputy Secretary General. “This is one of the most difficult, important jobs in the world. There are millions of people in desperate situations from Ebola victims to victims of war in Syriawho are highly dependent on the humanitarian activities of the UN.

“It’s an act of great cynicism to allow someone who does not have background and qualification in this area to be put forward.”

Mr Lansley was the Prime Minister’s first boss at Conservative Central Office when they started their political careers. They go back a long way, so it must have pained Mr Cameron to sack his old friend in July.

His health service reforms had been deemed less than successful, and he lost his next job as Leader of the House in July when the Prime Minister tried to freshen up his cabinet with new faces. An exchange of letters suggests they may have hatched a plan for Mr Lansley’s future back then.

“I am grateful to you now for expressing your support to me to take such a role in international public service in the months ahead,” wrote Mr. Lansley.

“You have much more to give in terms of public service, and I look forward to being able to support you in doing so in the months and years ahead,” replied the Prime Minister.

Such political patronage is a worry for the Chief Executive of Oxfam, Mark Goldring.

“I think a party politician who doesn’t have a track record of international and of humanitarian work starts in a difficult position, because first and foremost they will be seen as a party politician rather than a humanitarian leader,” he said. “It’s not the signal that we as the UK would want to be giving the wider world for how do we work together on solving really challenging international crises.”

Today the Labour MP Grahame Morris asked the Prime Minister in a letter: “Are you not concerned that the appointment of Mr Lansley would send the message that Britain sees the UN as a convenient dumping ground for failed Tory politicians?”

In a statement to Channel 4 News, Mr Lansley’s office said: “There will be a UN recruitment process and he would not wish to pre-empt that or take it for granted. The appointment is a matter for the Secretary-General.”

The Prime Minister’s office refused to comment.

The Prime Minister has reportedly refused to come up with two alternative candidates, as requested by the UN Secretary General.

Ban Ki-Moon may yet bow to pressure from Britain and appoint Mr Lansley. Or – if he listens to his senior officials and NGO leaders – he may politely refuse and look for a suitable candiate of another nationality, thus reducing Britain’s international influence and reputation even further.

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