Long before there was any public outcry that Tony Blair had ‘lied’ about weapons of mass destruction, intelligence sources were worried and some, privately, said so. Perhaps these are the people that John Reid calls ‘rogue elements’, but their complaints were very sober and unrogueish. They were worried about both the dossiers on WMD, but for different reasons. The first dossier, drafted by John Scarlett, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, was, in their view, respectable, but Mr Blair was unwise to have tried to publish such a thing and the Foreign Office should have stopped him. Publication inevitably politicised the intelligence and bowdlerised it in order to avoid compromising sources, and so made it seem weak. Mr Blair, longing to make everything seem strong, oversold what he had, in his foreword and elsewhere. The second dossier, in these people’s view, was much worse. It was not reputable or properly sourced. It was cobbled together at No. 10 and was, effectively, misleading. Whitehall seems united in blaming Alastair Campbell for this. None of this shows that there are no WMD or that Mr Blair lied. But it does show New Labour as manipulative, short-termist and now, with Dr Reid, paranoid. Is there any material difference between Tony Blair and Harold Wilson?
Here is a way of avoiding the sort of situation in which Tony Martin found himself. I have come across it in the memoirs of Nimrod (C.J. Apperley), the 19th-century hunting journalist. He writes of a country neighbour of his known as ‘bloody Brown’:
His garden had been frequently robbed of much of its choicest fruit, and he, being an old soldier, having served at the siege of Havanna …was one not to be trifled with on such occasions…. He applied to a dissecting room in London and obtained the leg of a human being, fresh cut from the body, on which he put a stocking and a shoe, and then suspended it in a man-trap over his garden-wall. The act obtained him the sobriquet I have mentioned, but his fruit was afterwards safe.
The memories of the Coronation printed this week were very touching. The ceremony in 1953 seems to have worked its magic for everyone. It was interesting to be reminded by John Martin Robinson in last week’s Spectator that the idea that the form is mostly a modern invention is mostly a modern invention: the essential elements are ancient. They have, nevertheless, been elaborated. Here is an extract from a question and answer session in the General Synod of the Church of England in 1983, about the oil of chrism used for the anointing of the monarch:
As to the oil itself, simple oil was used from the Reformation until 1837. For the coronation of Queen Victoria a secret formula was used by one Peter Squire. This formula has been used ever since. A new supply was made for George VI’s coronation, but not in fact used, since there was enough of the old. It was kept in the Dean’s study, but destroyed by bombing. For our present Queen’s coronation, a new supply was prepared under the authority of the surgeon apothecary by Savory and Moore of New Bond St. Dr Don was willing to reveal that the secret formula contained oil of orange flowers, of roses, cinnamon, jasmine and sesame with benzoin, musk, civet and ambergris.
It takes a bit of courage to make the simple, philistine point in the presence of art. I remember watching a television programme years ago in which Prince Charles ventured to say to the architect showing him his plans for Canary Wharf, ‘Yes, but does it have to be quite so tall?’ In the same spirit, I found myself asking during the Liebestod in Glyndebourne’s superb Tristan und Isolde (for them, as for me, their first Wagner), ‘Does this bit have to be quite so long?’ And, yes, the ‘Madonna of the Pinks’ is very beautiful, but isn’t it rather small?
In his new book At War with Waugh – whose publication and the author’s 90th birthday we celebrated last week – W.F. Deedes reproduces the laissez-passer for his Abyssinian journey of 1935. Addressed ‘TO ALL WHOM IT MAY CONCERN’, it was given him by his editor, H.A. Gwynne, of the Morning Post, and states that Gwynne ‘shall be obliged for all permissible facilities which may be granted him’. It bears an impressive seal. This explained something for me. When I was a young journalist on the Daily Telegraph and setting off for an infinitely less adventurous visit to India in 1982, Bill Deedes called me into his office. ‘Here, dear boy, I think you’ll find this useful. Your bona fides. The Indians like this sort of thing.’ He handed me a ‘TO ALL WHOM IT MAY CONCERN’ document, bearing the Deedes family seal (with the motto, perfectly unsuitable for a journalist, Acta non verba). Sure enough, whenever I produced this talisman, I found that I jumped to the front of interminable Indian railway queues. Gwynne had been editor since 1911 and had reported the Boer war. The great Deedes became a reporter in the year my father was born and was my editor for the first four years of my career. I suppose that document is the nearest thing to an apostolic succession that a journalist can have.
We are lucky, in our Sussex village, to have a railway station at all, but it provides a painful example of how central management (Connex South East) works. The station is a very pretty Victorian building, including a station-master’s cottage. Connex rules dictate, however, that the man who does the train tickets, the only employee regularly present at the station, may not do anything else. The cottage is derelict, and the blameless ticket man is not even permitted to sell parking tickets to passengers. The station clock has been out of order for some weeks now and he is not allowed the budget to buy a new battery for it. As a result of all this, what could be one of the most idyllic rural stations in Britain is squalid.
What a contrast to the enterprise being shown by our village shop a couple of hundred yards away. The shop was swept away by the great floods of 2000. Determined not to give in, the village banded together and 44 per cent of us on the electoral roll have bought shares in a new concern on the same site. The premises have been restored, partly by volunteers, and grants and loans have been raised. Next week, my wife and I shall open the Community Stores, under the management of Andy Patel, from Groombridge, who retired from running the shop there and found that he wants to be working again.
As I flew over the Shatt al Arab into Iraq at the end of April, I fell into conversation with the British officer in the seat next to me. He told me he lived in a place called Groombridge. ‘Oh,’ I asked, ‘do you know a man called Andy Patel?’ ‘Of course I do. Great bloke. Unfortunately, he gave up running our shop….’
Charles Moore is the editor of the Daily Telegraph.