♫ You say UNESCO, I say I don’t know… let’s call the whole thing off ♫


FAREWELL to vaguely important Liberal Democrat Jeremy Browne, a former Foreign Office minister who announced today that he was ready to end his parliamentary career by not standing again at May’s general election. Some might say his 4,000 majority in Taunton no longer seems as safe as it once did and it’s a wise move to depart the scene like this. Mr Browne says it is simply a decision rooted in a desire to do other things after ten years as an MP. 

That bit about his work as a former Foreign Office minister is important, for this may be the last chance to tell a famous anecdote that has long done the rounds among Liberal Democrats in the north of Camden. For Mr Browne, back before the 1997 general election, was here, applying to be the Lib Dem parliamentary candidate in what was then the Hampstead and Highgate constituency.

He made it to a final shortlist of three: him, Bridget Fox, the former Islington councillor, and a Mr Forgettable who nobody can remember because he pulled out before the crunch hustings, leaving a run-off between the other two.

Both, I’m told, were impressive on the night but with Mr Browne perhaps holding the slightest of edges over Bridget as the night wore on. In the minds of those who recall the evening, however, he lost his opportunity in a fateful, locally-famous moment when he began talking about his special interest in foreign affairs.

He intimated that he was something of an expert, due to his father’s work as diplomat, an ambassador with spells in Denmark and Iran no less. Mr Browne regaled the audience with an upbringing that had begun in Islington but made stops in Zimbabwe and Belgium.

So, naturally, after all of that, big things were expected when a local member – and these are the kind of questions you get at a Hampstead hustings – asked: ‘What do you think our position on withdrawal from UNESCO should be?’

Mr Browne, impeccable sources report, replied to the surprise of members with whom he had just laboured his foreign affairs credentials: ‘Sorry, but I don’t know what UNESCO is?’

In a flash it was over, dunce-hat sirens might have well rung and an ejector chair button flipped. Needless to say, Bridget went onto stand in Hampstead.

It’s a source of nostalgic amusement, albeit in this part of the world only, that Mr Browne’s path took him elsewhere, into government and that job in the Foreign Office where he no doubt learned chapter and verse about what UNESCO does.


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