2. Pensées and Thinking in the E-AG

With a soupçon of drama and a sprinkling of humour

Chapter 3. BEHIND THE SCENES: 1988 – 2006 ->  

<- OVERVIEW

A French Ambassador, Daniel Bernard, cautioned the Group in June 2002 that: ‘We run two risks when we talk about Euro-Atlantic relations: that of wallowing in platitudes, or luxuriating in grandiloquence.’  This point might have been made of the European-Atlantic Group story.  Old-style reportage of the early days teeters on the brink of the former trap; incomers of later decades were sucked into the latter.  A less deferential social order might cock a snook at it but, then, one either went along with it and in good part, or left. This boat was not for rocking. 

Sir Patrick Mayhew, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, defined the main purpose of the Group on 10th March 1994 as being ‘to promote closer relations between the European and  Atlantic counties especially by providing a regular forum for informed discussion of problems and possibilities for better co-operation’.…

All so true but running the organisation was ‘98% perspiration, 2% immersion in the subject’.  A comparable gum, though more poisonous, constricted Congressmen during the global financial ‘meltdown’ to go by the fact that their representatives spent most of the time allotted for discussion at the E-AG in reviewing their office’s backstabbing. 

A reader wanted detail on Afghanistan: ‘Countless lives and 7 trillion dollars lost’; and on Sir Frank Roberts[1], who was ‘instrumental in the mindset reconstruction of post-War Germany’:  Assessments – in this tale of the Group – can be controversial; brief phrases however true also are often inadequate. The E-AG project on Afghanistan is in the Speeches section.  Sir Frank in his book ‘Dealing with Dictators’ told the story of Khrushchev saying ‘I am a bear!’ when bodily picking up a British Ambassador. Sir Curtis Keeble said that the book ‘offers the condiment that brings out the flavour of history’.  It is an approach taken in these pages.

A facet of the successes of the E-AG was that it was social, fun even; politicians felt at ease.  After a gala, personal memories remain.  This story is of how it all was got together and what was learned at its events.  Penseés are everywhere to be found in speeches and extempore comments at the E-AG.  Some actuating ideas of Speakers and their philosophy filters through their anecdotes, observations and personalities.  It serves to remind that it is human beings who take the key decisions.  Quarrying for such insight into Affairs of State is a subjective exercise but there is reward according to taste in essaying such a Lucky Dip…

***

By way of a ‘PS’, a ‘postscript’ that is more ‘pre-scriptum’, this is what the Countess of Munster, an eminent rheumatologist, wrote on seeing a draft of this E-AG history:

‘…I read your manuscript with great interest and affection. It is very well written and I have learned a lot about the early days of the E-AG …I would welcome mention of the Polish Ambassador, the late Stanislaw Komorowski, who gave a very good speech to E-AG.  He was a distinguished academic, who joined the diplomatic service as an ambassador at the time of Poland’s accession to NATO and then to EU in 2004.  (Also) Would Jas Pomian, the loyal secretary to Joseph Retinger, be worth mentioning?…’

All so true!  The Ambassador’s words to the E-AG are included in the Speeches section. Of Mr Pomian, be it said that Mrs Dangerfield had a soft spot for the quick-minded and warm-hearted ‘Pom’, a renaissance man whose cultivation embraced the arts world as well as politics and who was at one time canvassed as a possible E-AG Director.  Pom wrote the biography of Joseph Retinger, an Eminence Grise – a footnote in history whereas his true contribution may well merit a greater weight. Such is the fate of many movers and shakers in the shadows.  If this can be said of the E-AG, its job will have been well done.

*****

A loud crash sufficient to ‘throw’ Michael Portillo[2] when reaching a climactic point in his speech occurred when the gentleman taking round the microphone, actor and screenwriter Michael Wade, accidently dislodged a painting from the wall.  Portillo, quick as a flash, hit his oratorical peak with cod sympathy for Mr Wade:[3] “I never liked that picture!”  Cue laughter!  Leon Brittan[4], told of the Chatham House rule banning quotes being attributed to them in the Off-the-Record section, approved this caution: “I prefer it that way.  What I say is more sure of being reported!”  Cue laughter!   On occasion absence of quicksilver repartee was a bolt that shot home.  The wife of the Director, Catherine Glass, her arm in a plaster cast would constantly tell of a minor accident that had caused it, an account that staled by repetition. “Can’t you vary that story!” Justin admonished, “Say anything, even being bitten by a crocodile would be better!”  So Catherine knew what to tell President Kaunda on his asking her, “Oh my dear, how did it happen?”  Duly informed of the reptilian munch by a dutiful wife, Kaunda palpably relaxed, and his po-faced comment, “Ah, yes!” was as if to say: “Ten a penny, crocs in downtown Lusaka!”   

