'You voted for it. Why are you clapping?' David Miliband muttered petulantly to Harriet Harman when his brother Ed told the Labour Party conference that the invasion of Iraq had been "wrong".
Harman replied to the effect that she was demonstrating loyalty to her new leader, implying that whatever the leader said she would applaud it. That presumably was why she voted for the war in 2003 – because Tony Blair, the then leader, had been all in favour of it.
What she should have told David Miliband, but didn't, was that though she had voted for the war, she now recognised that it had been wrong. She could have added that, like others, she had been misled by Blair and his American allies about Saddam Hussein's intention.
David Miliband could have said all this too and no doubt the conference would have applauded him. But whether out of loyalty to Blair or a desire not to be accused of inconsistency, he chose to sit tight.
His brother realised that if he was going to lead the party he had to say that the war had been a disaster. He thereby showed that he is a more astute politician than David and that all the talk about David being a great loss to the Shadow Cabinet is wide of the mark.
When reality eclipses satire altogether
I spent an enjoyable afternoon on Wednesday reading aloud extracts from Private Eye's Mrs Wilson's diary (which I wrote with John Wells) for a television documentary about the Wilson/Heath years.
I am fairly sure that the idea of the diary came from the fertile mind of Peter Cook, who had read in the papers that Mrs Wilson not only kept a diary but also wrote poetry. The diary therefore was often introduced by some fairly appalling verses from the school of McGonagall.
I suspect that Mrs Wilson – still, I'm glad to say, with us – would not have enjoyed it so much. As a well-educated, well-spoken lady – a close friend of John Betjeman – she resented the diary's picture of her as a simple-minded north country housewife with a feather duster in her hand and a line of china ducks going up the wall. She would resent as well, I suspect, the notion of her husband Harold as a comical Walter Mitty figure in a Gannex mackintosh, over-indulging in Wincarnis tonic wine.
When you have created a satirical world like this, it is almost always disconcerting to discover later that the reality was infinitely more improbable.
Wilson's press adviser Joe Haines describes in his memoir an extraordinary scenario at No 10 – Wilson living in almost constant terror of his scary private secretary Marcia Williams, whose threats and tantrums were so unrelenting that at one point Wilson's doctor seriously proposed bumping her off as a way out of their difficulties. If we'd made that up, we'd have been ridiculed as a couple of deluded fantasists.
The trouble with musical geniuses
Today I shall be making my debut as a concert pianist in a performance of Schumann's Scenes from Childhood at London's Kings Place Music Centre to celebrate the great composer's 200th anniversary.
A motley bunch of amateurs including myself, the actor Edward Fox, the editor of The Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, and Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor will each play one of the 13 short pieces in the work. It could well be the first and last such performance. We shall see.
After referring last week to various of our modern musicians such as Amy Winehouse and George Michael as "troubled", I was interested to see the promotional publicity for the concert describing Schumann as "the troubled genius" – a small sign that nowadays we like to think that all great artists were deeply disturbed and probably manic depressive.
It's true that Schumann went mad in later life and committed suicide, but his early piano music like the Scenes from Childhood, most of it written when he was passionately in love with Clara Wieck, is full of life and happiness – not troubled at all.Reuse content