The Barren Baroness

Bruce Bawer is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center and the author of “While Europe Slept” and “Surrender.” His book "The Victims' Revolution: The Rise of Identity Studies and the Closing of the Liberal Mind" is just out from Broadside / Harper Collins.


lgFor four years, she’s been a walking – or, rather, ubiquitously chauffeur-driven – joke, the very personification of pretty much everything that’s wrong with the European Union. Bearing an absurdly pretentious title – High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (she’s also Vice-President of the European Commission) – she presides over a grotesquely bloated international bureaucracy that’s based in 139 fancy installations (officially denominated “embassies”) around the world and that costs European taxpayers a total of nearly $700 million a year. At least fifty of her several thousand underlings draw larger salaries than the British Prime Minister, while the lady herself, Catherine Ashton – more casually known as Cathy Ashton, and more formally as Baroness Ashton of Upholland – boasts a bigger salary than any other female politician on earth, with the sole exception (since 2011) of Christine Lagarde, head of IMF, who pulls in just a few thousand more clams per annum than Ashton does. It’s good to be the queen.

Of what, precisely, you may ask, is Ashton queen? She runs something called the European External Action Service (or EEAS), which was created by the 2007 Lisbon Treaty (originally known, you’ll recall, as the EU Constitution), and which is the EU’s fledgling effort at having its own counterpart to the British Foreign Service or U.S. State Department. In other words, bluntly speaking, it’s a power grab – an attempt by the EU to grasp the reins of foreign policy from its member states. Its activities along these lines led British Foreign Secretary William Hague to warn his embassies to be on guard for EU “mission creep.”

Fortunately, Ashton, in addition to being a world-class squanderer of taxpayer money, has also proven to be supremely incompetent at her job. She’s been called “lackluster,” “uninspiring,” “amateurish,” “Baroness Nobody,” and “a virtual laughingstock,” and has been described as an “unelected and supremely under-qualified Eurocrat” who “lacks the experience, skills and vision the role demands,” who “has little impact on the ground,” who “has little to show for her time in the job, despite clocking up an impressive number of air miles,” and who “is more suited to run a parish council than a major European institution.”

A recent article about her in the British conservative monthly Standpoint bore the headline: “The diplomat the whole world ignores.” Her subordinates, one official told the article’s author, Ian Birrell, are supposed “to be dealing with pressing international problems,” but instead they “sit around desperately trying to think up ways of making an impact.” Not too surprisingly, virtually the only high-profile journalist who’s praised Ashton lavishly in print, as far as I can discover, is perennial Newsweek hack and sometime McLaughlin Group fixture Eleanor Clift, that past master of unblushing left-wing spin.

How did such a non-entity as Cathy Ashton – who speaks no foreign languages, who has never run for an elective office, who has nothing more to show for herself educationally than a bachelor’s degree in sociology from a college you never heard of, and who at the time of her appointment possessed exactly zero foreign-policy experience – land such a cushy job? Easy: by being a reliable lockstep soldier of the British left. Born into a working-class family in Lancashire, Ashton spent several years in the late 1970s serving as treasurer for the thoroughly detestable Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), after which, in turn, she found work at various local levels as an affirmative-action bureaucrat, a health-care bureaucrat, and a family-policy bureaucrat.

Somewhere around this time she met and became pals with Tony and Cherie Blair. “Ordinarily,” observed Joel J. Sprayregen of the American Thinker last year, “a politician in this orbit would stand for election to the House of Commons. I can only surmise that Labor elders found Ashton so personally unlikable (forgive me) and inclined to inserting her foot in her mouth that she could not be elected even to a safe seat.” So Tony, in 1999, made her a baroness, after which she was handed high-level jobs in the education and trade bureaucracies before being selected for her current sinecure – for which her very nullity, apparently, was viewed as a plus, given the hostility of the EU’s weightier members toward the superstate’s foreign-policy ambitions.

Shortly after Ashton was named to her current post, Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party stood up in the European Parliament to request an investigation of her career at the CND. Back when Ashton was active in the organization, after all, it was funded largely by Moscow, and was widely regarded as nothing less than a Soviet front. Indeed, Duncan Rees, with whom Ashton lived for three years during her CND stint, was, at the time of their relationship, simultaneously the CND’s secretary general and a high-ranking British Communist Party operative.

Farage wasn’t alone in his concern about Ashton’s checkered past. The Economist, no less, weighed in at length, noting that the CND, back in the day, had proffered “the false dichotomy of ‘better Red than dead’” and had “never recognized the USSR as an expansionist power” – thus making itself an effective tool in the Kremlin’s effort to “undermin[e] the unity of NATO, weake[n] the West’s defence posture and stok[e] anti-Americanism.” Arguing forcefully that Ashton’s “peacenik past” merited “scrutiny,” the Economist invited readers to “[i]magine a 1980s Europe where CND had triumphed, with left-wing governments in Britain and Germany scrapping NATO, surrendering to Kremlin pressure and propping up the evil empire. Her opponents complain that Lady Ashton is ineffective. As a CND organiser, that may have been a blessing.”