Of course, it tended to be more serious than that.  Abba Eban[5] regaled the E-AG with his exchange when Foreign Minister of Israel and the Russian Ambassador saw him in Tel Aviv to break off diplomatic relations:  “But Mr Ambassador, there is trouble between our two countries.  That is when our being able to talk matters most.  If all is rosy, there is just the usual round of diplomatic cocktail parties!” 

The Russian reaction said it all:

“What you say Mr Foreign Minister is perfectly logical.  But I have not come here to be logical.  I have come here to break off diplomatic relations!”

Many a true word in what was not jest.  The exchange was worthy of a thought of Sir Bryan Cartledge[6]:

“They (the Russians) have no tradition of debate and their idea of winning an argument is to shatter their opponent beyond the capacity to respond.”

Sir Bryan spoke approvingly of a way of life, now seemingly under threat that typified British attitudes.  It was a guiding line for the E-AG:

“We need able people who know how to live with an opponent.  Certainly not people who, whether in defence of left or right positions, crave at least to crush an opponent, to drive him from the platform.”

Shimon Peres[7] explained how he dealt with an opposing party in a confrontation: 

‘”The art of negotiation is that of making partners.”

There arguably is a natural fellowship among notables.  Shimon Peres recounted to the Group his first greeting to the Prime Minister of Indonesia, a country with more than 700 languages: “How are you getting on in your Tower of Babel?”[8] 

Chief Anyaoko, the Commonwealth Secretary-General, went one better in 1993 than the pensèes or aphorisms to which the E-AG was regularly treated.  He may have coined the term ‘Intermestic issues’: domestic incidents – like fratricidal murders in Ireland or secessionist uprisings in Russia – that acquire international ramifications.

This history would be longer than all the transcripts were it to encapsulate them so a few examples must suffice. 

Lord Dykes, E-AG Chairman, introduced General Sir Mike Jackson[9] by reference to events of 1999 in Bosnia:

“General Sir Mike Jackson refused to block the Russian-occupied (airport) runway. as British troops (could) have come into armed conflict with them.  …Defying orders from the Commander, Wesley Clarke…could have led to his dismissal…and…the beginning of World War 111.  We say thanks…to him for (his) wisdom…”

Clearly, this was no gentleman of ordinary human clay about to address the E-AG.  General Sir Mike began by making political capital out of the ‘unusually decisive actions’ taken by the 1000 military fielded by the British in Sierra Leone in 2000.

“Whether we like it or not, it was not until 1996 and the eventual decision by the United States to apply its political will backed up by its military power, that we got an end to the Bosnian war … the UN force of 17,500 soldiers seemed incapable of stopping the obscene brutality.”  

Events were made both graphic and explicable by Sir Mike’s illustrations.  Authentic breath from between Stiff Upper Lips was exhaled.  His time-honoured Brit attitude sheds light on how much can depend on the man on the ground.  The E-AG was told how his son, Captain Mark Jackson, comported himself when detailed to check on the safety of the British High Commissioner:

“Mark went to the home of the British High Commission to ensure that the great man was well. “Leave it to me boss”, said his demolitions expert, “I’ll get that door down, ten seconds and I’m done.”

“Well perhaps it wouldn’t be quite smart to blow down the door at the British High Commission!” replied Mark.  “….Why don’t you give it a push?” 

The door simply swung open. It was the prelude to an exchange worthy of the pages of G.A. Henty: 

“Captain Mark Jackson, Sir, here, of the British Army, to make sure you’re okay.”

“My dear boy, I knew you’d make it.  Would you like a drink?”

“Well I would!”

Lady Symons took up Sir Mike’s story in recounting her conversation with a squaddie at the time about the regulation rifle:

“Its really good, really, really, really good.  Its got really good aim. We never miss.  When we use this rifle and have the target in sight, I shall never miss!”

“I thought ‘This is great. Completely different from what everyone else is saying.’”

A formidable weapon – unless it was used, as the soldier explained: 

“Only trouble, Ma’am, fucking trigger falls off!”

