What Blair omitted to say
Sir: Mr Blair’s latest in these pages, like his recent Foreign Affairs Committee appearance on Libya, papers over so much history that one hardly knows where to start (‘What I got right’, 12 December). His own Libyan history will do. We all know the ‘deal in the desert’, whereby Gaddafi relinquished a feeble ‘WMD’ programme to come in from the cold, lift the sanctions, and pave the way for oil deals. What was not known until 2011 was the real price of this bargain. The price was a UK-US-Libyan conspiracy to kidnap two whole families from exile and ship them to Gaddafi.
Had we not seen the proof in black and white after the dictator’s fall, who would have believed it? But documents don’t lie. In them, Blair’s counter-terror head cheerleads the delivery of the ‘air cargo’ — a Libyan dissident and his pregnant wife — to Gaddafi’s dungeons. On the next plane were four kids, the eldest 12, the youngest six. A member of the committee blandly asked Mr Blair whether, where Gaddafi was concerned, ‘the ends justified the means’. He should have spoken plainly. The means were the ‘rendition’ of women and children to a tyrant.
Mr Blair writes of hard choices. But if British values, progressive or otherwise, are to mean anything, there must be a red line. Kidnap crosses it. Did Blair approve this? The ‘deal’, after all, was his. Those involved must answer for it. In time, perhaps they will.
NGO Reprieve, London EC3
His big break
Sir: How jolly to see our former prime minister in the Spectator Christmas issue. Anthony Blair’s first contribution to the magazine, as you noted on your contents page, appeared in 1978, after I introduced him to the then editor Alexander Chancellor. At the time I was an occasional Spectator columnist and he was a junior barrister. He wanted my advice on how to get articles published in the New Statesman, which had already rejected several of his offerings.
I suggested the best way for Blair to catch the eye of Tony Howard, the then editor of the New Statesman, would be to offer an article to The Spectator. Blair had a haircut, put on a grey suit and came to Doughty Street, where The Spectator had moved in 1975. Chancellor published two articles by him and rejected a third.
At Tony and Cherie’s wedding at St John’s College, Oxford, in March 1980 their boss Derry Irvine, later Lord Chancellor, made a speech. Irvine joked that young Tony had fallen into the wrong hands. He had been writing for a Tory publication, The Spectator. One or two guests, including Tony’s older brother Bill Blair, looked at me in mock horror at the back of the room.
Some say I have a lot to answer for.
My war career
Sir: Allan Mallinson’s most generous review of Hubris does me too much honour in comparing my war career to that of Sir Michael Howard (Books, 5 December). While the ‘Captain and Professor’ was slogging his way up Italy in that grim campaign, gaining a well-deserved MC on the way, I was actually still at Sandhurst.
In fact, the nearest I came to ‘being shot over’ was the occasional overhead burst of Bren gunfire, designed to keep one’s bottom down. I finally received my commission the day the A-bomb was dropped. Like many others of us, in the crazed enthusiasms of youth I felt something of a letdown: all those months of training and preparation to no purpose.
Yet I suppose even the battle experience of terrorising rabbits on Salisbury Plain did leave one some entitlement to pontificate on the broader significance of the ‘Face of Battle’. And how one might wish that, in these dangerous times, one or two members of the front benches on both sides of the House could have had even that slender indoctrination to prepare them for the contingencies of warfare before charging in.
The greatest festival
Sir: Bruce Anderson (Drink, 5 December) is incorrect to imply that Christmas is ‘the greatest festival of the church’. The greatest festival of the church is Easter.
Return of the quagga?
Sir: Aidan Hartley’s mention of the now extinct quagga (Spectator Life, 5 December) brings to mind an account by the noted Victorian big game hunter Roualeyn Gordon-Cummings, in which he wrote of the quagga existing in vast numbers across the African veldt. He described how they were hunted to extinction. In recent years, however, the quagga has reappeared in South Africa. At Bartholomeus Klip, a farmstead west of Cape Town, animal geneticists have succeeded by selective breeding of zebras in raising a small herd of animals which are quaggas in all but name. They are like zebras but with the rear half of the body plain light grey. I live in hope that in future the quagga will once again graze the open veldt.
Who your neighbour is
Sir: I have a huge respect for Matthew Parris. However, in writing about ‘The question Christianity does not answer’ (12 December), he misses the point. The lawyer asked Jesus ‘Who is my neighbour?’ and was given the story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus never said ‘everyone’ is your neighbour, but he did say, depending on circumstances, anyone can be. Christians are asked to give help when and where they come across need. If everyone did that, we would have no reason to consider problems in far-off places.
Dr David Miller