All completely true, of course. Yet the person who got in trouble with the EU on account of Ashton’s disgraceful past was not the Baroness herself but Farage, who, after bringing it up, was called in on the carpet by the president of the European Parliament and ordered to “restrain his language and refrain from making improper comments in the chamber” or face disciplinary action.

For all her incompetence, Ashton has managed to do some real mischief during her tenure. For one thing, she’s taken advantage of every opportunity to eulogize Islam while kicking Israel in the teeth. (As Caroline Glick wrote here last year, Ashton “is so ill-disposed against Israel that she seems unable to focus for long on anything other than bashing it.”) In her maiden speech to the European Parliament, Ashton condemned Israel’s separation barrier but neglected to acknowledge the reality of Palestinian terrorism. The first of her innumerable job-related trips was to Cairo, where in a speech to the Arab League she fatuously declared that “Europe and the Arab world share a common history and a common destiny.”

She’s stuck to that inane template ever since. When the Palestinian Authority postponed local elections in 2011, Ashton – who had spent much of the previous two years castigating Israel – said nothing. Last September, she responded to the film The Innocence of Muslims by joining leaders of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Arab League, and the African Union in issuing a statement that – as one critic put it – “simultaneously succeeds in recognising freedom of speech, while at the same time distancing itself from it.” To top it all off, when Jewish children were massacred in Toulouse last year, Ashton found a way to yoke these savage murders to the deaths of Palestinian children in Israeli attacks on Gaza. Israel demanded her resignation.

Well, she’ll be out of the job soon enough: her term is scheduled to end a year from now, and she’s made it clear that she has no intention of trying to stay on – the workload, she’s said with a straight face, is just too much. But don’t worry: the big checks won’t stop. Under a typically harebrained EU policy, during the three years after she leaves office she’ll be receiving a generous percentage of her current salary in exchange for doing absolutely nothing. Of course, since she’s been doing almost nothing ever since her ascendancy into the EU stratosphere, this will actually be something of a savings. The thing to worry about is the person – whoever it may end up being – who takes over from her as High Representative for Foreign Affairs. After having such a cipher in the position for five years, the EU honchos may actually decide to pass it on to somebody who’s actually capable of, and interested in, doing something. And that’s when the real trouble will start.

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  • Hass

    The EU, just another useless entity for your average European, however it’s pathetically used as the Muslimes mouthpiece.

    • JackyTreehorn

      I heartily agree, as long as you are not counting the British as European.
      Before she was given a job on the euro gravy train no one here apart from her friends on the left had heard of her.

    • I can’t tell m name

      The AIPACs control the US congress, but not the European Union. The EU is not the mouthpiece of the Muslim world. You want Israel to control everybody?

  • herb benty

    A garden-variety God, Jew, Israel and Christian Hater. She is presently having her reward.

    • A Z

      She is a person that is like a weather vane. She perceived that the USSR was wining so she carried water fro them at the CND. She perceives Islam is winning so moth shibboleths for them.

      Face it, you cannot get a good job with a bachelors degree in sociology. You need a Master degree to get anywhere. She did not want to put in the work so she had to prostitute her political self.

      • herb benty

        Well put AZ, typical British Marxist union daughter, that a higher up saw as useful.

      • GinoMachiavelli

        Ah, a commie prostitute.

        Bet she has small Rosa Luxemburg shrine…

  • Chezwick

    I love FPM…and depend on it for information unavailable in the MSM. But so help me, notice that EVERY single offering this morning are negative attacks. Not one article is positive and inspirational….and so it goes, morning after morning.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for exposition of the sins of the Islamo-Left, and FPM performs an invaluable service in that regard, but every so often, it would be nice to be buoyed by some positive inspiration on these pages.

    Just thinking out loud….

    • A Z

      Bawer has a sort of British or droll way of writing. It can be very understated and devastating. I am not sure that this was is most wittiest piece. I would have to read several in a short period of time to see where his writing skills were and then I might still fail as I am not a great writer.

      But as I was thinking about if this was on par with best work, one thing came across loud and clear. The truth was absolutely devastating. Further this article was much longer than the usual articles at FPM. There was that much truth to be told.

      And it needs to be told. Especially the CDN. I remember the late 1970s and 1980s quite vividly. So much if not the whole The whole Nuclear Freeze movement was a Soviet Front. It is germane. We have a Secretary of State who was marching with those leftists.

      “The nuclear freeze was a defining issue across the country for liberal Democrats, who were about to be flattened a second time at the polls”

      http://www.boston.com/globe/nation/packages/kerry/061903.shtml

  • Alvaro

    “never recognized the USSR as an expansionist power”

    That is almost as sad as not recognizing the law of gravity.

  • Rick

    You left out her comparing Palestinians hurt while attacking Jews to the children in the Holocaust

  • imnokuffar

    She is a useless bitch – no insult intended for dogs here. I speak as a Brit and am thoroughly ashamed of this creature. She is monumentally stupid, ignorant and anti-Semitic In fact she has all the qualities that this ‘job’ needs.

    • tickletik

      Well then technically, that does make her “useful”!

