Home Featured The 2022 Backhanded Awards

The 2022 Backhanded Awards

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Another year has almost passed, which allows us to look back and reward those who have entertained us with their antics — and, in some cases, outright stupidity.

At the time of writing, the POLITICO accounting team is still looking to see if our request for actual awards made of gold and in the shape of the facepalm emoji is within budget.

THE ‘FAWLTY TOWERS’ AWARD FOR HOSPITALITY

Roberta Metsola

European Parliament President Roberta Metsola | Julien Warnand/EFE via EPA

“Is there anywhere they do French food?

“Yes, France, I believe. They seem to like it there. And the swim would certainly sharpen your appetite. You’d better hurry, the tide leaves in six minutes.

That classic exchange is from “Fawlty Towers,” the hit British sitcom about an inept hotel owner that is now, it would seem, inspiration for the European Parliament as it seeks to get into the hotel business.

Parliament President Roberta Metsola has welcomed the idea of “establishing a hotel in the Salvador de Madariaga building,” which is part of Parliament’s Strasbourg real estate portfolio, because it “could help ease the burden on the hotel sector” in Strasbourg.

Not sure the existing hotel owners of Strasbourg would agree with that reasoning, seeing as a lot of their business comes from welcoming MEPs and Parliament staffers.

THE ‘3,2,1 … COMING, READY OR NOT’ AWARD FOR HIDING FROM SCRUTINY

Liz Truss

Former Prime Minister Liz Truss | Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

If we remember just one thing from the short time that Liz Truss was actually U.K. prime minister, then it should be that she did not — repeat, did not — hide under a desk while under pressure after her catastrophic mini-budget. That was made very clear by Penny Mordaunt, then the House of Commons leader, who was sent to fill in for Truss in the chamber because the “PM” was otherwise occupied.

In a Commons debate, Labour MP Stella Creasy took her own guess as to where Truss was, saying: “All we know right now is, unless she tells us otherwise, the prime minister is cowering under her desk and asking for it all to go away.” Turns out that if you want to make an entire parliament burst out laughing, you just need to say, as Mourdant did in response to Creasy: “The prime minister is not under a desk.”

Things were going so badly for Truss that even Labour leader Keir Starmer — not a natural comedian — was able to fire off some jokes, turning Margaret Thatcher’s famous line “the lady’s not for turning” into an attack on the “prime minister” as “the lady’s not for turning … up.” 

Within days, Truss had resigned, outlasted by a lettuce. We’ll never see her likes again (hopefully).

THE ‘HUNGRY LIKE A WOLF’ AWARD FOR NOT TALKING ABOUT ANIMAL CRUELTY

Ursula von der Leyen

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen | Frederick Florin/AFP via Getty Images

In disappointing news, Ursula von der Leyen did not begin her annual State of the European Union address with a heartfelt eulogy to her pet pony, Dolly, which was killed by a wolf days earlier. Instead, she went with Ukraine as her opening gambit. Well, each to their own.

The death of Dolly the pony was a tragic event that left many unanswered questions: Was it a recreation of a Brothers Grimm fairytale gone wrong? Was the wolf making a political statement against von der Leyen’s geopolitical Commission? And — most likely — was the culprit actually Vladimir Putin in a wolf costume?

While there was no discourse about Dolly in the State of the European Union address, von der Leyen did mention the late Queen Elizabeth II, whom she called a “legend” — a term that has, alas, become devalued by overuse in recent years. It’s gone from being used to describe someone who slays a dragon to being used to describe someone who always gets a round in at the bar.

THE ‘SHUT UP AND MAKE CARS’ AWARD FOR MEANINGLESS INTERFERENCE

Elon Musk

Elon Musk | Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Remember when Elon Musk did normal things like calling his child X Æ A-XII — X and live-tweeting himself taking a shit? Simpler times.

Now he owns Twitter. And just before that, he was given an online kicking on the same social media site by the president of Ukraine after proposing that, in order to achieve peace, Kyiv cede some of its territory and hold new elections in areas annexed by Russia. “This is highly likely to be the outcome in the end — just a question of how many die before then,” Musk wrote, adding that another possible outcome would be nuclear war.

Responses from Ukrainian officials and supporters were swift and unsparing. “Which @elonmusk do you like more?” Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted, including a poll that had options for “One who supports Ukraine” and “One who supports Russia.” Ukrainian diplomat Andriy Melnyk, who was once Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany, also weighed in, tweeting: “Fuck off is my very diplomatic reply to you @elonmusk.”

Musk, who often acts like a 12-year-old, responded by saying he could not indefinitely continue paying for Ukrainians to have access to Starlink internet services, before changing his mind again.

THE ‘I’VE GOT BALLS AND I DON’T CARE IF YOU TOUCH THEM’ AWARD FOR VALOR

Emmanuel Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron | Pool photo by Ludovic Marin via EPA

Do not mess with Emmanuel Macron’s balls. Actually, scratch that, do mess with his balls, because he does not care.

The French president came under pressure over the summer to explain his past support for Uber’s lobbying efforts in France, after revelations of privileged exchanges with the American ride-hailing company while he was economy minister in 2015.

