Our boys teach Libya the art of war waffle

By Quentin Letts


British power in North Africa is not just about selling arms to emerging democracies. We are also doing something really devilish: teaching their elites to speak like management consultants.

The Ministry of Defence discloses, in a parliamentary answer, that it has been teaching English to Libyan military officers.

British training would once have entailed a few weeks at the SAS base near Hereford, showing them how to blow up bridges, liquidate despots with exploding socks, etc. Today, the emphasis is on teaching them jargon.

Benghazi to Wiltshire: The MoD is providing English lessons for Libyan army officers

Benghazi to Wiltshire: The MoD is providing English lessons for Libyan army officers

Fourteen lieutenant-colonels were in April given business-English lessons at the Janzour Naval Academy, Tripoli, and two commanders have been on a management course in Cairo. A similar course was held in Malta.

In March, two Libyan colonels were sent to the Defence Academy in Shrivenham, Wilts, to study ‘managing defence in the wider security context’.

A further three senior officers in the Libyan forces were sent to HMS Collingwood for a course teaching them the euphemisms, abbreviations and Plodspeak favoured by Western bodyguards.

The HQ Land Warfare Centre in Warminster, Wilts, has drummed border management procedures into three colonels and a lieutenant-colonel, while two more Libyan lieutenant-colonels were packed off to Cranfield University for ‘Managing Defence in a Democracy’.

A Libyan first lieutenant has been to York to learn ‘British military English’, and a naval lieutenant underwent the same at Dartmouth.

Is it wise to let the Royal Navy teach our allies English? One shudders to think what salty slang will now be heard along the Maghreb.

Six Libyan NCOs started this week at De Montfort University for a year’s course in ‘Bespoke English’. English as she is bespoke.

The idea, clearly, is to get to know men who may one day lead Libya. But will it work?

My friend Jo Xuereb-Brennan, a retired schoolmaster, did his best to teach English to young Libyan officers in Benghazi in the Sixties. One of them was a certain M. Gaddafi.

After me, everyone: A is for Assassin, B is for Bullet, C is for Corruption . . .


Lord Prescott is still chewing his fist about claims he lived high on the hog on an official trip to Australia. He alleges dirty doings by Whitehall Tories. One moment, please. I learn that Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood (no Tory, he!) has written to Lord Prescott, assuring him that there was no such conspiracy. What a pity Prescott has not made public  Sir Jeremy’s letter.

To the Commons Speaker falls the duty of selecting Parliament’s Christmas cards. Designs chosen this year by uxorious Squeaker Bercow include an oil painting by Edwardian artist Bertha Newcombe. Distinctly unChristmassy, it shows a scene from the 19th-century campaign for Women’s Suffrage.

Journalists have recently been attacked by MPs for taking political acquaintances to dinner.  But what is this? I hear the Commons Treasury Select Committee recently wined and dined with Stephen Hester, top man at the Royal Bank of Scotland. He is one of the people the committee has interrogated on bankers’ excesses. The dinner was apparently most convivial.  No doubt it was in Mr Hester’s interests to make it so. But is such social contact wise for MPs?


Why do Lefties hate Downton?

Bafflement: The Ladies of Downton Abbey

Bafflement: The Ladies of Downton Abbey

One of the admirable things about ITV’s Downton Abbey is the espirit de corps of the cast.

Bien-pensant actor and satirist David Mitchell has just made an internet clip rubbishing  the costume drama, calling it ‘bonkers’ and ‘completely nuts’.

He should not go anywhere near Highclere Castle, Berks, where the series is made.

His comments have caused bafflement among the show’s actors, many of whom thought of Mitchell as ‘one  of us’. Why do people sneer so at Downton? Envy. It’s a Left-wing thing.

Going grey: Fiona Bruce

Going grey: Fiona Bruce

A grey area...

Men are getting it in the neck following the complaint of newcaster Fiona Bruce (right) that at 48 she must dye her hair to get on telly. Is this fair? My wife dyes her hair. I tell her not to bother.

‘My empress,’ I say. ‘You are even more beautiful with grey hair.’

‘Good grief!’ she snorts. ‘You don’t think I dye it for you, do you? I dye it because I don’t want other mothers at the school gate thinking I’ve let myself go.’

Boris Johnson is still pushing the Olympics propaganda with posters on the London Underground. The latest says: ‘Thanks to the Games, the next generation of champions have a great new velodrome to practice in.’ If Boris insists on wasting public money on such posters, he might at least tell his advertising agents the verb is ‘practise’.


Trouble brews

Last week, I mentioned that arts journalist Miriam Gross, in her memoirs, takes a pop at former Observer editor Donald Trelford for admiring chesty girls. I now hear that Comrade Trelford will be reviewing the Gross book for a forthcoming issue of the British Journalism Review.

As the old tune went (everyone do a trembly Fred Astaire voice, please): ‘There may be trouble ahead . . .’


Dead certs for the Funeral Oscars

Bournemouth has just held a ‘Joy of Death’ festival, ‘celebrating the people who work in the funeral industry’. One high point was the ‘Funeral Oscars’: there was ‘Embalmer of the Year’ and ‘Gravedigger of the Year’ (a Kent man  with the apt name of Bernard Underdown).

Guest speakers included a former Fleet Street obituary writer, David Twiston Davies. He told festivalgoers of the time the Daily Telegraph’s then editor, Sir Max Hastings, issued stern instructions that the cause of death be included in editorial obits. That very day, a celebrated jazz trumpeter died. Mr Twiston Davies recalled: ‘The unfortunate fellow, in those pre-Viagra days, had been operated on to restore the strength between his legs, only for the stitches to come apart in an explosion.’

The fatal eruption of this penile implant was duly reported. Twiston Davies: ‘We didn’t hear so much about giving reasons of death after that.’


The comments below have been moderated in advance.

How very interesting for all those Libyan military men to come over and be told the correct English phrases to be used in the line of duty. I think we should all now wait with bated breath for the howling from the Benghazi Naval Base when these newly-trained Naval officers greet their lowly ratings with that great English acknowledgement, " Hello Sailor"!+++And presumably that poor jazz trumpeter must have been straining for the very high top note when that inadequate implant exploded under the strain? He should have stuck to blowing gently for the low notes and he might still be with us enjoying his music And his newly rejuvenated ardour!++And it seems more likely that those X'mas cards from Parliament, referring to the "freeing" of women-kind, was decisively chosen by Mrs Speaker rather than the glove-puppet?+++Can we also expect one showing a romantic horse-drawn Gypsy caravan wandering around Parliament with a familiar-faced gal offering "lucky heather" for sale?

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