How François Mitterrand used to tease Margaret Thatcher, plus a translatorless German’s cock-up
✒Amanda Galsworthy was one of four siblings, each of them raised by their linguist father in a different European language. Thus she has been the interpreter for every French president since François Mitterrand (of whom she said “To this day I don’t know whether he spoke any English at all”). In conversation with broadcaster Jon Snow she described the way Mitterrand used to tease Margaret Thatcher by indicating Galsworthy and having her translate into English: “This young woman is one of yours.” He would then pause, smile provocatively, and add: “But she works for us.”
✒Thatcher eventually got her revenge. At a lunch, at which Galsworthy was a fellow guest, she beckoned the interpreter over. In her loudest possible voice, she said: “A friend of mine has a son who has failed all his exams, so I was thinking of suggesting that he become an interpreter. What do you think?” Galsworthy offered a warning of what can happen if you decline an interpreter. A German at an international conference that had been running late into the night brought it to a close with the words: “Let us all go to bed; and up with the cock.”
✒Rory Stewart, academic, writer, former soldier and diplomat and now, yes, Tory MP for Penrith (as Jon Snow put it, “It beggars belief!”) is the most knowledgeable Conservative politician on Afghanistan. And yet how he will accommodate his forthright beliefs to the Tory orthodoxy is a fascinating puzzle. At Hay he was railing against the platitudes and consultant-speak of foreign policy rhetoric; arguing for a specific, history-rooted, local approach to our dealings overseas; and deploring the instrumentalist and “paranoid and megalomaniac” approach that says “when we remove a human-rights abusing warlord we assume we must do it not for its own sake but because if we don’t we will bring in more terrorists to Britain.” Hard to know how that might fit in with defence secretary Liam Fox’s comments recently that we are not in Afghanistan “for the sake of the education policy in a broken 13th-century country,” but rather, “We are there so the people of Britain are not threatened.”
✒Stewart was one of three Tory MPs in the audience for a talk by economist Robert Skidelsky on that most unTory of figures, John Maynard Keynes. Skidelsky (in the spirit of his subject) was anti-spending cuts and was pro-stimulus; in fact, he said: “The government should have given everyone a time-limited spending voucher for British-made goods; that would have got us out of recession much faster.” The other Tory MPs there were Compassionate Conservatism author Jesse Norman, and the youthful Matt Hancock, Chancellor George Osborne’s chief of staff. But why this surge of Tory interest in Keynes? “Because we are fascinated by ideas and are deeply serious people,” Stewart told me. Yeah, Rory. If you say so.