Sir Richard Dannatt’s usefulness to the Conservative Party has just reduced by about ninety per cent as a consequence of his decision to accept an advisory post with the party. Henceforth, all criticisms he makes of the conduct of the war in Afghanistan will be taken with a pinch of salt, because he is now a Tory primarily, rather than an independently-minded soldier who wants only the best for his former comrades. Worse, future criticisms of the government – should there be any – from currently serving military leaders will also lose much of their potency through association: we will not know if they too are about to hop on board the Cameron wagon as well. We might suspect their motives. I wonder why Cameron was not able to persuade the man to remain a supposedly “independent”, and thus highly potent, voice of concern – but then, as his underlings will tell you, Dannatt has a certain liking for the limelight.
The hilarity occasioned by poor Chris Grayling’s failure to understand that Dannatt had joined his own party, rather than the government, was matched only by the performance of that smirking half-wit, the home office minister Phil Woolas. Give Labour the chance of an open goal three yards out and they grab the ball with gusto and boot it back down the pitch into their own net. Grayling, bless him, had been shown suggesting that he thought the appointment of Dannatt by the government was a gimmick, until it was pointed out that Dannatt had actually been appointed to a position in his own team. That was a laugh. But then Phil Woolas managed to shoot himself in both feet simultaneously by suggesting a)that Dannatt’s appointment was indeed a gimmick but that b)Labour’s co-opting of the great and the good could never remotely be described as gimmicky. As such he appeared petty, stupid and contemptuous of the electorate – and his gaffe was worse than Grayling’s. What Woolas should have offered was unqualified magnanimity: we are delighted Sir Richard is to continue to devote his considerable talents to public life and wish him great success in the Conservative Party. And all the while grinned inwardly that Dannatt’s hubris has actually helped to get them off the hook over Afghanistan.