General Sir Mike had interceded with “I am appalled Sir!” but confessed to the E-AG it was ‘the use of the vernacular that had thrown me’, not the speaking of truth to power, of which he approved.  It is by such minutiae that light is shed on political as well as military goings-on.  People of flesh and blood take real decisions in the heat of the moment when in the heat of the kitchen.  It was a leitmotif of the E-AG to show how situations looked from the perspective of those who were taking the decisions.  Sir Stephen Wall KCMG LVO[10] put this almost in so many words at the E-AG:

“It must be a salutary exercise for any politician, as it is for any bureaucrat, to ask oneself the question: ‘What would I have done if it had been my responsibility to decide or to advise?’ on any of the great issues of the day.”

High-ranking former soldiers like Lord Chalfont, a leading E-AG light for many years, or General Lord Richards[11], whose eulogy of Chief Ajmal Khan alas is debarred from quoting because of the Chatham House rule (pace Leon Brittan), were penetrating.  Sir David Richards, as he then was, regretted the passing of the class once common of ‘soldier-diplomats’.  Asked from the floor if it would ever be possible to eradicate terrorism, General Lord Guthrie replied:

“The realistic goal is less to eradicate terrorism than to drive it down!”

A thought from J.M.A.H. Luns writing in the European-Atlantic Review (see below) in 1959 was as relevant to the E-AG of 40 years later as when penned:[12]

‘The human mind has the unfortunate but natural tendency little by little to relax and to become less aware of dangers that have been threatening for a long time without materializing. If NATO is to remain strong and effective it cannot afford the luxury to draw, as it were, a cheque on the alluring era of peace and prosperity which our technical achievements seem to make possible.’

Philosophical reflection was imparted at the E-AG as well as political thinking. 

President Trump’s alleged volatility may have its uses?  His critics may care to remember General Galvin, Supreme Allied Commander[13], speaking on the Cold War (the following quote being from memory): 

‘It may be thought that the US is too docile in the face of Russian belligerence.  But when you have two sides in a stand-off both of which are volatile and unreasonable, the result can be combustion.  When one side has that approach, the other side has to be more than reasonable.’ 

The Supreme Allied commander at the E-AG quoted (of all sources!) the cartoon character, Yogi Bear: “A thing ain’t over until it’s over!”  To be fair, he also cited Napoleon: ‘In the battle the will to win is to everything else as three to one.’

How true today is the concern aired by Lord Carrington KG CH KCMG MC when Secretary-General of NATO and speaking to the Group about NATO in 1985[14]:

“I never fail to be struck how quickly the issues change…it projects an image of the Alliance as sixteen nations in search of a crisis…senior decision-making bodies of the Alliance, spend too much time handling the problem of the present, and too little on the questions which may be of the greatest significance for the longer term.  And by that I mean not only the issues of tomorrow; but also some of the issues of yesterday, which do not lose their importance as quickly as they seem to lose their fashionability.”

In the same year at the E-AG, Klaus Sahlgren, the Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Europe, saw fit to quote a pensée of Myrdal[15] from 1947:

‘I suggest that the message holds true even today…Confidence does not as a rule trickle down from the mountain-tops of theory.  It must start at the bottom – in the realm of practical things.’

Luddites can take note that Klaus Sahlgen pointed out that ‘There is much evidence to show that technological change is not the cause of long-run unemployment.  Indeed there is much evidence to the contrary, especially if we look at what has happened in the electronics and computer fields.’   Plus ça change!

President Tan Mathathir of Malaysia, with energised intelligence that seemed to pulsate from his immaculate and slight person, talked casually of the pressure that his country had been under from the World Bank demanding austerity in order to service Malaysia’s crippling debts:

“I was sitting round the table with my Cabinet and we thought about it and we said ‘No!  We are just not going to do that.  We are going to spend our way out of this.’”

The guts it took to think this, say it, and then go on to implement it! 

The former President, often credited with the turn-around of Malaysia from the Sick Man of Asia to a Tiger Economy, was quizzed about his human rights record.  With a disarming smile, the President spoke of the strong-arm men in his cabinet:

“When a man comes up to you with a gun, it is difficult to say ‘No’”. [16]

President Tan Mathathir at the E-AG in the Grand Committee Room in 2010 with the Director

It comes down to a perspective; what for instance would former hippies make of this ‘tough guy’?  At the fag end of the Hippy Trail, south East Asia was known as a land of lovely girls whose easy virtue, acquiescence to whims of Westerners, and appetite for their dollars, was fabled.  Tan Mathatir recollected how unattainable, he felt, was any nubile girl of his salad days.  He had to pluck up all his courage even to speak to one of them.  A man of flesh and iron!

