Thursday, July 19, 2007

You have to feel sorry for the translators

You have to feel sorry for the translators

By Andrew Pierce
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 07/07/2007

Well, it took only a few days for the first crony to be lined up with a plum job in Europe in the new, spin-free regime of Gordon Brown. But, bearing in mind the crony is John Prescott and he has been moved out of harm's way to a job in Strasbourg, you can hardly blame the Prime Minister for approving a swift transfer.
Prescott is to be the British representative on the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe. In case you are wondering, the Council of Europe is an archaic institution, just like John Prescott, which blathers on about human rights and democracy. Old Prezza, who is already drawing his gold-plated £23,000-a-year Westminster pension, was quick to point out that the role is not salaried.
But naturally, bearing in mind that it is another quango, it is laden with perks. Prescott will now have a £35,000 Renault Vel Satis to go with his Two Jags. Having lost his ministerial limousine, he will now have the services of a chauffeur, Luc, who speaks flawless English, which is more than Prescott does. The car, with its 3.5 litre V6 engine and a top speed of 147mph, is France's most luxurious saloon. Saloon. Now why did I start thinking that rhymes with buffoon? No matter.
You will also be pleased to know that delegates to the council, which receives an annual £20 million subsidy from the British Government, are also entitled to claim back business-class travel to and from Strasbourg, and the little matter of £150 a day to cover accommodation and food.
I gather that one MP on the 36-strong British delegation has already started looking for a suitably manicured croquet lawn in Strasbourg to help Prescott feel even more at home.
But spare a thought for the translators who work at the Council of Europe. With no fewer than 47 member states, they already had their work cut out, and now they will have to contend with Prescott's mangled syntax.
Prescott, who made 15 foreign trips at a cost of more than £80,000 in 2005, and was heavily criticised for a trip to the Caribbean just before he stood down, has no shame. Only the other night, he held a party at Admiralty House, where he has a grace-and-favour apartment that he has yet to vacate, to celebrate 10 years as Deputy Prime Minister. Which bit of his tenure is he most proud of, do you think? The integrated transport policy? The Dome?
Well, at least in his new job he will be able once more to indulge his love of free air miles.
No less an authority than the late and loveable Labour MP Tony Banks had it about right in a little-noticed speech I unearthed: He said: "When I first arrived in our delegation offices in Strasbourg, I was greeted by the then Conservative MP for Streatham, who said: 'What are you doing here? This is a place for people who are finished.' I found that remark acutely depressing; when I looked around, I realised that he was speaking more than a germ of truth."
Banks was entirely spot-on. Which is why Gordon Brown was absolutely right to give Prescott the job.
And what a first week for the new Prime Minister. Foiled terrorist plots. Floods. Interest rates going up. Again. And his first Prime Minister's Questions, during which he complained that he could not answer everything because he had been in the job for only five days.
A bit worrying that, as counting is meant to be Brown's strong point. By PMQs, he had been in Number 10 for seven days. While it was not an impressive debut at the Dispatch Box, I think he has started well and certainly unsettled the Tories.
But I suspect he needs a holiday. Asked yesterday if he fancied one at Cliff Richard's place in Barbados, he replied: "No. We have two young boys and we will be spending it at home in Scotland." Just as well. Cherie has probably already booked it.

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