It was like hearing the school swot delightedly recount mixing with the big boys
28th January 2010
Don't hit me, I'm only a lawyer. That was pretty much the strength of Lord Goldsmith's day-long evidence to the Iraq Inquiry.
What a long, darty eyed lesson in soaped self-defence.
At the end of it all, three of the inquiry members shook his hand. Now there's cosy.
At first I felt more or less ambivalent towards the man.
By the end I found I could barely listen to his over-rehearsed tones, his unctuous attempt at modesty, his amazing lack of human sorrow at the outcome of our war in the hot, sticky sands of Persia.
This Goldsmith, fashionably bespectacled, his honeyed tones faintly confected, kept referring to his commercial law practice.
He repeatedly described Tony Blair as 'my client'. Was that the relationship? One of hired lawyer to customer?
Was Attorney-General Goldsmith's 'client' not the British people? Was his 'client' not, strictly, the Queen, or at least the Cabinet of her most senior ministers?
If he trollied along to 10 Downing Street and behaved like a professional provider of services, some sort of bewigged, beribboned geisha girl, no wonder we ended up with a legalistic green light to bellicose Blair's war plans.
Ex-diplomat Sir Roderic Lyne (the only inquiry member with any menace),
picked up on 'client' and kept batting the word back to Lord Goldsmith.
What did 'the client' have to say to this or that? Was 'the client' happy? And so forth.
Lord Goldsmith did not seem, initially, to notice that he was being teased. I suspect that self-knowledge is not one of his strong points.
But later he tried to row back, claiming he had been attempting to serve 'the UK as a country'. Maybe.
He covered his backside - 'it's dealt with in my minute of March 7' - and assured the inquiry of his 'integrity and judgment'.
Plenty of little legal tics were evident.
He kept using phrases such as 'if you will' and 'as I understood it' and 'it seemed to me' and 'as it were' and 'eventually, in due course, that is to say'.
We had a burst when he kept referring to 'preamble paragraphs' from some document, his lips forming a pucker of pleasure at the pleasingly arcane term.
'I actively read that as disjunctive,' he said at another point, rolling the lawyerly word round his plump gills.
Well, you say, what can one expect from Attorney Generals? They are merely briefs.
But this is not the whole story. They are a politician-lawyer hybrid. They straddle the divide.
Lord Goldsmith seemed keen yesterday to play down the political aspects of his job. He said he had barely attended Cabinet.
He had not even been invited to give Cabinet his opinion when we went to war in Afghanistan.
He was 'a professional lawyer' and was unconcerned about the political aspects of his decision.
We should remember, please, the deaths here not only of gallant British soldiers but also of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of Iraqis.
Is this really a matter any lawyer could file, simply, under 'cold law'? We are straying here, surely, into the realm of dismaying amorality.
'The lawyer has to reach the correct legal view, whatever the consequences might be,' he said, the tips of his front teeth flashing at the narrow cavern of his dark mouth.
I must confess I found that one of the most chilling sentences I have ever heard from a British politician.
'You were a minister of the Government,' said Sir Roderic, after some fresh assertion by Lord Goldsmith that he was not to be blamed.
'I was,' conceded Lord Goldsmith, with a shifty glance, 'but one with specific responsibilities.'
When he spoke about Tony Blair and Jack Straw it was like hearing the school swot delightedly recount how he had been mixing with the big boys.
As the evidence continued, one saw Lord Goldsmith not as a discrete, proud, oak-like political personality.
One saw him as an errand boy, a functionary, sent to Washington to have his opinion remoulded - and head turned? - by the big names in the White House.
I hope the 'client' was pleased.