Archbishop in the line of fire over Iraq comments

Click to follow
The Independent Online

* There has been no more forceful critic of the Government's involvement in Iraq than the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams.

Williams took to the airwaves again last Friday to condemn the reasons for war as "morally and practically flawed." It was his second rant in under a week after he previously accused Tony Blair of being "shortsighted" during a pilgrimage to Bethlehem.

Now, in a surprising move, a member of the Prime Minister's inner circle has decided to return fire.

Ann Clwyd, who is Tony Blair's special envoy in Iraq, has criticised Williams for his lack of involvement in her campaign to have Saddam prosecuted in 2002.

Clwyd, who founded a group called Indict in the mid-90s, claims she asked Williams to take a leading role in persuading world governments to have Saddam arrested.

"I went to see Rowan Williams in Newport in the summer of 2002, to try to get him to campaign for an indictment," she says.

"He appeared to be quite enthusiastic at the time, but all I ever saw was a quote from him in The Guardian some time later. I wish he, and others, had pursued the matter more vigorously. If Saddam had been indicted, he would have lost a lot of credibility in the Arab world and it may have been possible to avoid invasion."

Clwyd's comments are unlikely to help thaw frosty relations between Downing Street and Lambeth Palace. A spokesman for Williams said: "He's on retreat at the moment so we can't comment ."

* Try as he might, Sir Cliff Richard just can't seem to shake off his recent failure to bag the coveted Christmas No 1 slot.

The squeaky-clean popster's latest effort, 21st Century Christmas, was pipped to the post by Take That in the run-up to the festive season.

In what would have given him a No 1 in the past six decades, fans have since cried foul that Cliff's more elderly followers didn't have the technological know-how to capitalise on download sales.

Now Sir Cliff has come out fighting to reveal it was the download sales that did for him.

"It was a shame I didn't quite make the No 1 slot in the week leading up to Christmas," he tells fans on his official website."

He adds: "Interestingly, over-the-counter sales of 21st Century Christmas were almost half as many again as Take That's."

Come on Cliff, let it go!

* Just one week after Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber was crowned the most influential figure in British theatre by The Stage, the industry mag has released an unwelcome report into his London theatres.

According to a survey on theatre comfort carried out by the magazine, four out of the five most-criticised venues belonged to Lloyd Webber's company, The Really Useful Group. One such haunt, the Palace Theatre, was described as having seats "like they are made out of itching powder".

Lloyd Webber's team are not usually noted for taking criticism on the chin. In a response worthy of a parliamentary spin doctor, a spokesman for The Really Useful Group retorts: "Our own research shows that the quality of the shows and the experience as a whole completely outweighs any negatives."

* When Charles Kennedy appeared all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on Radio 4's Start the Week on New Year's Day, political pundits noted a remarkable turnaround.

In years gone by, the former Liberal Democrats booze hound would usually be found nursing a post-Hogmanay bruised head rather than dishing out soundbites at nine in the morning.

But while Pandora remains satisfied that all the signs still point to "Chat Show" making a full recovery, this wasn't one of them.

"We had to record the show with Charlie a couple of days beforehand," says a Radio 4 knob-twiddler.

"Our bookers never have any chance of getting guests in that early on New Year's Day."

* There is some good news for any MPs out there who've picked up a little unwanted extra baggage during the festive season.

When members trundle back to Westminster offices next week, they will be invited by the All Parliamentary Group to join a new consultation programme aimed at helping them shed any of those spare tyres.

The service, which usually charges an annual membership fee of £200, is being kindly provided by a company called Slimming World free of charge.

The scheme, I'm told, will be chaired by the Labour MP Rosie "Marjorie Dawes" Cooper and, by way of jollification, prizes will be regularly awarded to the group's "slimmer of the week".