Mark Steel: I'd have kept the bad news for the three-minute silence

'Who knows what else she was planning. Maybe she was hoping for Anthrax to wipe out half Florida'
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The Independent Online

Something I'd like to know is whether there were other people as small-minded as that New Labour spin doctor, who decided that the day of the New York disaster was the ideal time to let out "bad news". Were there people all over the place having such thoughts as "While my neighbour's watching the towers collapse, this is the ideal time to tell him I broke that spirit level I borrowed"?

Who knows what else she was planning before her e-mail became public. Maybe she was hoping for this anthrax business to wipe out half of Florida, then she could have slipped out the proposed reduction in the zebra crossing budget.

And what a paucity of ambition. Councillors' expenses? That day she could have released a story involving Alistair Darling with a llama and it would have barely made it into the Daily Mail gossip diary.

But she was only doing what she's been trained to do, which is to judge every event by how it can be presented to show her party in a favourable light. She knew a policy would be mildly unpopular, so she sought a time to reveal it when no one would complain. If she'd been really sharp, she'd have announced it during the three-minute silence.

Anyway, was she very different from Cherie Blair, who reportedly spent two thousand pounds on having a makeover before the memorial service in New York? Presumably she was sat in the hairdresser's saying to the woman in the next seat: "I've always said you can't mourn properly if you're not happy with your roots."

Meanwhile the rest of us are expected to become equally de-sensitised. The bombing started in familiar fashion, with film of flashes in the night sky and people introduced as experts standing by graphics of maps and pictures of aircraft carriers. Over the past few years, this scene has become so regular, it's like the start of the Olympics.

There are the same events they always have, just in a different country. Perhaps it's all decided years in advance by a special committee, and a while back it was announced: "The 2001 cruise missile bombardment will be in (hushed silence) – Kabul." Which was just as well because there was a lot of ill feeling a few years back when it was awarded to Baghdad twice in a row.

Even the presentation is familiar, with a military spokesman stood next to a cabinet minister showing us grainy bits of film that prove they're hitting all their targets. The way these have worked so far is by showing two pictures of a target – one "before" and one "after". And would you believe it, in the "after" photograph, the four slightly sticking-out things that were apparently crucial elements of the terrorist network have gone.

This is a technique they seem to have borrowed from hair-restorer adverts. What they need is a Mr K of Rotherham next to the "after" picture, saying: "I simply didn't believe it. I'd tried everything from diplomacy to counter-surveillance but nothing could wipe away those infuriating al-Qa'ida training camps. Until I discovered USAF cruise missiles! Now I can walk the streets again and get off with barmaids. I recommend it."

The media rushes to put out these vague photos as proof that everything's going immaculately to plan. The Pentagon might as well produce an "after" picture in which the area is suddenly full of flowers, with a children's play area, and most of the press would believe it.

I noticed that they didn't seem to have "before" and "after" pictures of the United Nations landmine-clearing building that they managed to annihilate. In fact, Blair questioned whether this had been bombed at all, even after the United Nations representative in Islamabad had given a press conference about it. So what else could have flattened it then, if it wasn't a cruise missile? Perhaps there's a lot of bad subsidence in that bit of Kabul. Certainly that would account for the remarkably cheap property prices around there.

And, as in the previous conflicts, there seems to be utter astonishment that the other side does anything other than cave in.

So bin Laden makes his video and there's absolute horror. "Defiant," was one headline. Well what did they expect him to be? Did they think he'd make a video in which he stood looking from side to side with his hands in his pockets going: "Sorry. I'll pay for the damage. We were only mucking about, only we had a few drinks and, being fundamentalists, we're not used to beer, and it went to our heads a bit and it all got out of hand."

Or when they heard he was doing a video, did they think it would be a hand-made one in which his beard got caught in a mangle, and he'd send it in to Jeremy Beadle?

But at least that spin doctor's e-mail has cleared up something. Since the attacks, the anti-war lobby has been accused by New Labour warmongers of being "anti-American" and unsympathetic towards the victims in New York. Now we realise what they mean. If we really cared, we'd have watched the planes striking the towers and thought: "Aha, this is handy."

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