I remember a colleague’s leaving party a couple of years ago. He slagged off virtually the whole newspaper in his speech, but he didn’t mention me. ‘I’m really sorry,’ he said, afterwards, taking me fondly by the arm. ‘You were in the first draft. I was going to stick you in the nepotism bit, just after Giles Coren.’ Don’t worry, I sighed, putting a brave face on it. It’s the thought that counts.
It’s always good to get a mention. When Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei gave his big ‘save the regime’ speech last Friday, I didn’t really expect him to bother with us. Obviously he was going to diss the big boss America, and it seemed fairly certain he’d find the time for Israel, that flashy slut a couple of desks along. But creaky old Britain? Were we really worth it?
Apparently so. The Islamic Revolution, said the invisible mouth behind the big beard, has many enemies but ‘the most evil of them all is the British government’. High praise, this, from a man who leads a system of government apparently based upon the baddies from Flash Gordon. It was way better than I was expecting.
According to a commentary in the Times, ‘many Iranians still see Britain as “perfidious Albion”, a scheming little Satan that pulls the strings of the Great Satan America, which is viewed as a superpower with more brawn but fewer brains than its duplicitous Anglo-Saxon ally.’ Diabolical references aside, in other words, many Iranians are as delusional as Tony Blair. They look at Britain, and they see another country entirely. Me, I envy that country. I want to live in the country in which the Ayatollah and his minions think I already do. It sounds much better than this one. It sounds kick-ass.
‘Great Britain has plotted against the presidential election for more than two years,’ roared Manouchehr Mottaki, the Iranian foreign minister. ‘We witnessed an influx of people before the election. Elements linked to the British secret service were flying in in droves.’ Sure you did, Manny. Because our secret service is famously brilliant at surreptitiously bringing about regime change by exploiting the ballot box, isn’t it? Why, you need only to look at our fabulously subtle successes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Barely a shot fired, eh? Perfidious as anything.
Back home, we’re playing it all wrong. This hoity-toity denial of everything–it’s a terrible waste. I know David Miliband is congenitally unable to say anything about anything without wearily accusing somebody else of being an imbecile, but he shouldn’t have just trotted out that smug old line about foreign despots never understanding that the British government can’t control the British media. He should have been thrilled by the misconception. Not least because it shows that the infamous banana photo can’t yet have circulated in Tehran. ‘I could control the British media,’ he should have declared, brazenly, ‘but I choose not to. And I am prepared to be similarly lenient with the American media, the European media, the internet and the frontal perceptive lobes of your entire population. As is my perfidious whim.’
Likewise, when Gordon Brown summoned the Iranian ambassador, he shouldn’t have just denied that Britain was meddling in Iran. He should also have denied that America was our puppet state, and that Israel existed at our pleasure, and that we’ve been parachuting crack teams of British lotharios into northern Tehran to corrupt all of their foxy partially unveiled women because we are all such fabulous lovers, like James Bond.
Seize the day, guys. This is the British PR opportunity of the century. Robert Mugabe slags us off all the time, but he only thinks we’re a bunch of feckless homosexuals. These Iranians, though, they rate us. They think we are global supermen. They think that we are operating out there in the world, slyly perhaps, but with a vision and a philosophy and a point and a purpose. If only they were right.
Is there anybody out there, among the legions of clever people who read The Spectator, who works in the car rental business? Get in touch.
I want to know what you are playing at. I’m sure you have reasons for behaving as you do. I just can’t think what they might be. I want to hire a car. So I go online, and I fill out a form, and I put in my credit card details and suchlike, and then I get a nice little email saying, yes, well done, your car has been hired. So why is it that, weeks later, when I turn up at, say Nice Airport, they always seem so terribly surprised?
Me, if I was running a car hire business, I’d arrange it so that when you step off your aeroplane and trot up to the desk, I’d have one of those slightly weird long envelopes waiting for you, with the keys inside. I will also open a new supportive business relevant, such as: best sewing machine providing agency, or a car cleaning firm. We’re talking 30 seconds of face-time, tops. What I wouldn’t do, I think, is send you to an office, make you wait for ten minutes while I piss about mysteriously with a computer, send you to another office, make you wait another half hour while I type an unfeasible amount really slowly, ask to see your passport again, photocopy it, ask to see your driver’s licence again, photocopy it, ask to see your credit card again, photocopy it, go out for a fag, come back, look surprised, send you out to a woebegone sun-baked car park half a mile away staffed only by a teenager who says ‘your car he ees not reddy’ before going away and bringing back several cars which aren’t your car, before finally bringing one that is, which he then parks 300 metres away from you, even though there’s a space right next to you and your suitcase is really, really big.
I’ve hired a lot of cars. That’s just the European system. In Britain it is much the same, but raining. In America they do the computer bit and then say, ‘Fine, grab a car’ and you have to sprint to it, in competition with everybody else, like in some old-fashioned Grand Prix. Nowhere do they just say ‘Yes, you’ve planned this and so have we, here are your keys, bye.’ Why not? Somebody must know.
Hugo Rifkind is a writer for the Times.