The Queen's man was seen exchanging niceties with German officials about the Queen's forthcoming visit to Germany (it is said that Prince Philip will read the lesson in German during the visit to Dresden, but that prospect worries officials less than the possibility of neo-Nazi demonstrations to greet Her Majesty). Mr Leigh-Pemberton declined to discuss recent events concerning his German opposite number, but declared himself pleased with his communautaire choice of tie (which carried the symbol of Britain's EC presidency, Rory the Lion): 'Yes, it's good isn't it? It was a pure accident, but when I noticed I had it on, I thought, 'Yes, let's keep this thing going'.' Sir David Gillmore was but one of a good score of British diplomats, and David Howell (chairman of the foreign affairs select committee) was by no means the only backbencher.
But where was the British cabinet? Embassy officials had said at the start of the reception that John Gummer, the Minister for Agriculture, would be representing the Government; Tristan Garel-Jones, the Minister for European Affairs who last week called in Baron von Richthofen for a rebuke over the publication of a Bundesbank letter to the Government, was in Luxembourg. Mr Gummer, however, did not show, although his deputy was eventually sighted. It fell to Alistair Goodlad, the Foreign Office minister with responsibility for Hong Kong, to convey the Government's best wishes for the continued success of a united Germany.
One source close to the Government dismissed last week's calling in of the ambassador as 'a charade to placate the Europhobes among us'. He added that the ambassador understood this so well 'he played the part faultlessly, adopting a grim face for the occasion'. And on the eve of the Conservative party conference, not too much should be read into the dearth of senior ministers.