Brian Monteith: Clowns and jokers but is anyone really laughing?

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What a week for disastrous, if not rank amateurish, leadership by Western politicians abroad and at home.

As I sat watching and listening that great Stealers Wheel song kept coming back into my head, unprompted by any jingle. You probably know it, the one with the line: “Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you.”

Just how many jesters can politics produce? Infinite numbers it would seem.

To start with, the foreign policy meltdown of Barack Obama continued, aided and abetted by his gaffe-prone Secretary of State, John Kerry.

A week ago Kerry was performing against type at a Senate committee hearing by making a strong and logical case for a strong attack on the armed forces of President Assad of Syria – just the latest of a long, long list of heartless, soulless Arab 
dictators.

Kerry said Assad’s army had used chemical weapons against his own people, of that there could be no doubt, and to ensure that no other dictators around the world thought they could do the same an example had to be made.

By the time he got to London this week Kerry was playing it all down, and made not one but two gaffes. Firstly, saying that the strikes would be “unbelievably small” and secondly joking that the best way for Assad to avoid a strike was to hand over his chemical weapons – not realising or expecting that the Russians might agree.

But they did, almost immediately, telling their puppet Assad to go along with the ploy that leaves Obama’s administration floundering, having to agree to delay any attacks and entirely dissipating the corrective message they were aiming for. Thank goodness our House of Commons decided to keep us out of it.

To gauge just how lost in the world Obama now is, one only has to watch the President’s interview in Sweden last Wednesday where he said he never set Syria a red line of no chemical weapons use and then go back to his interview in August – both available online – where he laid out his red line in the terms he now denies not once but twice.

As I said on this page previously, this civil war and other catastrophes in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia has been fuelled by the indifference of Obama’s administration, failing to identify who are the good guys and allowing 
al-Qaeda to step into the vacuum. The reason for this is Obama’s complete ignorance of, or interest in, foreign affairs.

The fault for this not only lies with Obama and Kerry but with the previous Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who was in charge of US foreign policy for the past four years. And she still wants to be president!

Meanwhile, back in Scotland, Finance Secretary John Swinney delivered his budget for the next two years of the Scottish Parliament – and it is already unravelling fast.

He flagged it up as a budget for independence – on a day when the numbers of Scottish unemployed rose by 10,000 – not a budget for jobs, families, opportunity, social justice or anything else the public might want to see. No, Swinney called it a budget for his own government’s 
fixation.

That a poll earlier in the week had shown him and Alex Salmond to be completely out of touch with the Scottish public’s priorities just added to the surrealist atmosphere at the foot of the Royal Mile.

Soon after the budget for independence was revealed to be playing with figures. What Swinney said was an increase of £4 million for our colleges actually followed a cut of £35m he had already made.

You might think Swinney would want to encourage job creation – he often says he does. Strange then that business rates will soar by £448m – at a time when we want employers to be investing in their workforce.

After a little more digging, the budget was also found to be missing a total of £501m on infrastructure spending on basics such as schools, hospitals and roads – without any mention that this had happened.

Meanwhile, Swinney maintains the accusation that London should spend more on schools, hospitals and roads to – wait for it – help grow the economy and create jobs when he has the power to do it himself but has cut the budget he previously drew up and presented to parliament.

Clearly not wanting to be outdone by these second-rate vaudeville acts, Vince Cable and Ed Miliband have tried their best to entertain us with their own end-of-pier performances.

Cable has yet again thrown his toys out of his pram – can he have any left? – by attacking his own government not once but twice, firstly on the help-to-buy scheme and secondly about charging visitors from “high risk” countries a bond so they don’t disappear. How David Cameron puts up with him I don’t know.

Meanwhile, Miliband promised a barnstorming performance at the TUC conference only to soft soap the brothers and slap their back. His leadership will end not with a bang but a 
whimper.

Jokers to the left indeed.