Published on 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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9 reader comments

  1. Lou says:

    Gordon Brown should be nominated.

  2. Kathy Dent says:

    Thanks, Lindsey Hilsum, for a great piece of journalism, even though you have caused me to feel even more depressed about the kind of cynicism and nepotism that will be the only legacy of Cameron’s government.
    Do you think Cameron’s utter contempt for international and public opinion is a sign that he’s had enough, doesn’t want another term in office and is just making sure his mates are okay before next May?

  3. Nii, Otom Anege Akwei says:

    Shocking the man didn’t even go to SOAS, University of London further questioning his qualifications to deal with such matters. Perhaps the Prime Minster might be minded to creat a new cabinate post for him – say Minister for ‘ International Business In Africa’ before the chinease get all the developing world contracts for not being pompous self serving and frankly too expensive.

    In the alternative the greatly under employed Mr. Lindsey might allow his name to go forward as Jiont Master of the Heythorp Hunt a position he might be qualified to do.

  4. Murray says:

    I work on providing humanitarian aid in the Syria crisis across the countries affected which includes a wide range of needs and highly complex political issues within the affected countries, including in Iraq which is an extremely complex emergency in itself.

    This context requires strong leadership, with someone who can hit the ground running, someone who has experience, who has credibility in the eyes of the international community and in the eyes of governments in the disaster affected countries that they are going to serve.

    If the content of this article is to be believed then this appointment could be a great step back, as it would appear that the candidate would need considerable time to get up to speed.

    We are going through a period of some enourmous humanitarian disasters globally (Syria, Ebola, CAR) and this post is required to get all stakeholders on one page to work together. Putting in a divisive candidate could be very harmful to that.

  5. Alan says:

    Mr Cameron’s advisers appear to be playing a duplicitous game. Mr Cameron isn’t a fool so why has this to slipped in such a messy way, is a new CEO for the conservative party on the cards?

  6. Vesna Domany Hardy says:

    I support LIndsey HIlsum’s point of view because throughout his teniure as Prime minister David Cameroon has demonstrated lack of understanding for many domestic as well as foreign policy problems. Proposing now his chum and friend Andrew Langsley who has shown his incpacity in ministerial position, to such high responsibility function in the UN in the world teeming with humanitarian problems, not only cofirms Cameroon’s insensibility but confirms his irresponsibility. The damage to Britain world wide that his government has been inflicting on all of us will be difficult to amend. Where is he leading us? Out of EU? Out of UN? Into little England of UKIP domain?

  7. Tim Drewitt says:

    Sadly, it all makes sense. Our neo-liberal government would – no doubt – be delighted to get humanitarian aid off their backs and totally into the private sector. Lansley is good at that – or at least in making a mess in trying to.
    You only need to look at the track record of the “privatisation” of the Department for International Development which is persistently putting tax payers money into fund managers’ pockets and PFI styled deals under the guise of “development”.
    It all fits into the privatisation of the world agenda – so why not privatise humanitarian aid.
    Wake up everyone before its too late.

  8. Lesley Abdela says:

    Well said Lindsey Hilsum. There should be a job description with specified desirable competencies for top international posts and then female and male candidates with the most relevant experience and competencies should be considered.

  9. Eddie says:

    Valerie Amos became the secretary of state for international development because Claire Short resigned in protest against the US/UK attack on Iraq. Amos didn’t just go along with that attack, which according to independent demographic experts, took the life of somewhere between half a million and a million people. In the run up to the war, she travelled around Africa, trying to build African support for the biggest mass killing of the twentieth century. It would be very sad if she was replaced by Andrew Lansley – a man who wants to replace his own country’s public health service with an expensive, inefficient and unfair private system. But the fact that Lansley hates the idea of universal health care and has done his best to undermine it does not make him worse than Amos.

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