02:09 - Source: CNN
Where and when did nerve agent attack happen?

Editor’s Note: Rob Crilly is a British journalist living in New York. He was The Telegraph’s Afghanistan and Pakistan correspondent and was previously the East Africa correspondent for The Times of London. The opinions in this article are those of the author.

CNN  — 

If this is the end of the world, then one question is really bugging me: who the hell will Gary Oldman play in the movie version?

Anyone who saw his Oscar-winning performance as Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour” will have been struck by his ability to conjure drama, pace and a deep sense of foreboding from what was essentially a political procedural with an ending known to the entire world.

He got to play a big figure in a big moment as politicians sweated over big decisions that would change the course of history, starting with the evacuation of Dunkirk.

As the UK rallies its allies (or what remains of them) to take a stand against Moscow’s provocation in the attempted murder of a former Russian double agent and his daughter on British soil, we are once again at a pivotal moment.

Is it just me, or does it all feel a bit prosaic?

Take Gavin Williamson, the man who today holds the post of UK Secretary of Defence.

That job was once held by Churchill himself, but Williamson’s rhetoric falls rather short of the great man as well as the matter in hand.

This is probably the biggest moment of his political career, if not of his life. But this is what he said when asked whether Britain would consider a military response: “Frankly, Russia should go away, it should shut up…”

Of course the yah-boo nature of British political debate is often compared with the school playground, but this is going a bit far. What next? “Russia smells”?

He followed up by saying of the possibility of a new cold war: “Relations ain’t good are they?” This may work fine for man-of-the-people authenticity, but hardly marks him out as a statesman.

03:05 - Source: CNN
Residents grapple with nerve agent attack

Oldman would be wasting his talents.

But it is unfair to single out Mr Williamson. The whole thing lacks an appropriate level of portent, gravitas and, yes, drama. Remember the race to war in Iraq with the international diplomacy, weapons inspectors and United Nations security resolutions?

Theresa May, the British prime minister, is struggling to even manage dignity. Her visit to Salisbury – where Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found slumped on a bench – was notable in part for the fact that she “fist bumped” a member of the public.

True, even Churchill may have struggled with maintaining prime ministerial levels of decorum while observing a park bench in Salisbury. Which is probably why he never would have done any such thing, much less extend his clenched hand to touch knuckles in a form of greeting.

Even without Churchill, the march to war in Iraq gripped the world. The stakes were that high.

A British government weapons expert took his own life after telling the BBC that a government dossier alleging that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction – and could launch attacks within 45 minutes – was “sexed up.”

So important was it to Tony Blair’s government that his spin doctor Alastair Campbell was put in charge of editing the dossier, rather than the spies who had collected the evidence.

Colin Powell upped the ante with his slide show of Iraq’s transgressions presented at the United Nations in New York. There were code names for sources – remember “Curveball,” whose moniker seems even more apt today – resolutions, vetoes threatened and trans-Atlantic summits.

The sense of theater was absolute. Now imagine what it would have been like if the evidence had actually been true.

Contrast with the situation today. The unfolding drama offers such little box office appeal that the reality TV-star-turned-president Donald Trump can’t even be bothered. Sure, he has some Russia baggage, but in other circumstances he would have been dying for a scene-stealing cameo with a ready-made epithet.

Instead, he had to be dragged – like a sulking schoolboy – to add his signature to a joint letter of condemnation on Thursday, fully three days after the UK revealed a chemical weapons attack had been launched on its soil.

Maybe it seems flippant to point out that this time around we are stuck with a collective mediocrity, that threats and deadlines are relayed in street slang by barely articulate ministers or with all the pomp and circumstance of Twitter.

Perhaps it is missing the point when two people lie critically ill in hospital to bemoan the style in which the diplomatic crisis is being conducted.

But when the consequences are so great, when Russia’s provocations risk so much and its armies – electronic and real – are already contributing to the chaos in the Middle East and America’s wretched political stasis, don’t we deserve a breed of politician who can rise to the occasion with a display of dexterity in word and deed that inspires faith and hope?

Instead we are left with politicians whose shtick is based on being the man on the street or the woman next door. And a terrible, sinking sense that things are rapidly going to get much, much worse before anyone quite realizes how it happened.