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DC Confidential - Christopher Meyer
Member Name: SueMagee
DC Confidential - Christopher Meyer
Advantages: Some titillating gossip about political figures.
Disadvantages: The book should never have been written.
I was in two minds about whether or not to buy this book for reasons I’ll explain later. It was only when three other family members said that they wouldn’t mind reading it that I succumbed and parted with my money to Amazon. Now I wish I hadn’t.
Excerpts from the book were published in The Guardian and The Daily Mail in early November 2005 and it seemed that the book might offer a different perspective on the relationship between the UK and the USA in the period before the Iraq war – a subject in which I’m very interested. Certainly the serialisation suggested a new view of George W Bush and an insight into the relationships between various politicians. Unfortunately what I found was that the newspapers had cherry-picked the best bits and what was left was barely worth the read.
Christopher Meyer went to Bonn as Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Germany. He’d recently separated from his wife, or “my then wife” as her refers to her. We never know her name and she doesn’t even get into the index, rather like Edwina Currie in John Major’s memoirs. Meyer makes no secret of his enjoyment of his status as a single man and falls for the charms of a lady with whom the Embassy had a rather difficult relationship because of their inability to help her gain access to her children. They’d been abducted by her German ex-husband. Having seen a picture of Miss Laylle, Meyer decides, against protocol, to see her on his own.
"She sensed my eyes boring into her calves like red-hot pokers".
Oh dear – I’d picked a book hoping for incisive political insight and bought the lustful thoughts of a middle-aged Lothario. Mind you, I’d love to have been a fly on the Embassy wall when THAT gossip was doing the rounds. Meyer expected to stay in Germany for about four years and oversee the move of the Embassy from Bonn to Berlin. His relationship with Catherine Laylle could only have caused him problems in Germany so it was fortunate that he was transferred with little warning to Washington. They managed to marry on the eve of their departure for the United States.
The title of the book led me to believe that it would essentially be about Meyer’s time in Washington, but only about half the book is devoted to 9/11 and the period before the Iraq War. Of the rest there’s a mishmash of reminiscence about Meyer’s career in the Foreign Office with the accent on what sells well in the tabloids – briefing John Major of a morning as he dressed and the KGB’s attempts to corrupt Meyer whilst he was in Moscow. Confusingly, it’s not presented in chronological order either.
"In the end it was my wife, Catherine, who saved the Scottish cashmere wool industry..."
Far too much of the book concentrates on Catherine. I know it’s irrational, but she was put forward to the point where I began to dislike her. There’s a whole chapter devoted to her child-abduction problems and numerous references to the charity she set up to help other parents in similar circumstances. (Interestingly, Meyer could not accept a fee from the newspapers for the serialisation of his memoirs as he’s chairman of the Press Complaints Commission. The £250,000 fees went to three children’s charities, with one third going to his wife’s charity from which she draws a salary of £34,000 a year.) I know that the Ambassador’s spouse plays an important part in the life of any Embassy, but this book would really have been better entitled “Memoirs of a Besotted Man”.
The book is more interesting when it deals with 9/11 and the pre-war period, but only from a rather superficial point of view. Yes, it is amusing to hear about Tony Blair and his tight cord-trousers but I’m doubtful about whether it adds greatly to the sum of our knowledge. He paints George W Bush as being a more commanding figure than public perception would allow and certainly as master of his administration. I was interested in this point, but I would have liked more supporting evidence. Meyer loves the trappings of power and he’s a name-dropper par excellence. There’s also the whiney sound of old scores being settled.
The writing style is clunky – a mixture of Civil Service formality (which will send you to sleep) and tabloid sensationalism. It felt too as if it had been written in a hurry and not read through to see if it made compelling reading. On one page (171) I found three consecutive sentences beginning with “It is…” – and that’s just plain lazy writing.
The photographs are all good quality and the usual mixture of “me with the great and the good” with an added emphasis on Catherine. They’re moderately interesting but probably more so to the Meyers than anyone else.
I know I shouldn’t have bought this book. I’m an ex-Civil Servant and in a quarter of a century in the job I leaned that discretion is of the utmost importance even in those areas not covered by the Official Secrets Act. I believe that politicians should feel able to be open and honest with Civil Servants, who are, after all, the people who implement their policies. They should feel able to trust the advice they are given. One man, in writing this book, will have put in jeopardy a trust that’s been built up over many years. I wonder how many politicians have decided that “you can’t trust the Civil Service” since its publication. I wonder too how this generation of diplomats feel, having to work in its shadow.
We now have the inglorious situation of the deputy prime minister being involved in a public spat with a former ambassador and knight of the realm over whether or not Meyer should resign as chairman of the Press Complaints Commission. The reputation of diplomacy is at a very low ebb.
The book’s not recommended. If you’re really interested in what he has to say about some of our politicians go and trawl through the newspaper archives and get the most titillating bits for free.
• Hardcover 288 pages (November 10, 2005)
• Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
• Price: £20 but available on Amazon for £12 in November 2005
• ISBN: 0297851144
Summary: A book that will damage relationships between the Foreign Office and politicians.