Not used to speaking in public, civil servants give themselves away as soon as they open their mouths. Sir John Chilcot, the dark-suited respectable figure selected to head Gordon Brown's inquiry into the Iraq war, was determined to talk tough when he launched his investigation this week.
After all, there had been a great deal of scepticism in the press, and more than a few MPs had expressed doubts about the composition of the panel – no military or legal experts, two Jewish historians thought to have been in favour of the war and a token woman, Baroness Prashar, whom few people had hitherto heard of.
This is how Sir John expressed his determination to show all the critics wrong. "If we find that mistakes were made, that there were issues that could have been dealt with better, we will say so frankly."
He might have been the chairman of the parish council looking into an apparent discrepancy in the annual accounts – not an illegal war which had resulted in the death of thousands of innocent people.
It was not surprising in the circumstances that Tony Blair should have expressed himself quite happy to give evidence to the inquiries.
But supposing he told a lot of lies? "If someone were foolish or wicked enough to tell a serious untruth," Sir John replied in his sternest possible voice, "their reputation would be destroyed utterly."
It doesn't seem to have occurred to him that Blair has already been shown to have told a lot of lies to Parliament, the Hutton inquiry, etc. But his reputation has never been higher. He is earning huge sums of money on the lecture circuit and on Wall Street, and he may even become the first ever president of Europe.
So much for the sanctity of life...
It was Trotsky who famously referred to what he called "the Papist-Quaker babble about the sanctity of human life". It was a view shared by his one-time colleague Stalin who bumped off millions of people including Trotsky himself, murdered with an ice pick in Mexico in 1940.
With all the emphasis on the Holocaust it is often overlooked that Hitler, equally contemptuous of Papist and Quakers, pioneered euthanasia for the mentally disabled and physically deformed. Eminent German scientists were happy to co-operate in the experiments.
If there is still a Papist-Quaker babble, then it is growing fainter day by day. More valued today than the sanctity of human life is the rather woolly notion of death with dignity – despite the fact that death is scarcely ever a dignified affair, and least of all when you are helped on your way by a man in a white coat in Switzerland.
Our politicians would never dare to speak the language of Trotsky. But in a society which values everything in terms of money, euthanasia (voluntary or otherwise) is bound to appeal more and more because it saves the state large sums currently spent on care of the elderly and ill.
I very much doubt I will be around, but I would bet that in 20 years' time, euthanasia will be as widely practised in this country as abortion is today.
Number-crunchers rule education
Dr Ken Boston, the head of the QCA (the body responsible for the schools curriculum), recently resigned after the Sats fiasco of last year. Boston is an Australian who in addition to his salary, reported to be bigger than that of the governor of the Bank of England, was allowed six flights a year to and from his native land. Why there was no suitable British candidate for the job was never explained, as apart from anything else it would have saved us quite a lot of money.
Anyway, Boston has now been replaced. His successor is a man called Andrew Hall, of whom few readers will have heard. Hall is a chartered accountant who according to our education correspondent Richard Garner has held several leading management jobs in multinational companies.
It may seem strange to some that a man with those qualifications should be given the quite important task of deciding what is to be taught in schools.
They fail to realise that education is nowadays viewed as fulfilling a vital economic role. The QCA sees itself as having what it calls "a pivotal role in helping the UK become the most dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world".
Any old-fashioned ideas about education being an end in itself which helps children to live a fuller and richer life – nothing whatever to do with economics – have long since been discarded. Or as the formed education minister Charles Clarke once elegantly put it: "Education for education's sake is a bit dodgy." In such circumstances it is only fitting to have a high-flying chartered accountant to organise the timetable.
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