Glamour fades fast as grey men go to battle
There were two wars being fought in Westminster yesterday. There was Iraq, where the heat and dust of the battle is being examined in a chilly room by men as grey as the sky overhead. Then there was Afghanistan, where our mission was being defended by the quivering moustache that is Bob Ainsworth at the Defence Select Committee for the first time.
Iraq had all the glamour, the TV, the press, the previews. This was perfect timing for Bob. Indeed, if I believed Bumbling Bob was capable of such a thing, I would say that he’d organised it on purpose, as his appearance has been rescheduled three times. Still, the room in the Commons corridor was packed.
So was the Iraq Inquiry for, oh, at least an hour or two. One thing about Iraq, which we should all recall, is that the glamour fades fast. By the afternoon the public and much of the media had lost interest. Sir John Chilcot, a mandarin who, confusingly, looks a bit like a koala, provides not even one particle of spectacle. I don’t know why but it seemed in keeping that, directly above the inquiry room at the QEII centre, there was a conference on chlamydia testing.
I ran between Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq is now as dry as a desert wind but I could understand what was being said (though the stenographer at one point referred to Eric instead of Iraq). I watched in the room reserved for the public, in which there was only one actual member of the public, Michael Culver, an actor who wore a T-shirt that said “Karadzic Now, Blair When?”. He proved an invaluable translator: every once in a while he would say something like, “This man is lying through his teeth!”
As the civil servant witnesses, who were straight out of central casting, droned on about no-fly zones, I asked Mr Culver what he thought. “The whole point of this is to bore everybody into the ground,” he announced. He speaks the truth.
It was much more chaotic in the room with Bumbling Bob. Actually Bumbling Bob has had a change of consonant. He is now Mumbling Bob. I saw entire chunks of war zone disappear behind that little triangular moustache.
Still, we got the idea that things weren’t going so well. Bob tried to explain why the MoD couldn’t find its equipment, particularly its Bowman battle radios. Mumbling explained that they didn’t know where they were but they were not lost.
“We will return to this. The difference between losing equipment and not knowing where it is strikes me as not very big,” said Tory MP James Arbuthnot in his slow grave baritone voice.
Bob blinked furiously. He was losing the hearts and minds of Britons, much less Afghans. Why? Bob told us, and I paraphrase because I have no choice, that it’s too far away and too complicated. “Nobody is interested in history,” he said (tell that to the Iraq inquiry).
I felt grateful when he was asked a really easy question about Christmas posting arrangements. But Bob embarked on another marathon mumble which include something about too many unsolicited cakes sent to Helmand. “That is our biggest worry.”
Is it? It’s only a bit of cake, Bob. Still, it’s Afghanistan and, yesterday, it was much messier than Iraq.
The Times online.Ann Treneman.
February 26, 2010