Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Donald Macintyre's sketch: Angelina Jolie thrives in select committee appearance

George Osborne, knowing the journalists were not there for him but for someone much more famous, told them wryly as he passed: “I know my place.” One of the more improbable double acts in global politics, Angelina Jolie and William Hague were about to do their thing.
Ms Jolie was in sober black, her left hand occasionally making notes on the papers she had brought in her business-like ring binder.
Collegiate and courteous, she made no attempt to steal the show. Yet with her evenly delivered catalogue of the human cost of rape as “not sexual but a violent brutal  terrorising weapon of war”, she could not have been more eloquent.
Most immediately demanding international action was that Isis was now using rape as the “centrepoint of their terror”.
“The most aggressive terrorist group in the world today knows what we  know; that it is a very  effective weapon… and their way of destroying communities and families and attacking, destroying and dehumanising.”

But she also remembered, she told the Lords committee on sexual violence in conflict, meeting a girl of seven or eight “and she was rocking backwards and forwards and staring at the wall and tears streaming down her face because she had been brutally raped multiple times.
“You couldn’t talk to her, you couldn’t touch her; I felt absolutely helpless and didn’t know what to do for her.”
And then there was the 13-year-old girl she met in Iraq, one of many taken out in pairs, and “brought to this very dirty room with this dirty couch and raped repeatedly.” Worse than that was the worthlessness the girls felt as they watched friends being sold and heard men haggling about the price.
“Whether they were $40, $50. What was the price of them, what was their value and how humiliating that was. It made her question what she was worth.”
There’s always a danger with a Hollywood megastar on a mission so big, that she crosses a line between helping her cause and submerging it with her celebrity. It’s fair to record Ms Jolie never came near to that.

On a drab Tuesday Angelina Jolie covers Lords in stardust

The usual purpose for any select committee to meet is to gather evidence for a report that a government may or may not take any notice of sometime in the distant future. But not always. Sometimes a select committee meets primarily to cover itself in the stardust of its witnesses. And witnesses don’t come much starrier and A-List than Angelina Jolie. The only thing that could have made Westminster more Hollywood on a drab Tuesday afternoon was if Brad had come along as well.

Just imagine the despair and envy that Keith Vaz, the chair of the home affairs committee who hates to be upstaged, was feeling in a nearby room that his top billing for the afternoon was Natacha Bouchart, the mayor of Calais.

The House of Lords select committee on sexual violence in conflict is one of those committees whose main virtue lies in its own existence. It has next to no hope of stopping the rape of women – and men – in conflicts around the world, but it is far better that is meets to acknowledge the problem than to do nothing. It is also one of the few committees in Westminster that almost always agrees on everything, because it would be surprising to find any peer – in public, at least – in favour of sexual violence.
When it came to the arrival of Angelina the agreement levels went off the scale. This was the best thing that could ever possibly have happened to the committee. For probably the first time ever since it was first convened in June, not a seat in the public gallery went unfilled.

A few of the noble lords and ladies tried to give the impression that hanging out with Angelina was all in a normal day’s work, but the general levels of tizziness betrayed their excitement. Lady Nicholson, the committee chair, could scarcely contain herself. “I’d like to offer a very, very warm welcome to our witnesses,” she said haltingly. “And could we thank Ms Jolie Pitt for giving the committee eight copies of her DVD, In the Land of Blood and Honey.” She didn’t say whether they had been signed or not, but we can assume yes.

Angelina looked unruffled by her appearance before the committee, but then as A-listers so obviously inhabit a totally different world from the rest of us, it was hard to know what she was thinking or feeling. But she smiled at the right times and was unfailingly polite, and apart from one slightly false note during which she felt obliged to mention the many brilliant and talented people she had worked with during her career – though, it was still a long way off the full Kate Winslett – she didn’t put a foot wrong.

Which is more than can be said for one of her co-witnesses. William Hague is normally one of parliament’s most assured performers; urbane, witty and on top of his game. But there was something about Angelina that turned him into a stuttering ingenue.

Maybe he was annoyed that another witness, Lady Helic, had been placed in between him and Angelina to diffuse the sexual chemistry, or maybe he was just struggling to contain himself anyway, but Hague could barely utter a coherent sentence and blushed throughout. “Angelina and I,” he muttered demurely on several occasions, lowering his eyelids in private reverie.

Eventually the hour was up – “We know you’ve got a very busy schedule,” said Lady Nicholson in her finest imitation of EF Benson’s Miss Mapp – and the room emptied. We had learned very little about sexual violence in conflict that wasn’t already widely known – that it was bad, hard to stop and the perpetrators needed to be punished. Angelina was as inscrutable as one of the world’s most famous women should be. There again, on the plus side, we did learn rather more about William Hague.

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