Time and again, the question came up of whether the image in the press fitted that of the man at the podium.  The beam suffusing President Nyerere’s face as he handed out gold medals from his Foundation seemed to give the lie to a view of some critics that au fond a ruthless streak actuated him.  Time and again, the best orators were the entertainers.  American speakers were genial, even fun, taking people into their confidence, softening them, rather than ‘softening them up’.   Raymond Seitz[17] described his meal at an English pub, lured in by a sign that read, ‘Eat Here – Have a Pie and a Friendly Word’.  Served up the pie-of-the-house in a surly manner he drew the attention of the landlord to how service fell short of expectation, to be told with a more ingratiating grin: ‘If I were you I’d watch out for what’s in that pie!’  His humour contrasted with his serious points and bubbled below the surface.  Voters at that time did not pronounce so much on concerns of leaders but, depicting a dearth of interest on the part of the general public in the controversy then moving the political world about the Maastricht Treaty, he had his own his way of suggesting a ‘Project Stealth’ whereby Europhiles in power were quietly getting their own way:

“If I asked anyone where I live what they think about ‘The Maastricht Treaty’, the bemused reaction I’d get would be ‘I haven’t seen the movie!’” 

General John Galvin[18], also began his speech with a gag:

 “I am reminded of the story of the boy who said to his father: ‘Dad, I have a question!’  His father replied: ‘I am busy, ask your mother!’  The son rejoined ‘But Dad, I don’t want to know that much about it!’  The E-AG audience was in the palm of his hand when he had real point, political and philosophical, to make:

“I remind you of the words of the Greek philosopher, Heraclites: ‘An invisible bond is stronger than a visible one’.  For a formal bond such as a treaty alliance (NATO in this instance) to be really strong it should be the tangible expression of bonds and feelings of belonging together.”

The E-AG’s niche was not grounded in the groves of Academe or the Profit of Big Business. The idea was more to ‘Get opposing sides in international relations to confront each other in front of the thinking public.’ 

The Canadian High Commissioner and Spanish Ambassador squaring up to each other over the ‘Cod war’ prompted a journalist out for ‘copy’ to ask the Director what would happen if they came actually to blows, to be met by the retort of: “Lord Montgomery is sitting between them and he is nothing if not burly!”[19]  Why visit the theatre when there was the alternative of the E-AG? 

Two hundred plus delegates in the Grand Committee Room[20] heard another Russian Ambassador[21], physically imposing though a thinker, hymning the achievements of his Communist Government.  The memories and prejudices of George Ben who was in the audience were poles apart from those of the speaker.  George said in private, “We always got drunk at parties; so when the KGB came round the following morning to ask who had said what, we could reply ‘Too drunk to remember!’”  He fled Russia with the KGB on his tail.  Perhaps the secret police had not thought him as drunk as all that?  The moment chance offered in the Q&A session, George let fly vituperation at the Ambassador but was stalled when the Russian got to his feet from the podium, one hand on his breast and the other outstretched to George:

“You and I, we are both Russians.  Speak to me, Comrade, in our language!”

George fell into it.  His furious diatribe was reduced to Russian which virtually no one there understood.  The Russian Ambassador then stood up: “I will translate that into English.”  His translation had George leaping to his feet again, fury uncontainable, in a pitch almost a scream.  It was too much for the Ambassador, who stood up slowly, threateningly, turned to the Earl of Bessborough, the Chairman, and demanded in a voice to out-foghorn George:

“Have the audience come here to listen to him….or To ME!”

The proverbial pin could be heard to drop.  Silence!  The two protagonists on their feet glared at each other.  All looked to Eric Bessborough.  He pondered.  He was not quite decided.  Moments passed.  His wrestle with the poser, awaited with baited breath, crystallised at last in the ruling:

“Er….We-ll…!”

