The Sketch: They ganged up on him, but Sir Chris saw them off

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The Independent Online

What a duffing up that was going to be. "Ladies and gentlemen, you see before you, cowering in the dock, the indigenous toad!" What wasn't the committee going to do with the sneering, patronising, reeking, red-socked fop?

Tony Wright - whose bill of plays has to be commended, as well as his casting - had called for evidence on the writing of political memoirs; he had brought in Sir Andrew Turnbull to set the scene and raise the blood pressure of the committee. Then he had the defendant in himself: the betrayer of trust, mocker of convention, the handsome, popular, successful Christopher Meyer.

Committees rarely manage to deploy their indignation effectively and in the event it turned out to be a bit of a draw. The charge against Sir Christopher was plangently put by Mr Wright, that the ex-ambassador had published private conversations, betrayed the trust of his employers and thereby made certain that the circle round the centre would tighten to political appointees and special advisers (shudder, sign of the cross). You couldn't argue with that.

But conversely,Sir Christopher's defence was never penetrated. He had submitted the text to the Cabinet Office, and Gus O'Donnell had cleared it. "The Government has no comment to make," the reply came back. There was toing and froing on this point between the committee and the indigenous toad - letters, memos, e-mails, dates and counter-dates - but the charges didn't stick. Grant Schapps made an analogy too stupid to explicate here and they all missed what seems to me the central point. When the Cabinet Office read the text, why did it not light up the night sky with its wrath? Try this for an answer: their approval represented the revenge of the mandarins after a series of humiliations actual and attempted on the Civil Service. It's a pleasing possibility.

Sir Christopher's defence did include the statement, "I never used the word underpants!" and that offers room for criticism by the fastidious. But again, his account of Alastair Campbell's attempts to exclude him from a US state dinner are something more than office gossip. It illuminates how No 10 debauched and degraded the Civil Service so much that Sir Christopher's conduct seems more or less in keeping with the new mores.

NB: Diaries are obviously harder than they look. We got a glimpse of Alastair Campbell's artfully trailed volume during the Hutton inquiry. It sounded bottomlessly banal. Diaries need at least some tension or distinction between the public and private, along with a recognition of the diarist's fallibility. Neither quality is natural to professional propagandists like Campbell, but both are apparent in Sir Christopher's DC Confidential.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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