Off Centre

Who to snog, marry and avoid at the G20 – or, the essential guide to international relations

Kenny Hodgart looks at what a schoolgirl game can teach us about the politics of the Hangzhou summit and the US presidential election race

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 August, 2016, 6:34pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 July, 2017, 11:35am

Forget rational choice theory and highfalutin ideas about ideology. The most useful tool for political analysis was lit upon by P. J. O’Rourke, who has made a career from arguing that politics is boring. A few years ago, the American author of Don’t Vote! It Just Encourages the Bastards, identified Snog, Marry, Avoid – a game played by schoolgirls that teaches them about the disposability of men – as being analogous to how we relate to politics and politicians.

My instinct tells me American schoolgirls might be more ruthless than most. And, indeed, O’Rourke’s designation for the game – Kill, Snog, Marry – is rather less innocuous than the one that has, seemingly, spawned a British reality television show in which young women given to wearing lots of make-up are scrubbed down with detergent and submitted, before and after, to a public multiple-choice verdict (Snog, Marry, Avoid). The adult variant, meanwhile, tends to substitute the “Snog” bit for something less polite.

To save the subeditors having to put asterisks everywhere, and Interpol from getting involved, we’ll stick here with the innocent version. Let it be noted, though, that the beauty of O’Rourke’s formula is in its consistency with politics’ precarious “three-legged stool”, comprising freedom (snogging), power (lethal force) and responsibility (marriage).

Rise of the ‘alt-right’: Clinton accuses Trump of white nationalist ties and stoking racial resentment

I haven’t yet seen old P. J. reprise his proposition during the current US presidential race, which already feels like it has been going on for longer than most modern marriages. But we can probably do it for him. The adolescent left, ever alert to the promise of peace, love and rainbows from sea to shining sea, hooked up on Tinder with Bernie Sanders last summer and can’t bring itself to delete his number. America, if it has any sense, will settle down into a quarrelsome, but steady, relationship – a marriage – with Hillary Clinton, by electing her. And so that leaves Donald Trump, who believes immigrants, Muslims, trade, foreign countries in general, health care for poor people, due process, environmentalism and political correctness are on the verge of killing the US unless it fights back, and discussion of whom, overseas, is best avoided near Americans.

If you’re Japanese, South Korean or Chinese, you’ll be studiously avoiding your East Asian counterparts anyway

But what about politicians themselves? In O’Rourke’s world view, the best thing our political masters can do for us is to get outta here and stop interfering in our lives. One difference between them and us, however, is that they can hardly get out of each other’s lives, even if they wanted to. Imagine, for a moment, that you have been propelled into high office and are about to attend next month’s G20 meeting in Hangzhou (杭州). If you’re honest with yourself, you can’t really be bothered with it all and would rather stay at home and watch The West Wing on Netflix, but your advisers are insisting you work out a strategy. It’s called Snog, Marry, Avoid.

First, there are the outliers you’ll most likely want to avoid one-on-one photos with because you’re trying to convince your own electorate that you’re all for probity, international human rights and the like: the Saudis, the Turks, Jacob Zuma. You’ll probably also want to avoid talking to Shinzo Abe, because of Abenomics: economics is not your strong point. If you’re Japanese, South Korean or Chinese, you’ll be studiously avoiding your East Asian counterparts anyway. Other things to be avoided include eye contact with other leaders if anyone mentions the Panama Papers during the scheduled talks on tax evasion.

You’ll be briefed about the French: they always try to snog everyone, and Francois Hollande thinks marriage is “too bourgeois”. You’ll be told to score a warm handshake from Narendra Modi, because he’s popular, and, at the very least, some kind of embrace from Canada’s Justin Trudeau, because he describes himself as a feminist and all the girls fancy him. Swapping numbers with Mauricio Macri of Argentina, Australia’s Malcolm Turnbull and Italy’s Matteo Renzi is fine: all “safe pairs of hands”, or slightly boring, hence risk-free.

British PM Theresa May writes to China’s Xi Jinping in hope of improving trade ties

At the summit, you will try to build meaningful bridges with the Germans, because everyone agrees Angela Merkel is the most powerful woman in the world. For now, at least. Your host, Xi Jinping ( 習近平 ) will pledge lifelong friendship so long as you offer to let China build a nuclear reactor in your country – and he will avoid Theresa May for having put a Chinese-backed one on hold in Britain. Over dinner, you will spend ages trying to think of an ice-breaker that might work on Vladimir Putin, only to abandon out of fear of being tranquilised.

There we have it, then: Snog Trudeau, Marry Merkel, Avoid Vlad. Next up, what you can learn about realpolitik from playing Pokemon Go.