Michael White

Diary – 24 August 2002

Despite feeling ghoulish, my wife and I found ourselves drawn to the television set whenever an important development took place during the grim vigil at Soham. By the very nature of the event much of the footage and commentary was banal and, like the press, unavoidably intrusive. Sky was sharper, the BBC’s much-mocked News 24 had better tone – a bit like the difference between tabloids and broadsheets, I suppose. Both deployed retired ex-detectives, including John Stalker, in ways I’d not noticed before, knowledgeable, discreet and wise. Yet, rare in the age of 24/7 TV news, there weren’t any pictures of what this was really all about: unfathomable evil at large in a sleepy English village. We each had to use our imagination. Much worse.

An American friend, recently returned to work in London, says that foreigners would feel very unflattered if they realised how much of the Bush team’s bellicose rhetoric towards Iraq is for domestic electoral consumption. That would at least make sense. I’m not a peacenik, nor anti-American, though the sound of the White House national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, sounding like a sixth-form debater on Radio Four the other day further strained my affection. I just don’t believe that Washington’s ‘hairy-chested tub-thumpers’ (another distinguished Republican’s description) will get their war even if George W. wins back the Senate in November. Too risky for all concerned. What troubles me is not who governs Baghdad next year, but who governs Kabul.

Still, it gives hawks and doves the chance to fill their columns with reciprocal contempt. I can’t remember a quieter (so far) August now that our political masters have finally exhausted the notion of the ‘permanent campaign’, which required them to harry voters throughout the summer. True, David Blunkett picked a fight over asylum as soon as he got off the plane from Majorca.

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