Wednesday, 27 January 2010

The Chilcot Inquiry: if you are so drawn to it...

An increasingly nervy, impulsive, hair-trigger atmosphere surrounds the Chilcot Inquiry and reportage of same, as the media and the ticket-possessing public await Tony Blair’s appearance on Friday. The last few days have offered rich pickings on the legal aspect of the matter. I should say that it used to be one of my (innumerable) gripes against New Labour that there were far too many bloody lawyers sat round its top table. But then I’m not aware that anyone ever claimed these people were any good at being lawyers. (Cherie Blair has her claims in this department, of course, but nobody ever elected her, perhaps to her chagrin.)
What an assured legal performance we have had, though, from Jack Straw! Not just in his testimony to Chilcott but in the documents under discussion, such as his 6-page rejoinder to Lord Goldsmith. The BBC, who nurse a private and wholly personal wound over Iraq, are currently headlining that Straw is ‘defiant over ignored legal advice’ on the illegality of the war, which is, I suppose, one way of saying that Straw considered one piece of advice from the Attorney General to be more salient than another (differing) one from the FO’s man.
Similarly it seems to be headline news to some outlets that Lord Goldsmith ‘changed his mind’ on illegality, or that he had admitted such - something we were aware of, also of Goldsmith’s reasons for same, many moons and Inquiries ago; just as we know the unshakeable anti-war line that he only reviewed his options once the Yanks leaned on him. At any rate Goldsmith put it this way today: the question to his mind was ‘‘Which side of the argument do you want to be on?’ And I took the view I would prefer to be on the side of the argument that a second resolution wasn't necessary.’ That’s politics. As Paul Waugh of the Evening Standard has it, more sceptically than would I:
‘I'm sure many will seize on 'Goldsmith's Law' as proof of his wrong-headed approach to the law: make up your mind first where you want to end up and then design your verdict accordingly. Not exactly what some expect of an Attorney General. But maybe that's unfair, maybe he was simply reflecting the political realities of the consequence of his decision…’
Yesterday the principled Elizabeth Wilmshurst said her piece in cool and calm fashion, and Nick Witchell on the BBC 10 O’Clock News made sure we were told that members of the public in the hearing room applauded the end of her testimony. Not to defame these spectators en masse but I suspect a fair few of them are the sort who have made BBC1’s Question Time such a drizzle of loud nonsense whenever Iraq is discussed.
Ms Wilmshurst also got in her shot at Mr Straw and his ‘ignoring’ of the Foreign Office legal view: ‘He’s not an international lawyer.’ So, by implication, he lacks that rigour, that basis on such an universally esteemed and binding body of case law? Sure, Ms Wilmhurst and Sir Michael Wood may have been more fastidiously following the letter of law in making sure their opinions genuflected toward the legally clear primacy of that peculiar body called the UN Security Council - for all that this was to defer to the polluted world of politics. If only the membership of said Council were as pure and rigorous in their legal assessment of a case as Wilmhurst and Wood! But then maybe the proud French former imperium, the wounded and bristling Russian imperium, and the quietly confident Chinese imperium were all entirely principled and law-abiding in their considered opinion that the tyrant Saddam Hussein would not be overthrown by any imperial warmongering US/UK-led coalition, at least not on their watch. Or as Kafka's thuggish doorkeeper tells the Man from the Country who seeks admission to The Law: 'If you are so drawn to it, just try to go in despite my veto. But take note: I am powerful...'
The illustration above comes from the online petition site Ban Blair Baiting.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Mad Max in Midlife

My dear daughter #1, newly 4 years old, is in a phase where Her Absolute Indispensable Favourite Film has passed seamlessly from Mary Poppins to The Sound of Music. As such, her cinematic tastes have reached 1965, and she has learned why Julie Andrews – nee Julia Wells of Walton-on-Thames – was in her heyday the world’s biggest box-office draw: namely, because she was clean-limbed and fresh-faced, apparently unsullied, she sang well, and could even manage to act a bit while singing. Perhaps one day I will be forced to explain to Cordelia why Julia from Walton-on-Thames then married the increasingly vulgar Blake Edwards, watched her career decline none too gracefully, and felt the strange need to disrobe in a dismal picture called S.O.B. Eh bien, I guess that Cordi and I might yet manage to sit together through a viewing of Julie's one other hit, Thoroughly Modern Millie...
Before Cordi met Julie, i.e. last summer, she had a big thing for Babe The Pig, and this Christmas she seemed to approve of Mumbles the Penguin in Happy Feet. It was with great surprise that I discovered these works to be the brainchildren of Australian director George Miller, the affable and cerebral ex-doctor who did the boys a big favour by packing in medicine, getting some mates together in 1979 and making Mad Max.
Now then, when I was 10 years old my own Absolute Indispensable Favourite Film was Mad Max, and by the time I turned 11 it was Mad Max 2 (or The Road Warrior, as it was known in the US where few people outside of drive-ins had turned out for Mad Max.) Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome duly followed in 1985, a let-down that showed Miller was a mite too inclined to the Jungian analysis of mythology popularised by Joseph Campbell.
Now the internet churns daily with reports of progress on Miller’s fourth Max picture, Fury Road, due for our screens in 2011, Tom Hardy taking the wheel from that villainous old soak Mel Gibson. Is Miller too old for this sort of thing now? Am I?