War Cabinet Diary
Day one: Never have I seen John Major like this before. Sometimes he is, dare I say it, a bit of a wimp, a bit of a Neville Chamberlain, but now he has been transformed into, if not a Churchill, at least a Mrs Thatcher, and, if not a Mrs Thatcher, at least a General Galtieri....
No, I don't think that's right. That is no way to start a war diary. Let me try again.
Never have I seen John Major like this before. He was simply magnificent. He stood before us and said, "My friends, so far and no further."
There was a long pause. Someone, I think it was Ken, said: "How do you mean, Prime Minister?"
"Exactly what I say, Kenneth," he said. "So far and no further. We are now at war."
There was a long silence.
"May we ask with whom we are at war?" said Ken.
"In a sense," said the PM, "it does not matter. The fact that we are at war is what matters. Sometimes when the nation is at a low ebb we need a rallying cry, a focusing point. A war. Margaret Thatcher needed the Falklands War. Churchill needed the Second World War."
"Daddy wouldn't buy me a Boer War...." whispered Malcolm in my ear. I ignored him.
"Therefore we are now in a state of non-cooperation with...."
Day two: John Major was simply magnificent today. He stood up in front of the blackboard with his pointer and gave us a lecture on the progress of the War. "Here is a picture of the enemy," he said, pointing at a grinning photograph of Tony Blair.
"Are we at war with Tony Blair?" we asked, startled.
"We are always at war with the enemy," he replied. "That is the man who wants to get his hands on this country and run it. We must not let him do it."
"We let you do it, PM," I said softly. He did not hear me but I think Ken did, for he smiled quietly to himself.
Day three: "We shall be striking THERE and THERE and THERE," said the PM, jabbing at the map of Europe with his pointer, roughly at Brussels, Strasbourg, and Bonn. "With immediate effect."
"Striking in what way, Prime Minister?" said Ken.
"Surely you know what strike means, Ken?" said Major. "Withdraw labour. Non co-operation. Blocking progress. We shall be sitting on all these committees and refusing to allow work to proceed."
"It is just possible, PM," said Malcolm, "that Blair might claim you are stealing his weapons. Striking has always been a Labour speciality. Indeed, it has always been an Old Labour speciality. Would it look right if we invaded Europe using weapons which even the Labour Party had outgrown?"
For a moment I thought John Major would explode.
He went red in the face and inflated himself up to an enormous stature.
Suddenly a cigar appeared in one hand and his other hand made a V-for- Victory.
"We shall non-co-operate with them in the streets!" he bellowed. "We shall non- co-operate with them in the houses! We shall non- co-operate with them on the beaches...!"
Day four: "C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre," muttered Ken in my ear, as the PM took us through his war strategy once more. It did not escape his eagle ears.
"You may think I don't speak German, Ken," said the PM, leaning forward on one arm in that totally exasperating way he has during PM's Question Time. "And you may be right. But do you think it is patriotic to be speaking European lingos during a war cabinet?"
"Why not, mutatis mutandis?" said Ken, somewhat disloyally, I thought. The PM attempted to identify the language for a moment and then gave up.
"So what lessons do we draw from my analysis of the situation?" he went on.
"That we should have fired Stephen Dorrell before he made the speech that got us into this ghastly mess," said Michael Heseltine. "That we should have fired Douglas Hogg before he got us further into it. And that we should have picked me instead of you after Thatcher was ditched."
"The lesson we draw," said Major, apparently not hearing any of this, "is that when your backs are to the wall you do nothing. You withdraw cooperation. Future generations will look back and say: never was so much owed by so many to so few for doing so little."
I sometimes have terrible doubts about the outcome of this war.Reuse content