Responding to the revelations, the Elysée said in a bland statement that Macron’s role “naturally led him to meet and interact with many companies engaged in the sharp shift which came out during those years in the service sector.” But speaking to reporters during a visit to a factory in the French Alps, Macron used much stronger language, saying he would repeat his actions “again, tomorrow and the day after” — which sounds like the name of a Bond film. Macron also used the phrase “Ça m’en touche une sans faire bouger l’autre.”

Literal translation: “It [the criticism] touches one of them [his balls] without nudging the other [ball].”

Actual translation: “I don’t give a shit what you say about me.”

THE ‘BEST THING EVER IN THE EU PARLIAMENT’ AWARD FOR CULTURE

Interpretive dancers

A dance performance during the closing session of the Conference on the Future of Europe | Pool photo by Ludovic Marin via EPA

Politics is weird. It’s mostly old people who seem to want to behave like children. Parliaments across the globe are filled with people shouting, screaming and occasionally fighting as if they were in a playground rather than a place in which laws are made that affect people’s lives.

And yet, when actual young people turn up to these supposed bastions of democracy, people get angry about it. Case in point: The interpretive dancers who performed at the European Parliament in Strasbourg in May to mark the end of four days of events as part of the Conference on the Future of Europe. A waste of taxpayers’ money, not asked for and making little sense — and that was just the MEPs watching!

Laugh all you want — and the majority of people commenting on social media did just that — but there are few things that can’t be improved with the addition of dance (interpretive or otherwise), and this was the most fun thing to come out of the European Parliament since that Hungarian MEP shimmied his way down a drainpipe after fleeing a gay orgy. The only way the dancing could have been improved was if Guy Verhofstadt had joined in, twirling his way around the hemicycle in footless black tights.

THE ‘THERE WAS A YOUNG FELLOW FROM ANKARA … ‘ AWARD FOR INSULTING THE TURKISH LEADER

Wolfgang Kubicki

: Bundestag Vice-President Wolfgang Kubicki | Adam Berry/Getty Images

Boris Johnson, the former chief clown of the United Kingdom and occasional prime minister, once wrote a poem about the president of Turkey having sex with a goat. “There was a young fellow from Ankara/Who was a terrific wankerer/Till he sowed his wild oats/With the help of a goat/But he didn’t even stop to thankera.” This year, the actual president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was compared to a “sewer rat” by the vice president of the German parliament.

As a result of the comment by Wolfgang Kubicki, Turkey’s foreign ministry summoned the German ambassador to Ankara, after saying it condemned the “insulting” remark “in the strongest terms.” Kubicki seemed to backtrack on his comments, saying sewer rats are “cute” — who does his PR, a rat? — “but at the same time clever and crafty.”

Insulting the president is a criminal offense in Turkey and Ankara has a history of reacting strongly to negative comments about its president from abroad: In 2016, Ankara filed two legal complaints against German comedian Jan Böhmermann, after he read a crude poem on his TV show insulting Erdoğan.

THE ‘CUT-PRICE KETAMINE IS WHAT SHE WOULD HAVE WANTED’ ENTREPRENEURSHIP AWARD

British drug dealers

| Marvin Recinos/AFP via getty images

The death of Queen Elizabeth II brought out the very best in Britain, including in that bedrock of the nation: its drug dealers. Just over 10 minutes after the passing of her majesty, one such dealer went viral with a tweet offering discounts on products including cocaine, weed and ketamine. 

As first reported by Vice, the dealer tweeted: “Are you feeling upset or feeling down with the sad news about the Queens [sic] death? Then don’t hesitate to contact me, I’m about until 1am!” The stoned royalist went on to say that as the queen was 96 at the time of her death, he was offering 1 gram of “Bolivian Flake” — that’s cocaine to you and me — for £96.

Alas, as with so many offers, they aren’t all that special on closer inspection, with one person who received the message telling Vice World News that the regular price is only £100. Other dealers also got in on the act, with one telling customers they were offering “a queen’s dead discount on everything ask me for details.”

THE ‘PLEASE FASTEN YOUR SEATBELT, THERE MAY BE TURBULENCE’ AWARD FOR ONLINE MISBEHAVIOR

Air France pilots

| Eric Piermont/AFP via Getty images

“If you look out of the window on the left of the aircraft, you can enjoy beautiful views of Lake Geneva. If you look straight ahead, you’ll be able to see me smash my fist into this idiot’s nose.”

Two Air France pilots were suspended after fighting in the cockpit on a flight from Geneva to Paris, the company announced. The mid-air fisticuffs took place in June but was kept quiet for several months, presumably because of acute embarrassment. The airline said the flight continued and landed safely after cabin crew intervened, presumably by pulling down oxygen masks from the panel above their heads and asking the angry pilots to take deep breaths.

We’re used to bad behavior from passengers, not pilots, including earlier this year when a drunken traveler made the huge mistake of annoying Mike Tyson, resulting in a serious beating. We can exclusively reveal that Tyson was not one of those involved in the Air France mid-air dust-up.

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