Chaps in suits and ties are recalling their glory days. Will anything useful be learned?by Jean Seaton / December 16, 2009 / Leave a comment
Christopher Meyer at the Iraq war inquiry: a vain popinjay
The Iraq war inquiry, which began during November, is the last redoubt of the tie. These are fast disappearing from public life, superseded by the studied informality of open-necked shirts. But, seemingly in defiance of sofa government, they fly like pennants here at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster.
Indeed, the proceedings are really just an elegy for chaps in suits—an affecting display of the varieties of masculine thinking and ways of being of a particular sort of man: not just military types or politicians, but public service man. As we went to war, the witnesses were at the height of their careers. Because of the generation that it was, they were also all men. Most of the inquiry members are chaps, although the secretariat that serves it is the blonde, feminised future (though they all wear black suits too).
There is a hint of melancholy wistfulness to the procession of witnesses. Tall, handsome, saturnine military men; small austere men; charming men; creepy men; and diligent men. Then you have the oddity of our former US ambassadors: the vain popinjay Christopher Meyer, condemned to the hell of being himself, alongside the impressive David Manning—both seeming, as do the others, like overblown roses.
In the inquiry room, you watch them look back to when they did large things routinely. You can almost see them contemplating the way the busy heyday years are behind them. Whether they got it right or wrong, these chaps worked hard, they were intelligent and effective—they carried responsibilities we can hardly imagine. But now they are being held to a different kind of account, and perhaps they wonder how to communicate what their work was like. Was it useful? Has it turned to dust?
The atmosphere is quiet, even, steady. There is a courteous decency, and a pleasing thoroughness to it all. But this makes it more, not less, deadly. It is human drama alright, but more Racine than Shakespeare. Important evidence is placed down carefully, like precise incendiary devices. The testimony of John Scarlett, the former head of MI6, for example. He drew up the dossier with the infamous 45-minute claim. Scarlett insisted there was no attempt to “sex up” the dossier but that “something had been lost in translation.”
But there is no great palaver about it, no courtroom pouncing and preening,…