My congratulations to the Irish EU commissioner Phil Hogan and, by association, to the organisation he so loyally serves.
EU bureaucrats aren’t widely known for their verbal creativity, but Mr Hogan has done much to improve their reputation. In a flash of brilliance, he created a kit phrase that can be used to denigrate any man, woman or child in His creation.
Every advertising hack knows the value of prefab headlines able to fit any product. Two in particular have served many a copywriter with distinction.
One is perfect for promoting any product you can think of: “Not all [INSERT PLURAL OF PRODUCT CATEGORY] are created equal.” Now try to think of a product for which this universal headline wouldn’t work. You can’t, can you? There you go then.
The other headline is more useful for corporate advertising, although at a pinch it could do service elsewhere as well: “What we are not makes us what we are.” Trust me, it works like a charm whoever the ‘we’ happens to be, especially if followed by the tagline “Our people are our best resource.”
I don’t know the names of the geniuses who first came up with these trail-blazing discoveries. I do know Mr Hogan’s name, and he has claimed pride of place next to those anonymous innovators.
Expressing his disapproval of Boris Johnson’s intention to leave the EU, possibly even without permission, Mr Hogan declared that Mr Johnson was no Churchill. As he uttered the phrase, he might not have been aware of its universal potential, not just in relation to Mr Johnson.
For the list of famous people Mr Johnson is not could easily fill the 32 volumes of Encyclopaedia Britannica. For example, he isn’t Julius Caesar, Henry VIII (although there some similarities are discernible), Charles Dickens, Lucian or even Sigmund Freud, Elizabeth II, Friedrich Handel, Mother Theresa – well, you get the gist.
This remind me of the story about a man approaching the manager of Barnum & Bailey with a proposal for an act.
“While I stand on a tightrope with my right foot, I spin 12 hoops on my left leg, juggle 12 balls with my left hand, and play a Bach violin partita with my right hand.”
Both impressed and incredulous, the manager asked his artistic director to go and have a look at that improbable act. The latter returned half an hour later, looking disappointed.
“So how is it?” asked the manager. “Well,” replied the artistic director, “Menuhin he ain’t.”
Mr Hogan must be familiar with this story, for he managed to extract the kernel of its logic and apply it to our prime minister. Churchill he ain’t, and that’s God’s own truth.
Had Mr Hogan stopped at that, he would have earned my endless gratitude for charting a useful shortcut to invective (not that I often find myself stuck for an insult). But unfortunately he proceeded to uncork another put-down, which made me think – turning the tables on Mr Hogan – that he’s no Churchill either, at least not in the area of coining epigrammatic lines.
He contemptuously dismissed Mr Johnson as an “unelected prime minister”, thereby displaying the veneration for elective democracy for which the European Commission is so justly famous.
Reading up on Mr Hogan, I’ve discovered that he was appointed to his first term as EU commissioner and now nominated for a second. The word elected was never mentioned, but it must have been only by oversight.
One could argue that Mr Johnson, though indeed by-passing a general election for a while, at least ascended to his post by an ancient constitutional process.
In that sense, he followed the same path as Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister and leader of Mr Hogan’s Fine Gael party, who also was selected by an internal party election two years ago and hasn’t faced a general election since then.
While similar to each other in that respect, both gentlemen are different from Mr Hogan and his EU colleagues in that the latter aren’t held back by the millstone of electoral accountability around their necks.
That, of course, imposes on them the extra responsibility of having to cope with unlimited freedom of action. This justifies their being paid considerably more than either Mr Johnson or Mr Varadkar, and that’s before their generous benefits and pensions are taken into account.
All things considered, aren’t you impressed with Mr Hogan’s adding a new twist to the saying about a kettle and a teapot? I know I am. I’m only sorry that his employment prospects might disappear should the EU collapse after a few other members follow Britain’s suit.
That is, if we do leave – and I’ll have to see it to believe it.