John Williams, the then press secretary at the Foreign Office, wrote the “first draft” of the so-called “dodgy dossier” on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Now, after concerted campaigning, the Government has finally released this “first draft” only for David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, to say that it’s nothing of the sort.
Williams’s draft doesn’t have the key stuff about Saddam Hussein being able to target Britain in 45 minutes, or the long-since discredited cobblers about uranium being sourced from West Africa, but it does paint up a picture of an aggressive state with a capability for nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Is Miliband’s bizarre statement that this was not the basis for the later dossier meant to suggest that more information will somehow come to light showing there was sound intelligence for these claims? It hardly seems likely.
Williams says he was approached to write it in August 2002. But he was hardly working from scratch: a dossier compiled to put the case for going to war with Iraq was reported to be going the rounds as early as March of that year. It was being booted back and forth from the Cabinet Office, to the Joint Intelligence Committee to the Foreign Office, and no one was very happy with it. But even those of us who only watched TV footage of Hans Blix’s UN Weapons Inspectorate blundering about in the Iraqi desert could see there was unlikely to be any stockpile of inter-continental ballistic missiles.
Still, who cares about the Williamses and for that matter, the Campbells of this world? They were just the little people who greased the wheels of the juggernaut that has crushed hundreds of thousands of people to death.
No, the more grotesque spectacle is that now afforded by the current Foreign Secretary, who goes on robustly defending a policy that isn’t working, hasn’t worked and never could have.
In his sleek suits and smooth dark plumage, Miliband looks like a vulture feeding on the neo-cons’ bloated corpse. Where others see Afghanistan as a failed state, the Panglossian Foreign Secretary sees a burgeoning democracy. In a speech last week to honour Aung San Suu Kyi, there was Miliband, searching for a way to distance himself from realpolitik, while still robustly countenancing military support for what he describes in a chilling echo of the current US policy in Iraq as the “civilian surge”.
This refusal to face up to the human cost of the Iraq war, and to the lies and evasions that justified the invasion, represents the moral rot at the core of Gordon Brown’s government. Brown, notoriously, cannot bear to do anything unless he knows what the consequences will be, and so he directs his foreign policy puppet to carry on mugging, as this end-of-the-pier show staggers towards its bitter end.
The history of modern folly isn’t set in stone but painted in water – mineral water, to be precise. We are now spending more than £2 billion a year on the stuff, and voices are being raised that this is morally unacceptable, especially given that some of the countries where the stuff is sourced – Fiji, for example – don’t have enough potable water for their own population. Not only that, but all tests establish that bottled is no better, healthier or tastier than tap.
But it was a financial adviser I had lunch with in the Eighties who first alerted me to how Badoit the water racket really was.
When the poor waiter poured him a glass of sparkling from a freshly cracked bottle, this fellow plucked one of the ice cubes out and said derisively: “I suppose you’re going to tell me you made this out of mineral water as well.” Undiluted wisdom.
To the Royal Festival Hall for the last in Daniel Barenboim’s sublime Beethoven piano sonata series. Before the stumpy virtuoso came on stage, a dapper man in his fifties sat beside me and began chatting. “The amazing thing about Barenboim, Will, is he can remember, note-perfect, every single piece he learned before the age of 28.” Meanwhile, I racked my tone-deaf brains to remember who this affable chap was. Eventually, I traced him back to the fiction department of Hatchards, where he is manager.
I would’ve cried “Bingo!” at this point, were it not for the fact that the entire audience had fallen silent in anticipation of a rather superior act of mnemonics. But while to remember the sonatas is one thing, to modulate them exquisitely and theatrically in live performance as Barenboim did is quite another. I would’ve taken my hat off to him, if I hadn’t left it somewhere..
Oon sunday I took the youngest member of the family to see a medical practitioner. He’d had a sick bug for a couple of days and I was worried because he wouldn’t drink any water. The surgery was open and I didn’t have to wait.
The medic examined him thoroughly, X-rayed his stomach, then prescribed three sets of medication, demonstrating how to give them. There was nothing high-handed or patronising in his manner.
Granted, the patient was a seven-month-old puppy, but there have to be some lessons here for the NHS – after all, a society that treats its pets better than its people has to be barking mad.