Baroness Scotland's determination to remain at the helm threatens to bring the Commonwealth to its knees, embarrass the Queen and even cause a rift in the Royal Family...

PETER OBORNE: I'll put this diplomatically, Baroness Scotland... sling your hook

By Peter Oborne For The Daily Mail
15 June 2019

There was a palpable sense of excitement when Labour Peer, the Baroness Scotland of Asthal, was appointed Secretary General of the Commonwealth in April 2016, the first woman to hold the position.

On paper, she was the dream candidate. Born in Dominica, her parents had emigrated to Britain and settled in east London when she was just two years old.

In 1991, she became the first black woman to be appointed a QC and she rose to become a member of Tony Blair’s government before being made Attorney General by Gordon Brown in 2007.

I did not share that excitement, however. I met Baroness Scotland when she was a minister and she struck me as a typical product of New Labour: intellectually lazy and politically correct.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal (pictured above) was appointed Secretary General of the Commonwealth in April 2016

Baroness Scotland of Asthal pictured meeting Prince Harry at Marlborough House on June 14

I raised my doubts with ministers and with friends who worked with the Commonwealth. They brushed them aside.

But I have been proved right. The Baroness has turned into a disaster. Now her determination to remain at the helm threatens to bring the Commonwealth to its knees, embarrass the Queen and even cause a rift in the Royal Family.

The Commonwealth is of deep personal importance to our Monarch. She may even see it as her greatest legacy. She knows the Heads of every single one of the 53 Commonwealth countries, and very often the names of their family members, too.

She has missed just two Commonwealth Conferences: the first in 1971 when her Prime Minister Ted Health advised her not to go; the second in 2013 in Colombo, Sri Lanka, when it was deemed too far for her to travel.

The Baroness was also received by the Queen at Buckingham Palace in 2016

The Commonwealth matters a great deal to Britain, and will do so even more so after Brexit. It accounts for nearly two billion people and includes some of the fastest growing and most dynamic countries in the world, including India, Canada, Singapore, Australia, Malaysia and South Africa.

And it’s very cheap at the price, costing the British taxpayer approximately 20p per head a year, a tiny fraction of the £50 per person or more absorbed by the EU.

It gives our nation an unspoken and invisible strength in our diplomatic dealings across the world.

Yet, it is fair to say that the Queen has often been very badly let down by her politicians when it comes to the Commonwealth.

The official residency of the Commonwealth secretary-general (pictured above)

Tony Blair neglected it entirely because it failed to fit in with the New Labour world view that revolved around the United States and the European Union.

Margaret Thatcher was almost as bad, and was once drawn into a notorious row with Buckingham Palace over her neglect of it.

But I believe it is David Cameron who must take the blame — along with his Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond — for what is happening now. It is easy to see why Mr Cameron urged the Queen to press for Baroness Scotland’s appointment. She had the credentials but, unfortunately, her tenure has been scarred by a stream of allegations of extravagance and accusations that she has appointed political allies to key posts.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal, poses for a photograph in Marlborough House on March 10, 2016 in London

Within months of her taking office, the Daily Mail published details of her profligate renovation of her grace-and-favour Mayfair apartment.

According to leaked documents, the project cost £338,000. (Later, it emerged that £590,000 from the foreign aid budget had been spent on the Secretariat’s HQ, Marlborough House, in just two years.)

This extravagance was deeply offensive in an organisation in which many of the citizens in member states are on the breadline, earning less than a few pounds day.

The Baroness complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation, but the bulk of her complaints were dismissed.

She has also showed extraordinary misjudgment by forging links with some of the world’s most despotic regimes such as the Maldives and Kazakhstan.

Last week, there were two devastating new developments in this sorry saga.

I believe it is David Cameron who must take the blame — along with his Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond — for what is happening now, says Peter Oborne

The BBC’s respected Diplomatic Correspondent James Landale obtained a leaked internal report showing that there are now ‘deep concerns’ about the governance of the Commonwealth Secretariat under Baroness Scotland.

A separate staff survey claimed there were ‘strong indications of low morale’.

Simultaneously, there has been a revolt against her by member states. Normally, the re-appointment of the Secretary General for a second term is a formality.

However, the Commonwealth High Commissioners in London have drawn up new rules which make it clear that Baroness Scotland’s re-appointment should be regarded as ‘not-automatic’. A translation of this careful diplomatic language would read: ‘Time to sling your hook, Baroness.’

It is something of an open secret in diplomatic circles that the Queen is dismayed by Baroness Scotland’s performance. In 2017, Her Majesty failed to attend the annual Commonwealth Day celebrations, allegedly because of her displeasure with the way Baroness Scotland was doing her job (Buckingham Palace has always denied this and blamed ‘logistics’).

I am told that Baroness Scotland is now making a last-ditch bid to secure her survival and seems to have secured one vital ally in the shape of Prince Charles, the next Head of the Commonwealth.

The two are said to get on well and, in a further signal of approval, the Duchess of Cornwall was present at a Marlborough House garden party on Wednesday.

The Prince’s political judgment has often been dangerously flawed, in my view. This is yet another case in point, and one that could even damage relations between Buckingham Palace and Clarence House.

Let’s spit out the truth here. Baroness Scotland has been a disastrous Secretary General of the Commonwealth. The sooner she goes the better. This is a row we can do without.

If Baroness Scotland had an ounce of patriotism or even decency about her, she would quit now to save Britain, the Commonwealth and above all the Queen, further embarrassment.