It was telling.  George and the Ambassador sat down, shaken.   Passion so inflamed, was doused.  The debate continued on in majestic way.  A True Blue British way of dealing with foreign dissension had been put to the test and it was fit for purpose.   It turned out that the Ambassador had mistranslated what George said but hardly a soul there knew it.  … and that Eric Bessborough might have been slightly senile. [22]

The Ambassador, the Chairman, and the Awkward Squad, in photographs taken on happier occasions

It never came to fisticuffs at the E-AG though it came close.  George Galloway MP had a meeting due to start at 7.30pm in the Grand Committee Room and at 7.25pm was about to enter it bullishly and demand that some 200 E-AG guests immediately vacate it.  This incursion was prevented by dint of an unseemly scuffle.  The Director got as far once as tightening his hands round the jugular of a delegate, the Rev John Papworth, and forcing him bodily back into his seat as the only means putting an end to his bellows of ‘STOP THE BOMBING’[23] distracting 500 guests at Guildhall for the 1999 NATO thrash, there to hear, rather, what HRH the Duke of York had to say. [24]

E-AG NATO Banquet 2009 in St James’s Palace: The Rt. Hon. Lord Carrington KG CH GCMG MC, a former NATO Secretary-General and a vice-President of the E-AG, The Viscount Montgomery of Alamein CMG CBE former Chairman of the E-G; and General Sir Mike Jackson GCB CB DSO ADC. [25]
HRH Prince Andrew with Jan Boulting, a generous E-AG Sponsor

HRH Prince Andrew’s office wrote after the NATO banquet at St James’s Palace in 2009 and the speeches which deserve inclusion here (along with a hundred others):

‘The  evening went well (apart from the fire alarm interruption)…I am grateful for the assistance you gave in making sure that the Household’s wishes were taken into account in organising the evening.’[26]

The ‘Fire Alarm interruption’ might sound en passant when considered against the weighty speeches delivered that night but it had threatened to upend the entire proceedings.  Guests including the 27 Ambassadors were heading for the exit, and a freezing November night, disbelieving the siren was but a practice drill on so august an occasion.  The ensuing scramble was upending the military precision of the ordering and timing of the proceedings.  Timely word was spread that ‘It is just one of Justin’s little jokes!’[27]  The oratory to come and indeed the music was salvaged. 

The Director was gratified to receive the following accolade after the event:

‘…Elma Dangerfield would have been very proud… I know you like Theatre and Drama.  It was a colourful touch to bring in the Pikemen and Musketeers…’[28]

NATO Banquet 2009: HRH Prince Andrew with Christopher Arkell, Trustee, Paul Joyal, Head of US Homeland Security, Hon Mrs Zenat Rous, Ladies Committee, E-AG[29].

Lady Symons, E-AG Chairman; John Bradley at table centre

Left: John Quick with Princess Zohra, Centre: Dr Julian Critchlow, Trustee, Right: Lord Dykes, E-AG President,

Life would be dull indeed if political decisions were reduced to abstractions without human interest or a degree of entertainment value.  The UK debate over Europe was heated well before ‘Brexit’ divided the country.  As Sir Philip Goodhart[30] put it:  ‘By the end of the evening the hostility temperature was climbing very satisfactorily.  If the Savile Club had produced another couple of courses, our principal speakers might have hit each other….’[31]

Here again is Sir Philip, this time writing after a debate about Climate Change: 

‘I am all for reducing sea levels (except at Frinton and Bognor Regis) …. Anyhow, after Tuesday night’s blizzard, I am in favour of more Global Warming…. We have had considerable success with our Afghanistan projects but we have never discussed the attitudes of Afghanistan’s northern neighbours… Ought we to be quietly pressing the Ukraine to give the Crimea back to Russia?  This time the Light Brigade should stay at home…’[32]

Consideration of practical issues could play second fiddle to underlying attitudes.  As the Russian Ambassador[33] put it, quoting Count Sforza:

“There are times at the opera when you should enjoy the music, and not worry about the words.”

The Russian Ambassador went on to explain the Russian reaction to the build-up of armaments by the West by quoting the theatre director, A. Stanislavsky:  ‘It is an almost inevitable rule that where there is a gun hanging on the wall that is seen in the first act, it will be fired in the third act.’ There were ‘guns’ enough awaiting a pull on the trigger in times past; it is instructive to see what the Men and Women of the Moment thought about issues such as Brexit and the refugee crisis, as reflected in E-AG transcripts, at times prior to the crossing of a plentiful supply of Rubicons.

Paramount Chief Ajmal Khan Zazai spoke to the Group in the House of Commons in 2018 (above) with E-AG Trustees Mili Gottlieb and Justin Glass in the House of Lords unveiling a scroll of the signatures of tribal chiefs in Afghanistan subscribing to his League of Afghan Tribes.

