Letter in Pedantry Corner, Private Eye No 1452

“In your previous issue, Nursery Times must have misquoted the Big Bad Wolf when referring to his ‘vulpine activities’ – unless he was cross-dressing as the Fantastic Mr Fox. A wolf’s behaviour is normally lupine. I am not allowed to get out more because I suffer from intermittent lycanhtropy.”

06. September 2017 by rkh
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In Praise of Cecil Parkinson 1997

Former Tory chairman Cecil Parkinson gave the best performance I can remember by a politician responding to results on election night coverage. Cecil was on duty for the Tories in 1997. He did not make the mistake which many losing-party politicians make of trying to put any kind of positive spin on the results. He admitted cheerfully from the start that the Tories were taking an almighty beating.

In those days Labour seats tended to declare results earlier than Tory ones and it took hours before a Tory win actually appeared. I think it was Mid-Surrey. Cecil responded eagerly: “Mid-Surrey! We’re on our way!” He then had a long wait for another Tory win but when it appeared he said “I’m glad we’ve got two. We can have a leadership contest now.”

A true stylist in defeat. Others tonight please follow.

08. June 2017 by rkh
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WORLD EXCLUSIVE: 1983 Labour mystery man revealed

As Denis Healey’s chief of staff during Labour’s suicide-note election campaign of 1983, I attended many meetings of the party’s unwieldy campaign committee first thing in the morning. Chaired by Michael Foot, the committee spent much time debating such urgent topics as the size of lettering on stage sets, and exactly who should appear on platforms and press conferences.

As many others have narrated, a mysterious silent stranger regularly attended the committee. No one could identify him or whom he represented. Some suggested that he was a trade union delegate, others said that he was a stray pollster, and still others identified him as one of Michael Foot’s Special Branch officers. One cynic suggested that he was a debt-collector.

I can now reveal the truth. The mysterious stranger was a 30-year-old Vladimir Putin, then a mid-ranking officer of the KGB as it was still called in that Soviet era. Putin had persuaded his service that if placed within the Labour party machine he could influence the result of Britain’s General Election. Unfortunately, his account of Labour’s campaign committee was too far-fetched for his KGB bosses to believe, and Putin had a temporary setback to his career when they accused him of cheating on his expenses. It was not until years later that he discovered how to manipulate overseas elections from a distance.

At one point, the mysterious stranger broke his silence to murmur: “poddovki”. I discovered later that this is a Russian form of draughts in which the object is to lose all your men as quickly as possible.

27. April 2017 by rkh
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Dear Mrs May: why are you shielding Tony Blair?

Letters to the Prime Minister and the Attorney General about the government’s decision to shield Tony Blair from a private prosecution for his conduct over Iraq

 

Rt Hon Theresa May MP
Prime Minister
10 Downing Street

Dear Prime Minister,

The media have reported today that the Attorney General has intervened to block a private prosecution of Tony Blair over the Iraq war. I am not going to comment on the legal points (as reported) behind this decision. I would like to invite you to consider its wider political significance.

As a front-rank politician for many years, you will have noted the general collapse of public trust in government and indeed, many of the major institutions in British life. A major reason behind this is the perception that leaders and senior managers never accept, and are never compelled to accept, responsibility for error and failure. Sadly, the public have seen widespread evidence of this, over the banking crisis, over terrible episodes in the NHS, over examples of massive waste of public funds, over a succession of child abuse scandals. Occasionally, some suitable figure (such as Fred Goodwin) will be scapegoated. But the great majority of those responsible will move serenely into other well-paid appointments or into cushioned retirements and (usually) collect honours for their distinguished service.

Joining the Iraq war and occupation was the worst decision in Britain’s postwar history. It brought our country no benefits, only debt, danger, dishonour and death. As you know well, it has had a baleful effect on British policymaking ever since, and made it harder to secure public acceptance of the need to resist any genuine threat to our country. The Iraq inquiry report, when finally published, was a stark and damning indictment of those responsible, particularly Tony Blair. But no one at all has suffered any penalty in consequence, least of all Tony Blair. After becoming the richest ex-Premier in history by exploiting the experience and contacts he gained as Prime Minister at the taxpayer’s expense, he continues to hawk himself round the world as a statesman and to offer his simpering guidance to the British people.

