Sunday, November 13, 2005


As ambassador to Washington, Sir Christopher Meyer was one of Britain’s top diplomats in the run-up to the war in Iraq.

Back home in his new job as chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, he’s the man you turn to if you feel the media have invaded your privacy and you can’t afford a costly libel case.
But past and present government ministers and former colleagues say he’s betrayed so many confidences and let so many big cats out of the diplomatic bag in his new book, DC Confidential, which two national newspapers serialised last week, he’s no longer the right man for that job.
Their collective view of this former diplomat’s diplomat is that he’s behaved no better than a tabloid hack.
In fact he’s done such an efficient ‘hatchet’ job on the politicians who planned the war he must be the envy of every hack.

Sir Christopher, whose CV includes postings to Madrid and Moscow and the roles of Press Secretary to former Prime Minister John Major and ambassador to Germany before he went to Washington, would make a first class hack.

A man who can get away with reporting that Tony Blair was so dazzled by the wealth and power of America he didn’t use the leverage he had, then Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon was intimidated by Donald Rumsfeld and John Major did business in his underpants deserves a Hack of the Year award.

Whether it’s secreting a camera on their person or pretending to be someone they are not (like a tourist in a country where foreign journalists are banned or a footman at Buckingham Palace), most hacks get their best stories by going undercover.

They know very well no one would talk to them and they would never get the story if they announced: ‘I’m Jack/Jill Blab from Your Business Is Mine.’

But Sir Christopher didn’t have to work undercover or stoop to such lowly devices to get his foot in the door. This ultimate insider had both feet planted officially right inside the back alleys of power.

In a country still obsessed with secrecy about official matters despite the Freedom of Information Act, the main charge against him is that his betrayal of trust means government ministers will no longer feel safe and be able to govern if they think what they say will appear in print while they are still in office.

Such trust is generally necessary to the smooth running of government. But the circumstances in which Britain went to war in Iraq were so shrouded in lies and deception, in this instance it deserved to be broken.

Someone in the Cabinet Office obviously agreed because he got official permission to publish his book and has done a public service with his kiss-and-tell story of what went on behind the scenes.

All his critics are doing is providing such excellent publicity for his book it could become a Christmas bestseller.

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