In the film The King’s Speech, when King George VI is preparing for his coronation in Westminster Abbey, he asks the Archbishop of Canterbury to find a seat in the Royal Box for Lionel Logue, his speech therapist. The Archbishop thinks Logue is a colonial upstart and a chancer. He purses his lips, looks dubious, and says something to the King along the lines of, “Well of course, I’ll see what I can do, but it’s going to be very, very difficult.”
When the Falklands War broke out in 1982, 940 school children were on a cruise in the Mediterranean aboard the SS Uganda. They were all immediately sent home. The Uganda docked in Gibraltar for a refit. She was turned into a military hospital ship in 3 days.
Which all goes to show, the only thing the great Ship of State needs to make something happen, is the will to make it so.
Gordon Brown announced the public inquiry into the nation’s role in the Iraq War, on 15th June, 2009. Thus, at time of writing, from the time of its inception, the inquiry has lasted 6 years and 72 days, with still no sign of its completion. The Inquiry’s chairman, Sir John Chilcot, has come under criticism for the evident delay. He issued a statement on August 26th which is worth reading with close attention. “My colleagues and I understand the anguish of the families of those who lost their lives in the conflict… We expect to receive the last responses to our Maxwellisation letters shortly. That will allow us to complete our consideration of the responses, to decide what further work will be needed, and to provide the Prime Minister and thus Parliament and the public with a timetable for the publication of our work.”
It’s also worth reading Sir John’s letter to the Prime Minister on June 15th, the PMs reply on June 17th, and Sir John’s rejoinder by return, on the same day. The PM expresses disappointment to the extent that he, and the British public, “are fast losing patience”. It is clear that Sir John is being put under considerable pressure. Yet he is not yielding to it.
In his last decisive intervention in the House of Commons, on May 8th 1940, concerning the brief and disastrous campaign in Norway, Lloyd George urged the First Lord of the Admiralty not to allow himself to be converted into an air-raid shelter to protect the government. Somebody might say something similar to Sir John. He’s taking the flak.
Six years and 72 days is an awfully long time. The entire Second World War was fought and won in less than six years. Governments and nations can achieve extraordinary feats within a narrow time frame when they are minded to do so. The Manhattan Project, the construction, and detonation of the A Bomb, may be said to have taken place between the time of the famous Einstein-Szilard letter to President Roosevelt on August 2nd 1939, and the Trinity Test at Alamogordo on July 16th, 1945 – less than 6 years again. Putting a man on the moon took a little longer. JFK announced that the USA was going to do this in a speech on May 25th 1961. That was only 20 days after Allan Shepherd had become the second man to fly into space, 23 days after Yuri Gagarin’s inaugural flight. No doubt that rankled. Neil Armstrong walked on the moon on 21st July 1969. 8 years and 57 days… I wonder if the Iraq Inquiry will still be running…
The critical fact concerning the Iraq War is that the British Parliament voted in favour of it, in March 2003, by a majority of 412 to 149. I think the general consensus now is that the Iraq War was a Bad Idea. If the Chilcot Inquiry agrees with the general consensus, then it means that criticism will be levelled not only at a certain number of individuals, but at the whole Ship of State. Some people might find the idea of an entire Establishment being weighed in the balance, and found wanting, intolerable. Perhaps this is why everything appears to be grinding to a halt. I have a sense that the British Establishment are singing a threnody that, far from being prestissimo, presto, or even allegro, isn’t andante, or even adagio. It’s molto largo. But, I hear you say, this has nothing to do with the British Establishment. The Chilcot Inquiry is independent. Every Prime Minister of this century has urged its publication. Is it possible that Sir John Chilcot has been put into what the psychiatrists call a “bind” by people who simultaneously obfuscate, kick things into the long grass, “Maxwellise”; and then, when things come to a grinding halt, shrug? “Nothing to do with us!”
Grieving relatives have died waiting for this report. And is there not something profoundly ironic in the fact that even a member of the Chilcot Committee has passed away during its preparation? I refer to Sir Martin Gilbert, the distinguished historian, and biographer of Churchill.
I feel profoundly sorry for people who suffer through the Law’s delay. Justice delayed truly is justice denied. It is a horrible thing to be waiting for a legal decision. You are on remand. This is why it is best to keep away from the Law unless you have no other choice. Otherwise you end up like Richard Carstone in Bleak House. Jarndyce and Jarndyce killed him, even before the suit was swallowed up in costs. “I am ready to begin the world!” Poor devil.
The definitive statement on the Law is the penultimate chapter of Kafka’s The Trial. In the Cathedral. Joseph K hears from a priest the story of a man waiting on the Law. Before the Law stands a door-keeper. A man wishes to access the Law, but the door-keeper says, while it is possible, it is very, very difficult. The man spends his life at the door, waiting for admittance to the Law. Towards the end of his life, he says to the door-keeper, why is it that nobody has sought admittance through this door, but me? The door-keeper explains: this door was only intended for you. I am now going to shut it.
The Law is completely indifferent to its suitors. As Kafka said, “It receives you when you come and it dismisses you when you go.”