Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

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 veiy 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? …

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