Richard Ingrams: An untimely clash of memos and memoirs for Blair

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The publishers of Tony Blair's memoirs, for which they have paid out an estimated £5m advance, must be worrying about their investment.

They were no doubt hoping, like Blair himself, that by the time the book comes out later this year, all the fuss about the Iraq war would have subsided and potential readers would be prepared to be reminded of Blair's more positive achievements, such as they are.

But things have not worked out like that as more and more skeletons are dug out from the cupboard following the arrival of a new government. After the release this week of hitherto concealed memos from the then Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, about the illegality of the proposed war, there are even demands that Blair should be recalled by the Chilcot inquiry to explain his previous answers to their questions.

Then there is the suggestion that the new Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, may be minded – to use a bit of legal jargon – to reopen the inquest into the death of the weapons inspector Dr David Kelly. This follows a campaign by a group of doctors who forcefully reject the official verdict of suicide and draw attention to the highly suspicious order by the Lord High Whitewasher Hutton that the post-mortem report should not be made public for 70 years.

In the circumstances, Blair will find it difficult to do all the things authors are nowadays expected to do, like book signings, without attracting angry demonstrations wherever he goes. Perhaps it would be safer to launch the book in America.

No stunt too smart for Beryl

My dear friend Beryl Bainbridge, who died yesterday, was not in the least bit like the public's idea of a famous contemporary female novelist. She had no literary pretensions, never used long words, and had no time for feminism. She shocked many listeners to Desert Island Discs when she said she had always believed that men were superior to women.

Even when she was old and quite ill, Beryl was capable of girlish enthusiasm. And she was observant in ways that most of us are not. I was recalling the other day the time we were sitting together in the audience at An Evening with Dame Edna, one of those big TV spectaculars in honour of showbiz stars. Sitting opposite us in the gangway was a man in a wheelchair with a rug over his knees, and a number of the audience's celebs, keen to demonstrate their concern for the disabled, were coming up to him and making polite conversation.

Beryl, however, turned and whispered in my ear, "I think there's something funny about that man," and she was right. When Dame Edna started hurling her gladdies into the audience one of them was directed at the wheelchair which took off, rocketing down the steps and hurling the occupant, a stuntman, on to the stage. There were gasps of horror all around but not from Beryl, who was howling with laughter.

Friends of Israel come under scrutiny

I have remarked recently on the anomaly of supposedly progressive politicians like Gordon Brown or David Cameron standing up to be counted as "Friends of Israel", a country dedicated to indiscriminate killings and the apartheid-style oppression of Arabs.

Now another unlikely "friend" emerges in the person of Lord Trimble, the former First Minister of Northern Ireland. Trimble has been chosen by Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, as one of the foreign observers to investigate the recent murderous Israeli attack on the flotilla bringing aid to Gaza.

Some may find it surprising that Trimble, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his achievements in Ireland, should declare himself the friend of a country which, since its foundation, has been involved in an almost continuous series of wars. But as a result of his declared "friendship", Trimble now finds his impartiality under attack.

Also under fire is one of the Israeli members of the committee, a 93-year-old law professor, Shabtai Rosenne. The professor was photographed this week examining some relevant documents in his pyjamas. It all makes our own professors on the Chilcot inquiry look positively sprightly. One hopes Professor Sir Martin Gilbert will not feel tempted to organise a pyjama-clad photocall.