    • BS77

      She is the poster child for all the Orwellian post modern bureaucracies that have proliferated under liberal leftist socialist regimes..office drones, paper shufflers, bean counters and video game playing desk jockeys that drain a nation’s treasury while producing nothing of value for the country.

  • tommo2

    Ashton’s replacement could well be Tony Blair. His ‘gifts’ would suit him admirably for the job: warmonger, multicultural protagonist, bare faced liar, egotistically flawed character and champion of left-wing politics.

  • ArentIpretty

    There needs to be a refund on corrupt, or useless clueless politicians and their cronies. Take back their properties, cars, bank accounts, investments, and any other assests they have. Let them live in the gutter for awhile. They rob and waste honest people’s money and get away with it. DISGUSTING. Put their pay in an escrow account until they have proven useful, if they fail they lose.

  • Silver Gonzales

    Her agency costs $700 million a year?? Fifty of her several thousand underlings draw larger salaries than the British Prime Minister?? Catherine Ashton boasts a bigger salary than any other female politician on earth??? Q: Where does this worthless Euro wallpaper comes from? A: From the US Fed; i.e., QE? Is it possible, although indirectly? Given that the US Fed is pumping many institutions including the EU banks with artistic wallpaper, is it then going to the EU governments to assist them pay tax liabilities and then financing this obese hydra? If true, the US taxpayer is financing this America/Israel/NATO hating Leninist loving pig?

  • m4253y

    Bruce, through your entire article i kept saying to myself, it’s okay to have a court jester, Shakespeare employed the fools wittingly. then you took the words right out of my brain…this twit will be replaced by some ‘community organizer’ and then the fun begins and no longer the jester will that fool be.

  • A Z

    If they were going to use live actors instead of Muppets for a Muppets movie, I nominate as Cathy Ashton as Miss Piggy.

    • Gee

      What do you have against pigs?

  • AlgorithmicAnalyst

    Thanks, excellent article.

  • kate5778b

    You’d have to be a 40+ year old Brit to appreciate this, but……doesn’t she look like Olive from the TV series “On the Buses”?

    • motherofbeaver

      I’m not a Brit but a Canadian who loved the series and you are absolutely correct she does look like Olive but not as good looking. With a face like that she must have sunk a lot of ships in her time!

      • moriah steiner

        Belongs in a feed bag if you ask me…

        • motherofbeaver

          You’re being much too kind.

      • Alan in Tel-Aviv

        She bears a passing resemblance to The Bermuda Triangle.

    • JoeThorpe1963

      Or a colour blind Walrus judging by her alarming choice of undersized multi coloured clothes

      • Alan in Tel-Aviv

        Her Hindu Kush creations.

    • moriah steiner

      Never seen it but have been to the horse races and by golly she resembles something I’ve seen there..

      • Alan in Tel-Aviv

        Thorough bread. No wonder they call them the handicaps.

    • Alan in Tel-Aviv

      Throw her under.

  • pupsncats

    Her qualifications for the job are unquestionably those of all leftists in power. Pro-Communist, pro-Islam, anti-Israel, and brain dead.

  • RLande

    If she had been born in the U.S., she could run for president.

  • southwood

    This woman must have just ticked every PC box going. How, somebody tell me, did she get made a baroness ? How, a totally unelected virtual unknown, did she become a top EU tsar ? OK, it happened with Van Rumpuy too, another bizarre mystery. BTW she earns more than Cameron, Hollande, or Obama.

    Nice pic of her here with friend :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:AshtonClinton.jpg

    • Boanerges

      Inshallah! She’d look better in a burqa.

  • LindaRivera

    The power-hungry EU severely damages Britain and Europe. Britain and the European nations MUST get out of the EU immediately!

  • johnnywood

    The Europeans are so messed up that they deserve everything that happens to them.

  • Chris Behme

    “…supremely under-qualified Eurocrat” who “lacks the experience, skills and vision the role demands”

    Sounds just like Obama. A complete nothing.

  • Warren Raymond

    A worm from the socialist sewers. The title doesn’t change a thing.

  • chan chan

    As the treasurer for useful idiots CND in the 80s in the UK, her qualification as a KGB stooge stands her in good stead for her current ‘job’. And I use that word in its loosest possible meaning.

    There are some great pictures of her dressed as an 80s UK leftist, straight out of central casting. She’s a living, breathing socialist cliche.

  • Atikva

    That kind of ugly face would often be compensated by a first-class brain, but not in this case. That woman whose photo makes you shudder is also an absolute mental zero, not to mention her total lack of morality. She is the perfect image of what the western left stands for.

  • DontMessWithAmerica

    Awwww…we shouldn’t be so hard on the poor thing. She can’t help having been born stupid and ugly. We should show some charity and help her find a chin. But her presence does teach us one thing – when you kill the class system, the lower classes forget their place and rise and get into everyone’s hair and screw up everything around them. A peasant is a peasant even after another peasant gives them a title.

  • Alan in Tel-Aviv

    If the job of Empress of India ever comes up again, Ashton should get it. Lord knows she’s dressed for the role in those Hindu Kush creations she’s always wearing.

  • sara

    Always wondered how any Baron could have married her to make her his Baroness, now I know there was no Baron as foolish……..