Leading article: Meyer culpa misses the point


Is Sir Christopher Meyer a patronising, hypocritical toff or a witty public servant dedicated to the twin causes of cheering us up and open government? Both, probably. The publication of his book, DC Confidential, has touched off a remarkable range of somewhat misguided responses. Those on the left who opposed the Iraq war seized on the observation that Tony Blair had yielded too easily to George Bush's timetable. Yet Sir Christopher supported the war and admires the President. Those on the right who dislike Mr Blair played up the view that he is not good on "attention to detail". Yet Sir Christopher patently admires Mr Blair too. The rest of us, it may be suspected, were equally entertained by the fun Sir Christopher had at the expense of the Prime Minister's excessively tight dark-blue corduroy trousers.

Meanwhile, Sir Christopher has come under heavy fire from two quarters. Jack Straw, among others, is furious that a former ambassador should rush to publication, undermining the confidence politicians must have that their conversations with officials are private. In his interview with this newspaper today, Sir Christopher lightly says that the Foreign Secretary went "bonkers" because of the way he is portrayed in the book as being out of the Iraq loop. Mr Straw is of course perfectly sane, but he is wrong. Sir Christopher had his book approved under the rules. If Mr Straw has a problem with the rules, he should address his concerns to the appropriate authorities, including himself. But the rules are about right - although there does seem to have been an inconsistency in their application, because the memoir of Sir Jeremy Greenstock, former ambassador to the UN, has been blocked. Better the risk that a politician might be mildly embarrassed by disclosure than that the shroud of secrecy hides what the public has a right to know.

Then it has been claimed that Sir Christopher's position as chairman of the Press Complaints Commission has been compromised, not only by his intrusions into the privacy of John Major's bedchamber, but by the arrangements to serialise his book in two newspapers. Yes, all that is going to make his life difficult. But let us wait and see whether it makes it impossible: his interests are, after all, out in the open. We believe that a diplomat of such sinuousness will be able to traverse the slippery stones of such potential conflicts of interest.

For the moment, the bottom line is that his mischievous book is marvellously entertaining.

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