Chief Ajmal Khan of Paktia, Afghanistan, met through the E-AG top military and diplomatic UK and US personnel including General, later Lord, David Richards, Commander-in-chief at the time.  The ‘Chatham House Rule’ inhibits quotation but he, like many, owned to being swayed by Khan’s platform.  A paper was produced by the Group on Khan’s plans, the target audience being the upmost echelons of the political and diplomatic world involved in the issue.  Behind-scenes meetings were set up by, or following from, E-AG discussions, including a TV panel with Ajmal Khan and Sir Paddy Ashdown, a hero on the Hindu Kush. 

Ajmal Khan’s predictions in that debate and the E-AG project on Afghanistan [34] were highly prescient. They still hold force in 2020.  Will Afghanistan be affected by Khan’s experience or his experience of the West at the E-AG?   Will implementation of his ideas be the salvation of his country?  It is yet too early to say.

Behind-scenes meetings instigated by, or spawned by, the E-AG featured in E-AG Newsletters but this was not part of the public persona of the Group.  T’was ever thus in the E-AG as can be seen from the Annual Record of 1959:

‘Round Table Dinner Discussions have given the experts such as Sir Paul Gore-Booth (one of the “The Group of Four”) and Mr John Tuthill (of the United States Delegation to O.E.E.C) the opportunity to speak frankly “off the record” to smaller gatherings as they could not do at large open meetings.’

Churchill believed that secret history not in the history books explains the course of history.  In this shrouded area the E-AG perhaps can lay greatest claim to influence. 

In 1987 Sir Geoffrey Pattie, Minister for Space, spoke in the Grand Committee Room to the E-AG in Parliament. He told of how the cosmos drew closer through scientific invention.  The temperature of enthusiasm plummeted as the in-house telescreen broadcast that the Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher, intended to scrap the whizz of a project, ‘Hotol’, an ‘air-breathing’ rocket.  Spirits at dinner in the St Ermin’s Hotel were revitalised when representatives of the industry stood up, microphone in hand, to pledge private funding. 

Ajmal Khan with Donald Rumsfelt, US Secretary for Defence, in Washington
General Joseph Ralston, Supreme Allied Commander Europe and Commander-in-Chief and US European Command, who spoke to the Group on 16.4.2002, holding E-AG cuff links

The Rt. Hon. Margaret Beckett[36] at the E-AG set store by the principle, ‘There is no end to what you can achieve if you don’t mind who gets the credit for it!’  Where save perhaps as a footnote to history does the name of George Guise appear?  Guise, a vice-President of the E-AG, was generous with high level contacts.  He was a ‘head chef’ in Mrs Thatcher’s so-called ‘Kitchen cabinet’ and played a key advisory role for instance in the UK’s financial support of CERN as well as in ‘Thatcherism’ generally.  

The Iranian Ambassador appointed shortly after Ayatollah Khomeini came to power was to address the Group but pulled out at the eleventh hour, having decreed that none of the two hundred or so guests should have alcohol, it being contrary to his religious tenets.  The Director had acceded to the request, thinking it eloquent of new Iranian attitudes.  A panel of experts made good the loss of the billed speaker but it was the Number Two at the Iranian Embassy who gave the real game away.  He was seated at dinner besides Julia Couchman, wife of a diplomat, who proffered him a glass of water.  He declined.  Moments later, a waiter asked the same question but this time he accepted.  He could not drink even water if from the hand of a female..!

Three hours in total for the presentations in a two-header – an hour and a half in Parliament, and the same again at the ensuing dinner – was too long for any controversial policy let alone slogan-ising to pass unchallenged, especially with audiences like those at the E-AG.  Here is Lord Runcie: ‘I am confronted by a very distinguished gathering …who could speak with greater authority than I about so many of the issues I will raise.’   Once the Speaker did not show up, a German banker who had had a heart attack.  A panel rapidly was pressed into service from the 200 present in the Grand Committee Room and also Sir Frederick Bennett who happened by Parliament just at the time.  Asked what would happen if the speaker arrived in the middle of the fascinating debate, the Director, tongue-in-cheek, replied, “We would bar him ingress!” 

