'Away' on important state business

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The Independent Online

Sharper-eyed readers will have noticed that I was "away" for a week recently. You may have wondered why I was "away", and not, for instance, "on holiday". I had at least one phone call to my own home asking why I was "away". It was from my brother.

Sharper-eyed readers will have noticed that I was "away" for a week recently. You may have wondered why I was "away", and not, for instance, "on holiday". I had at least one phone call to my own home asking why I was "away". It was from my brother.

"You never ring me," he said, "so the only way I can keep in touch is to buy The Independent and see what you're doing, and now all I find is a note saying you're 'away'. So I ring you up, and find you're not 'away' at all. I think you might at least have the grace to be 'away' when I ring to find out where you've gone 'away' to."

Fair enough. The trouble was, I was under solemn oath not to tell anyone where I was. But I think the time has now come to reveal that I had in fact been co-opted for a week to help with the Sir Alan Budd inquiry into the Home Secretary, David Blunkett.

"Thank you for coming out so readily to help me," Sir Alan said when we were assembled. Among the distinguished people present I recognised Janet Street-Porter, John Pilger, Elton John and Bertie Vogts. "In a few weeks the government will announce the setting up of an inquiry under my chairmanship to investigate whether David Blunkett misused his position to give privileges to his lover, so they have asked me to get cracking in advance."

"I think I am speaking for all of us," said Tim Rice, "when I say that we have no experience of investigating petty wrongdoing in the Home Office."

"Oh, you don't have to bother about that," said Budd. "The inquiry has already been wound up, and I have the report here. Its 280 pages cover the ground exhaustively. David Blunkett emerges blameless."

"Isn't that rather for us to decide?" said John Pilger.

"Not at all," said Budd. "You are here to lend credence and gravitas to an otherwise flimsy process, which generally leaves the public with a nasty taste. We thought that an all-star committee of inquiry might deflect the flak."

"If I may say so," I intervened, "it is the narrow remit of the inquiry which usually leaves the nasty taste. What we would like to investigate is whether David Blunkett misused his position as Home Secretary to inflict illiberal and totalitarian measures on the country."

"I couldn't have put it better," murmured John Pilger.

Sir Alan Budd went a little pale.

"Gentlemen, gentlemen! And ladies, too, of course," he said, eyeing Janet Street-Porter warily. "I am surprised to find such eminent people falling into such an old trap. Inquiries do not establish the truth. They merely make people feel that something has been done. They also sometimes make recommendations, which are never followed. An inquiry performs exactly the same role as a post-mortem. It shuts the stable door after the horse has gone and recommends warmly that next time the door should be shut first. All that has happened in this instance is that we have held the inquiry BEFORE there has been a demand for it. In modern parlance, delivery has preceded the promise of delivery."

At that point a mobile phone rang. It was Janet Street-Porter's. She listened for a moment. "Yeah," she said. "I'll gladly go to the jungle for a few days. Anything to get out of this madhouse."

Encouraged by her lead, we all resigned on the spot. We were sworn to silence, but sometimes a journalist has a sacred duty to his readers to break an oath and reveal the truth. If they come to intern me under one of Mr Blunkett's new laws, you will know what has happened when you see the little note: "Miles Kington is away".

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