I will return to Tony Blair but I would like to ask you first whether any person in public service (home, legal, diplomatic, military, intelligence and security) has suffered any kind of penalty for making, or acquiescing in, a bad judgment over Iraq, or conversely, received any kind of reward for resisting such a judgment or offering a correct one. I think that you yourself would find it very instructive to secure an answer to this question.

One other small question: did any person criticized in the Chilcot report accept its intended criticism without demanding a right to respond under the so-called “Maxwellization” process? All credit to any such person, although I suspect the answer is “no.”

Apart from the action on which the Attorney General has intervened, a number of families who were victims of the Iraq war are seeking to make Blair answer charges of misconduct in public office. I hope that the government will allow such an action to go forward so that the families at least have their day in court. If the government does intervene on Tony Blair’s behalf (and he is a very rich person who can afford his own defence) it will reinforce the public perception that their leaders will always look after each other and will never accept for themselves the rules and standards they prescribe for other people.

I would be grateful if you could invite the Attorney General to consider the view that the Chilcot report offers evidence to justify a prosecution of Tony Blair for the common law offence of manslaughter. The current CPS guidance on manslaughter suggests that there are two separate grounds for such a prosecution:

1) Causing death in an unlawful enterprise (akin to causing death by arson) or
2) Causing death by gross negligence of persons to whom he had a duty of care, namely our forces in Iraq and, as head of government of an occupying power, Iraqi civilians. In this case, the Chilcot report would be used to indicate that Blair’s feckless failure to assess and anticipate the risks of the war and occupation fell below the standards of competence expected in his position.

In either case, such a prosecution would re-establish the vital principle that no one in high public office is beyond the reach of the law.

 

 

Yours sincerely,

Richard Heller

Rt Hon Jeremy Wright QC
Attorney General
5-8 The Sanctuary
London SW1P 3JS

Dear Attorney-General,

I enclose a copy of a letter which your officials may already have received from the Prime Minister’s office.

On the matter concerned, an official spokesman made a somewhat delphic statement that you often intervene in private cases to protect the public interest. I would be grateful if someone could amplify this statement and explain why you believe that it would not be in the public interest for Tony Blair to be brought to court over Iraq. There can be no higher public interest than demonstrating that people in public office are subject to the rule of law.

Of course one wants to ensure that the courts do not pass judgments on political decisions: that would usurp the role of Parliament. But that assumes that those decisions were lawful, that the decision-maker acted within his or her authority and that he or she met the general standards of competence, diligence and integrity which are expected of public office-holders. When there is doubt about any of these points, it is right for this to be tested in the courts. The Iraq inquiry report amply supports such doubt: as I suggest in my letter, it provides double grounds for charging Tony Blair with manslaughter.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Heller

 

Further letter to AG 19 May 2017

 

I wonder if your officials are now able to reply to the above letter, which is a month old. I have had no reply from the Prime Minister either.

 

I would be particularly grateful to understand why you consider it in the public interest to prevent a trial of Tony Blair for waging an aggressive war. It seems to me very much in the public interest to give the courts an opportunity to decide whether this is indeed an offence under domestic law. That is a matter which the new Parliament may wish to consider at the earliest opportunity. Or is it your view and the government’s that waging aggressive and therefore unlawful war should not be a domestic offence?

 

A trial of Tony Blair would also demonstrate powerfully that ministers in our country are subject to the rule of law and face the same standards of criminal responsibility as other citizens.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

 

 

Richard Heller

 

 

23. April 2017 by rkh
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Harry Truman’s Biggest Mistake

On this day (April 12) in 1945 Harry Truman became President of the United States, on the death of Franklin Roosevelt. He won a famous re-election victory in 1948 to serve another term in his own right.

Years later Truman was asked by his biographer, Merle Miller, to name his greatest mistake. Truman’s was an eventful Presidency. He could have cited dropping the atomic bombs on Japan, or allowing MacArthur to drift into war with China, or failing to check Joe McCarthy or a heap of other big issues, foreign and domestic. But Truman immediately replied: “My biggest mistake was appointing Tom Clark to the Supreme Court. It wasn’t just that he was crooked (which he was) but he was such a stupid son of a bitch.”

How many current politicians, worldwide, merit the same description?

