11 OCTOBER 2003, Page 11

lyv hat more convincing a vindication of the case for war

could the Prime Minister have offered in his conference speech than his own tearfulness over his postbag? `During the past months on Iraq,' he said, 'I have received letters from parents whose sons have died as soldiers, One believing their son had died in vain and hating me for my decision. Another, a beautiful letter, said they thought Iraq was the right thing to do and though their son was dead, whom they loved dearly, they still thought it was right. And don't believe anyone who tells you when they receive letters like that they don't suffer any doubt.' Let's leave aside the faintly offensive distinction between the 'beautiful' letter and the ugly one; the redundant qualifier 'whom they loved dearly'; and the barmy words of advice with which he closes. The question, which I raised here before and raise again, is: who's writing all these letters? In his 50th birthday interview back in April, Mr Blair alluded to having received a letter of support from the father of a sewing soldier; who, he claimed, subsequently wrote to him after his son had been killed, unchanged in his support. I remarked at the time that, given that only 30 British soldiers were killed in the war, it was odd that the name of the letterwriter had never come to light, Downing Street was vague about whether the PM had sought permission to expose his correspondent in this way, but said, 'The Prime Minister's correspondence is private.' Is this latest letter of endorsement — apparently a single one from two parents — a further letter, or a slightly fudged recasting of the one he described seven months ago? Downing Street press office refers me to the Labour press office, which suggests I try Downing Street. I don't imagine Mr Blair would simply have made up such a letter . . . but if the correspondent or correspondents of whom he has made such capital came forward, the historical record would be considerably clarified.

This is a column that takes little notice, if any, of the daft fripperies of Fashion Weeks, take they place in Milan, Paris, New York or Stoke Poges. But a friend who takes an interest in these things reports encountering Victoria Beckham at such an event, and says that she has developed an enchanting line in selfdeprecation (or candour). Posh claims that she 'can't get into the swing of Spanish at all'. The only words she admits to knowing are, 'Donde Gucci?' Hoaxed?" rang out the headline in a mid-market newspaper yesterday over a photograph of the illusionist Derren Brown holding a gun to his head. `Magician in Russian roulette stunt didn't even use a real gun!' A friend with an unhealthy interest in sidearms explains. 'To snap-fire a heavy Smith & Wesson at close range into a target as small as the sandbag he was aiming for — and as

stressed as he was supposed to be would be tricky enough for an officer of the Royal Protection Squad after five years' training. It has a long trigger-pull, and if he'd missed the sandbag, the round would have pinged off the wall and like as not reappeared in his teeth.'

Time for the dead-simile police to detain indefinitely without trial the notion of things — most recently, 'gun crime', 'cocaine', 'childhood abuse' and, delightfully, 'Palestinians' — spreading `like a cancer'. Do terminal sufferers from the disease get told by their consultants that their condition is 'spreading like gun crime'? No. There are plenty of other things that both spread and are bad. I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, for example.

Delicious croissants — munch! munch! — at the Foreign Policy Centre's breakfast seminar this week in honour of John Kampfner's new book Blair's Wars. As a former Today correspondent, and one who has taken a keen interest in the Hutton

rumpus, Mr Kampfner, now political editor of the New Statesman, was at pains to advertise that his book was 'double-sourced, where possible'. Unkind, then, of the Guardian's David Walker to remark that Mr Kampfner had been 'scooped' by Robin Cook's claim at the weekend that Tony Blair knowingly misled us on WMD — a fact, Mr Walker teased, that he 'didn't vouchsafe to his biographer'. Mr Kampfner's 1998 biography of Cookie is regarded as friendly.

Achirpy policy-wonk aphorism, incidentally, from Mr Cook's former special adviser David Clark: `There is a schizophrenia in Blairism, between Tony Blair as Henry Kissinger and Tony Blair as Woodrow Wilson. But it's Tony Blair as Henry Kissinger that will always win out at the end of the day.'

Wit h the publication next week of Bravemouth, Pamela Stephenson's second book about life as Mrs Billy Connolly, I am occasioned to wonder: since the sweary bearded stand-up comic has long been known in his native Scotland as `The Big Yin', does Pamela not deserve the honorific — suitable, perhaps, to their Californian lifestyle — 'The Big Yang'?

How many titles can one book have? The record may yet go to my colleague Stephen Glover's kaftan-wearing old friend, the former Times editor Peter Stothard. When serialised, his short book about trailing round after the Prime Minister during the run-up to the war had the grandiloquent title Thirty Days: With Tony Blair At The Centre of the World. By the time it turned up in hardback, it was called Thirty Dctys: A Month at the Heart of Blair's War. The American edition is called 30 Days: Tony Blair and the Test of Histoty. And then, of course, there's the forthcoming US paperback Thirty Days: An Inside Account of Tony Blair at War. As the late Auberon Waugh would have said, come along, Darnie, have another bash.

Well done, Marco Pierre White. My agriculture correspondent Adams reports that the celebrity chef turned celebrity fisherman has landed the biggest salmon caught on the Test this year. He hooked the fish — 201bs if it was an ounce — with, Adams informs me, a 'coloured prawn bounced along the bottom'. Alas, Mr White's sporting instincts overcame his hunger, and he threw his prize back into the river without so much as a smearing of hollandaise to keep it warm.