Leading article: A lack of diplomacy

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The Independent Online

But Sir Christopher's decision to bring out a book lifting the lid on his former career as Britain's ambassador in Washington threatens to undo some of this good work. The proceeds from the serialisation of his book, DC Confidential, in two national newspapers will go to charity, but the very fact that Sir Christopher has been dealing with individual papers appears to compromise his neutrality. Even if the PCC operates with utter impartiality, the act of striking financial deals with certain newspapers will be imprinted on minds, both inside and outside the industry. Impressions are as important as reality when it comes to building confidence. The chairman of the PCC is required to be an arch-diplomat. He must balance the interest of the public with the freedom of the press and also satisfy the Government that self-regulation is working. Yet this book - which is sharply critical of Tony Blair's conduct in the run-up to war in Iraq - cannot but antagonise the Government. Sir Christopher may now also find himself in an invidious position in future dealings with Downing Street.

None of this is to say that Sir Christopher does not have a contribution to make to the debate about how this country was led into war in Iraq. As ambassador in Washington, he sat in on many of the crucial meetings between President Bush and Tony Blair in the months leading up to the March 2003 invasion. As well as being trusted by Mr Blair, Sir Christopher had close relations with senior figures in the Bush administration. No less a figure than Condoleezza Rice was his tennis partner.

But, in truth, the content of Sir Christopher's book is not that stunning. He confirms our worst suspicions about Tony Blair's subservience to George Bush. And Sir Christopher is as unhappy as this newspaper was at the hasty manner in which Iraq was plunged into conflict - although it should be noted that Sir Christopher was a supporter of the removal of Saddam Hussein and remains an admirer of President Bush. But other than this, the book does not seem to have a great deal to add.

There are no revelations that could not have waited until Sir Christopher stepped down from the PCC for publication. There is nothing in this book that Sir Christopher had a burning responsibility to reveal to the British public. And there is certainly nothing in it that justifies the compromising of his position as a trusted chairman of the Press Complaints Commission.

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