12. April 2017 by rkh
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Screenwriting Blues

I reach this point in every Screenplay. It arrived this morning in the Lahore Movie.

I have pared down the major characters.

I have wiped out all the colourful but cluttering minor characters.

I have murdered all the little darlings, those cutesy bits of dialogue or business that seemed irresistible on first creation.

The Screenplay’s first hour is now reduced to its essential elements of raw drama.

And it’s a complete turkey.

No actor would want to play any of these characters, even if offered big money. No one would pay money to watch them in a cinema. Opening night and closing night would be simultaneous. In Luke Upward’s memorable piece of theatre criticism (about himself): “One could have stored meat in the audience. Long before the end, the rattle of retracting seats was like gunfire. Even the portly and the infirm leapt over them like young ibex, in search of the exits.” The only audience left in any cinema at the end of my movie would be teenagers in the back rows, too busy “making out” to notice anything on the screen.

And there is no remedy. Not even the sudden entrance of Beppo the Wonder Dog could save this movie.

Now I have had this feeling about every screenplay I have written. Now so too have dozens of agents, directors, producers and actors. And many more serendipitous readers of the screenplays I have left in cricket grounds all around the world or abandoned in the drawers of desks later sold in the shops of exceptionally indigent charities. And perhaps all these people are right.

The Screenplay is a turkey.

Fulham lost last night.

Mandelson still lurks and smirks in our political system.

Woe, woe, woe, thrice woe!

05. April 2017 by rkh
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A Modest Proposal To Help Tailend Batsmen Earn A Draw In Cricket Matches

Proposed amendment to Law 16 section 6
Last hour of match: number of overs
Add at end of first paragraph
“Before that over commences, the batting side captain may on notification to the umpires decline during the next session of play the extra delivery which would normally be awarded for a no-ball or a wide under Law 22 or in the circumstances described in Law 22 (3) (v). This option may be exercised only at that point or at the commencement of a new innings, and shall be irrevocable. When that option is exercised, all references to an over in Law 16 shall mean six deliveries inclusive of any wides or no-balls or any delivery on which penalty runs are awarded. However, in all other respects the Laws related to wides or no-balls or penalty runs shall apply.”

Insert in second paragraph after “scorers.”

“He shall also indicate to them any exercise by the batting captain of the option to decline any extra delivery under the foregoing paragraph.”

Explanatory note (Not part of the Laws)


The purpose of this proposed change in Law 16 is to remove a long-standing unintentional anomaly, which affects timed matches at any level of cricket.

The side batting last reaches the last hour of play. It has no hope of winning: the batsmen are trying to earn a draw. In those circumstances, the extra delivery for a wide or a no-ball is of no advantage to them. Quite the contrary, it means that they have to stay at the wicket longer when the light and possibly the pitch are getting worse. If six wides or no-balls are delivered during the last hour, the batting side effectively has to face a full extra over in deteriorating conditions. A wide or a no-ball is a bad ball and the fielding side should not derive any profit from it. The proposal also prevents them from gaining an extra delivery if their conduct has given away five penalty runs.

The option would be irrevocable – the batting captain could not suddenly change his mind and go for a win after all.

17. March 2017 by rkh
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Simpering, Sidelined Harriet Harman

Published in Private Eye 1439

The otherwise excellent treatment in Literary Review (Eye 1438) of Harriet Harman’s simpering memoirs failed to mention their most astonishing allegation. She claims that as Solicitor-General during the run-up to the Iraq war she was barred from any papers or meetings about the legality of the war on orders from the Attorney-General, Lord (Peter) Goldsmith. She did not resist these orders, although it made nonsense of her responsibilities to the Crown and the House of Commons, nor make any independent effort to involve herself in Iraq issues.

The memoirs express no regret for her behaviour. Like her master, Tony Blair and so many others, she seems incapable of acknowledging error or failure over Iraq.

08. March 2017 by rkh
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Gerald Kaufman 1930-2017

After two attempts in the 1950s Gerald Kaufman became a Labour MP in 1970. He has represented people in inner-city Manchester ever since. I suspect that he could retrieve the details of every constituency case he has handled, with the same facility as recalling the credits of movies and lyrics from musical comedy. Before entering Parliament he was a successful journalist and was part of the golden age of British satire on BBC Television’s That Was The Week That Was. He created the legendary sketch Silent Men of Westminster about the MPs who never spoke. Where are they now when we need them?

