Friends like these

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By 2017-11-23

By Padraig Colman

In the fifteen years that I have been living in Sri Lanka I have done my modest best to disabuse people in other countries of some of their misconceptions about my adopted home. In my naivety, I thought that it would be obvious to anyone that, as an Irish citizen, I would have no axe to grind and no sentimental attachment to any Sri Lankan political party. I was sadly mistaken. One particularly unpleasant young man hounded me on Facebook, calling me a shill for the Rajapaksas. One critic on Groundviews seemed to be warming to me a little when I dealt with him in a civil manner, but he then drew back saying he was scared of me because I was on the payroll of Gota! A veteran columnist called on the editors of Groundviews and Colombo Telegraph to 'silence' me. More recently, someone commented on my blog on what I had intended as a self-deprecating and humorous article:

"You are part of the problem, not the solution in any way." He continued: "You have only been exploiting your white male privilege in Sri Lanka since 2002, and that's the biggest factor that has enabled you to get around. So, stop the bullshitting." I always ask these critics to give examples of my bias or my privilege, but they always refuse to do so.

Defending Sri Lanka

I have often been embarrassed by other people who defend Sri Lanka. I squirmed a little when some Sri Lankans were overjoyed that A.A. Gill said good things about the country. One commented in The Island: "He is considered by most Europeans as one of the shiniest stars among all critics in all fields." Not many people in England would agree with that. I do not like to speak ill of the recently deceased, but I have to say that Gill was a gadfly, not a serious political thinker, and he would not have changed anyone's mind about Channel 4's allegations.

Liam Fox is back in the UK Cabinet and is currently making a mess of Brexit. Back in 2010, he was busy making a mess of his career, but at the same time endearing himself to Sri Lankans. In the 2009 expenses scandal, he was the Shadow Cabinet Minister found to have the largest over-claim on expenses, and as a result was forced to repay the most money. In 2010, he was appointed Defence Secretary. He resigned on 14 October 2011 over allegations that he had given a "close friend," lobbyist Adam Werritty, inappropriate access to the Ministry of Defence and allowed him to join official trips overseas. Many of those trips were to Sri Lanka.

Another MP who has spoken up for Sri Lanka is Ian Paisley Jr. For the 2011-2012 financial year, Paisley's total expenses claim was the seventh highest of all Members of Parliament. His expenses for the 2012-2013 financial year were £232,000; the highest of any MP that year. The costs covered travel and accommodation for Paisley himself and his constituency staff. He had the second highest expenses claim in the 2013-2014 financial year. For the 2014-2015 financial year, he was again the second highest claimant, receiving £227,000 in expenses. During the 2010-2015 Parliament, Paisley claimed a total of £1,112,667 in expenses.

Paisley has denied allegations that he took £100,000 worth of hospitality from the Sri Lankan Government and has described as 'defamatory' a Daily Telegraph report, that he had recently met Sri Lankan officials to discuss possible post-Brexit trade deals.

Lord Naseby

Lord Naseby is currently getting good deal of publicity in Sri Lanka for his positive contributions on Sri Lanka, but I do not think anyone in the UK is very interested. He is not as tainted as some of Sri Lanka's other foreign friends. However, he is hardly a household name in the UK or internationally. His name used to be Michael Wolfgang Laurence Morris, and he was a Conservative MP, whose career was not particularly distinguished. He was first elected to the House of Commons at the February 1974 General Election for the then-marginal seat of Northampton South. Boundary changes turned it into a safe conservative seat, but Morris managed to lose it to Labour, in the Blair landslide of 1997. In 1997, he accepted a life peerage as Baron Naseby, of Sandy in the county of Bedfordshire. In appearance and manner, he reminds me of Harry Enfield's character, Tim Nice-But-Dim.

Sri Lankan Governments have been spectacularly bad at getting their case across, tainting themselves by using the now-bankrupt and disgraced firm of Bell Pottinger for their PR rather than career diplomats. I welcome Lord Naseby's intervention, but I doubt if the government will make the best use of it.

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