In quite what together?

It is hard to feel sorry for our Prime Minister – all that coaching (if the Guardian is to be believed) and still skewered by Robert Jay.

The Guardian report captures the moment. But what I enjoyed most was learning that Rebekah Brooks texted:

I am so rooting for you tomorrow not just as proud friend but because professionally we’re definitely in this together!

How very prescient. One of those words I am surprised that counsel didn’t use.


9.30 in Okehampton Town Centre, and it is not busy. I am standing opposite the pedestrian crossing, just up (or is it down) from the entrance to Red Lion Yard, between it and the flower stall. There’s a yellow plastic bag at my feet, and I am wishing that I was wearing something a little warmer than a T-shirt, fleece and scarf. I can see the church clock. It is not moving very quickly.

I am holding a collection tin, although these days they are yellow plastic. I emailed one of the girls earlier in the week, and told her that Caroline and I were going to sell flags in Okehampton on Saturday morning. Yesterday evening she told me that she had had a vision of the two of us wrestling with flags and wondering how we would sell them, and, rather more, why anyone would want to buy one. Only when I told her that for my generation, today’s stickers were, when we were children, paper flags, attached with a pin – ‘flags’ – did she understand.

As I told her, I recalled, aged 12, standing in the Square in Wallingford, selling flags for the Lifeboats, a tray of flags round my neck, and the lifeboat shaped collecting tin on a red string. My mother organised two collections, a house to house collection for Imperial Cancer Campaign – I used to go with her up Wilding Road (one of the longest in Wallingford, or at least to a small boy it seemed that) – and the other for the Lifeboats, which despite being some 100 miles from the nearest sea was always well supported. You don’t need to live next to the sea to feel the call of a seafaring heritage!

But back to Okehampton on a cold, grey Saturday morning. What struck me most was my invisibility to at least half of the passers by. Rattling the tin is not allowed, and so the next best thing is a sturdy good morning, then catch the eye, and smile. But for many, hurrying by, I simply didn’t exist – they looked right through me. It was disconcerting and, in a very small way, I felt what I am sure many Big Issue sellers feel – a nuisance, someone who if you ignore you can pretend isn’t there.

And yet for every two or three persons who scurried by, head down or consciously avoiding me, there was one who replied to the good morning, fumbling for change, apologising that it wasn’t very much, engaging in small talk – or like the couple in their late 60s who told me that the CAB had been their lifeline. That’s why it is worth doing it.

The CAB has done a brilliant job in Okehampton this year, and they do it every year. I may be a little partisan – Caroline works for them – but an hour on the street on a Saturday morning is all you need to know this.

Sorry and sad?

“We are sorry.”

“We” is News International, and in the course of one well-crafted apology – and would you expect anything less from a consummate newspaperman? – Rupert Murdoch used the S-word three times (once “deeply”), offered us “regret”, acknowledged “the serious wrongdoing that occurred” and committed (but without quite saying it)  his organisation to “live up to this” (the idea of a free and open press) and to taking “further concrete steps to resolve these issues and make amends”.

As apologies go (and we after all live in the age of the incontinent apology) it ticked nearly all the boxes.

But is it authentic?

It is never just the words, but the context that is important. Not just the sorry bit, but much more – not least the taking of responsibility and the commitment (whether express or implied) not to do whatever you are apologising about again.

And that is the bit I missed.

And “Sorry and sad”? 19th century rhyming slang for “bad”.

Whisky Tango Foxtrot

Quite what Andy McNab would have made of the fiasco in eastern Libya is anyone’s guess, and, given the reluctance of our Special Forces to disclose any information at all, we are unlikely to hear very much more.

What is astonishing is how very 19th century it all seems.

A Chinook (if it was a Chinook – it may just be that that is the stock image the BBC uses when a large helicopter is involved) is not a gun boat, but the idea of sending an armed diplomatic party to parlay with the natives (without telling them first) is so very Empire.

And a “serious misunderstanding” (William Hague in the House of Commons) a perfect example of diplomatic language.

Blair Take 2 (Friday)

Richard Norton-Taylor excellent in this evening on new evidence from Lord Goldsmith: Chilcot inquiry: Blair shut me out says former legal chief, Lord Goldsmith

I was particularly struck by,

The document contains a handwritten note by [Sir David] Manning [Blair’s foreign policy adviser], warning: “Clear advice from attorney on need for further resolution.” Blair scrawled in the margin: “I just don’t understand this.”

Didn’t get it then, doesn’t get it now, probably never will.

And as for Lord Goldsmith, read the late Tom Bingham’s analysis in The Rule of Law, pages 120 – 129.

Acts of the Apostles, chapter 20, verse 35?

The Church of England is sometimes remarkably inept.

A good example of entirely failing to get it is Exeter Cathedral’s Christmas lunch for its Volunteer Stewards and Guides. These are the people who, for most of us, are the face of the Cathedral. As the Cathedral website says,

Exeter Cathedral, like all cathedrals, relies on its team of Volunteers Stewards and Guides to welcome visitors and provide guided tours throughout the year.  Their role is one of public relations and as such they are ambassadors on the Cathedral’s behalf.  The time and dedication of them all cannot be praised highly enough.

And there are a fair number of them – some 90 or so.

But far fewer will have gone to the Christmas lunch today, as the Cathedral asked each of them who wanted to go for £12.50 for a buffet lunch and one glass of wine. And for a number of them this was simply too much.

What a way to thank people for a year of service.

Cultural differences always make it a “little bit sticky”

An article by Ed Crooks and  Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson in today’s FT points up the difficulty that BP has had in finding “the right tone to fit America’s emotional register”,

That climate of opinion [ where even Barack Obama has been attacked for failing to show enough emotion, and pushed by the US media to show how angry he is] makes it particularly damaging for BP to appear to be making light of the disaster.

Mr Hayward has been the target of many of the attacks on BP, becoming the “most hated and clueless man in America” according to the New York Daily News, after a string of inflammatory remarks.

Some of the comments for which he has been criticised have been entirely defensible, such as his admission to the Financial Times that BP lacked the engineering capability to tackle a blown-out well in deep water. Others have been crass and insensitive, such as his observation that “I’d like my life back,” for which he was forced to apologise on Facebook.

He has a British tendency to make a joke or smile to try to defuse tension, which has made it look as though he does not understand the gravity of the situation.

It was that last paragraph that really caught my eye.

Being a Brit I understand only too well that approach; after all, it is a stock-in-trade for most of us this side of the Atlantic.

But cultural differences have been a perennial source of misunderstanding for Britons when dealing with Americans. A telling example was at the height of the Korean War, in April 1951, when men from 1st Battalion, the Gloucestershire Regiment were holding a key ford over the Imjin River. They found themselves heavily outnumbered by the Chinese, who had sent an entire division of 10,000 men against their 650.

A day and a half into the action, surrounded and with ammunition and supplies running low, they were in imminent danger of being overrun. An American, Maj-Gen Robert H Soule, asked the British brigadier, Thomas Brodie: “How are the Glosters doing?”

As reported in an article in the Daily Telegraph on the 50th anniversary of the battle, 

the brigadier, schooled in British understatement, replied: “A bit sticky, things are pretty sticky down there.” To American ears, this did not sound too desperate.

The Glosters lost 622 men and officers to death, injury or captivity.