 
Then Labour got into government, and as Parliamentary Press Officer he became a target for satirists himself, a regular cast member of “Mrs Wilson’s Diary” in Private Eye. He was a minister for every day of the Labour government of 1974-79, first in Environment and then at Industry. From that experience, he wrote How To Be A Minister. It is still the essential manual on the subject, and it ought to be a set book for all politics students.

 

In opposition he was the regular first choice of Labour MPs for the Shadow Cabinet, despite (or perhaps because of) his description of Labour’s 1983 election manifesto as the “longest suicide note in history.” As Shadow Home Secretary he was tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime, long before Tony Blair got the idea, or even Gordon Brown. As Shadow Foreign Secretary, he glided the Labour party away from unilateral disarmament.

 

In 1992 he abandoned the Front Bench to become Chairman of the Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport. Select Committees are typically cosy and forgettable. Not this one. It was once said of him as Chairman that he was never satisfied until some senior executive was reduced to sobs of contrition. In 1999 he also found time to chair the Booker Prize Committee. After reading all the books, he then studied the books of the BBC, whence his Select Committee held a long inquiry into its resources and future funding. He has been both a staunch defender of the BBC and a stern critic of its managers – and a frequent contributor both at home and to the World Service.
Gerald Kaufman has one of the most powerful minds in British politics – and he has never been afraid to speak it, most notably about Israel and its policies. An evening with him is certain to be contentious, revealing – and highly entertaining.

 

27. February 2017 by rkh
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Luke Upward Meets Monsieur de Crapaud

As Luke Upward’s patron, the amiable Marquis de Tarpaulin, became more and more devoted to his collection of old cars, his soirées became more and more over-run with old car bores who did not know a salon from a saloon. Upward found himself wasting some of his finest figures of speech on people who thought that adynaton was an old-fashioned type of generator. The Marquis realized that these people were a threat to his reputation as a literary patron, but he was too amiable to turn them away, especially if they came from his part of France. This was the perennially damp province of Lot-Pressure, where the Marquis had served several terms as Mayor of its chief municipality, Aix-en-Toste. When asked where he lived in France, the Marquis liked to shout “A Lot, a Lot!”, a joke which Upward found grating on its 845th repetition.

 

The Marquis was quick to welcome four visitors from Lot to a soirée where he proposed to unveil one of his most magnificent acquisitions. M Taupe was a short-sighted gentleman, curiously attired in a thick black velvet suit despite the stifling conditions. Upward was quickly irritated by M Campagnol, who was a minor poet. M Blaireau was grumpy and silent. But the youngest of the four, M de Crapaud, was transfixed by the Marquis’ collection. His already glaucous eyes glazed over at each motor car, and he made strange gurgling noises.
Finally the Marquis removed the family tarpaulin from his new acquisition. Even the normally indifferent Upward had a momentary intake of breath. It was a gorgeous 1930s Hispano-Suiza, which had once belonged to the French confidence trickster, Serge Stavisky. Under the direction of Ricky Rubato, the twelve specially tuned car horns within the previous collection sounded a fanfare to the new arrival, the theme for Alain Resnais’s elegant elegiac film Stavisky, composed by Stephen Sondheim (the one that goes Dah-ti-tum Dah-Dah-ti-tum-ti Dah-ti-tum-Dah-Dah).

 
M de Crapaud’s eyes now began to swivel. Several politicians present begged him to join their party, but he did not hear them. His strange noises merged into a continuous “Poupe-Poupe!” Before anyone could stop him, he flung himself into the driving seat of the idling Hispano, wrenched it into gear, and drove it out of the grounds. A few miles away, still saying “Poupe-Poupe!” he was extricated from the motor, which he had crashed into a ditch. It was still roadworthy, but its priceless flower-holder was beyond repair.

 

From the regular court, M de Crapaud received sentences of one year for removing the car, and another year for driving it without a licence. The court added 18 years for cheeking the police. He received a matching sentence from the special French Cours d’Élégance, which is responsible for policing the chic.

 

After this incident, the Marquis lost interest in his cars, and Upward resumed his rightful place as the chief ornament of his collection.

23. January 2017 by rkh
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