So our mental habits and psychological flaws make fools of us, we should probably be more on our guard. But I don't care. I say this without any consideration for the Sketch's reputation for omniscience. I simply don't believe the British Army behaves like that. The Territorials may be another matter; I don't know about them.
But the British Army - for those of us susceptible to them - has been a reliable object of admiration, trust, pride, and all those other things politicians urge us to cultivate instead of the scornful metropolitan cynicism that comes to us so much more naturally. Since Waterloo, we have celebrated their achievements, as the cant has it, and paid tribute to them, and given them credit, and thanked them and valued their contribution.
Just before the statement, John Reid was pursuing his thanking strategy in Health questions: wonderful doctors, nurses, porters and cleaners of the NHS. It never quite works for me - the way Mr Reid frames the proposition you can't admire the staff without admiring the minister.
By contrast, when Nicholas Soames - a man in whom the culture of the British Army vibrates - asks us to admire our troops, it's impossible to do anything else. But then he's been a Guardsman (and possibly more than one, judging by his size). "The regiment is only 300 years old but has received more battle honours than any other regiment," he told the House. You can deduce the range of my psychological problems from the fact that I get a lump in the gullet just typing those words out. "Battle honours." I can hardly see the words on the screen. When I get to the bit about them being one of two assault battalions in the Third Division on the Normandy beaches, I'm going to have to walk around the room for a bit.
I'm back again. The room was very nice.
For Mr Reid, it's oncologists, care of the elderly and midwifery that make his throat tighten. But only, perhaps, because he is Health Secretary. He stayed on the front bench while the Armed Forces minister, Adam Ingram made his brief statement. The allegations were serious, Mr Ingram said, and he wasn't going to say anything more. When Gordon Prentice asked him if the Daily Mirror had paid for the photographs, he said he wasn't going to get involved in the minutiae. When Mr Prentice yelped that it was a "central question", the minister replied: "Well, it's one question. Then there'll be the next question and then the one after that." It's true, if you start answering questions you don't know where it'll end.
Peter Mandelson told the House the regiment was innocent until proven guilty. This reflected so aptly on his own hilarious career you wondered whether the fellow will ever be able to say anything disinterested about anything.
And Ann Clwyd said: "These allegations, if true, shame every one of us." Despite the moral solemnity of the occasion I wondered if that was true.
"Speak for England, Arthur!" someone once said. "Speak for yourself, darling," I thought.Reuse content