Rare it was that an easy run was accorded Speakers from the experts or delegates.  It was expected, and asked, that E-AG questioning should be feisty.  The Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Runcie, was under no illusions:  “I am comforted by the thought that if I tread ignorantly or confusingly you will not simply smoulder; you will be up and at me!”[37]  The Head of the Ditchley Foundation[38] with two senior colleagues made out a case of logic that seemed hermetic for moving with caution as regards Western responses to Iran over its nuclear build-up.  Some at the E-AG felt that in this context Fortune Favours the Bold.  One of this ilk had to be Louisa Hutchinson who, speaking from the floor, did not mince her words: 

“Tonight we have heard three Neville Chamberlains![39]”

Sometimes, official policy brooked no scintilla of deviation, especially during the Cold War.  Positions then were mired in amber.  An intellectual exercise was in savouring the manner in which Cold Warriors such as Sir Frank Roberts could expound doctrines, saying little new but a way that sounded fresh-minted and garnished with a bon mot. Those who hated Germans so much that they wanted the Berlin Wall to stay standing were characterised as loving Germany so much that they wanted two Germanys to love!  Sir Frank who had been the Private Secretary of Ernest Bevan attacked a policy of Mrs Thatcher in diplomat-speak:

‘Great people can make great mistakes!’  

Sir Frank, whose lack of inches probably pressed his candidature to deal with Stalin, notoriously height-conscious, would talk of ‘We’, impressing into considered words a putative weight of the Foreign Office, and endowing the stiletto gleam of a courteous smile and the odd musicality of his hacksaw vocal chords with an unspoken threat.

Foreign visitors usually were heard out with politeness and respect, such as the Chinese Ambassador[40] when stigmatising at length the Dali Lama as ‘a war criminal’ in her talk about Climate Change.  Perhaps she had had ‘word’ that Tibetan religion was the safer topic?   An unusually placid discussion was about the stand-off between Pakistan and India at a time when the Temple at Amritsar was engulfed in sectarian violence.[41]  The De haut en bas debate lasted till the E-AG President, the Earl of Limerick, in whose person fine breeding sat well alongside his fine intelligence, wound up proceedings with a customary, well-crafted limerick.  A Sikh mesmerised by all the intricacies, to go by his ever-widening eyes but zipped-up mouth, could bear it no more.  Lord Limerick’s light-hearted swan song was barracked in anger!  Passions inflaming the topic were brought home with a bang to the would-be map-drawers present, a moment when light was shed on heat. A jet-lagged South American Ambassador began by saying “I will be boring!”  It was the most pertinent thing he said.  So well did he make good his word to the nine increasingly somnolent South American Ambassadors present that it surely was no co-incidence he was recalled that week to the country from which he had just come.  It could happen in a Group that was as high profile as the E-AG, as Sir Anthony Buck knew.  Sir Anthony, former Minister of the Navy and red-blooded scion of the House of Gentleman Jack, eighteenth century pugilist, was a staunch E-AG Vice-Chairman in the mid-1980s.  He had eyes for a comely lady (as seen in the photo below).  He laid claim to two causes of personal sadness, the first when he retired as an MP, his Tory successor in his constituency “had the colossal cheek to increase my majority!”  The other was his marriage to gold-digging, kiss-&-tell, fuck-&-publish Bienvenida, a Spanish harlot.  The photograph splashed in newsprint of the Spanish Minister sitting beside Bienvenida Buck in the E-AG horrified his compatriots when confronted by this evidence.  He was ordered straight back to Madrid.  His Diplomatic Controller who knee-jerked in damage-limitation from the scandal is hereby informed that all E-AG seating plans were conjured up by the E-AG Directors.  A picture can tell a thousand dubious words.  Sir Antony Buck is caught on camera[42], below left, in the act of simply looking at Princess Michael.

(Left): Sir Anthony looks at Princess Michael; (Right) ‘The Times Diary’ on 21st October 1994

The E-AG’s eclectic mix of social grace and expertise sometimes interacted at cross purpose. A stage-whisper of a titled lady “Is he talking about Monnet, the painter?” raised intellectual beetle-brows half way through Pierre Duchene’s thought-provoking account[43] of Jean Monet, founding father of the European Union.  E-AG archives are not yet open to the public for her name to be revealed.  Humour could surface even before guests arrived, in debate titles like Sir Malcolm Rifkind’s ‘When Bush Comes to

Shove’ or the Middle East Peace Process being billed as ‘Multi-faced’ as opposed to ‘Multifaceted’ [44], a Freudian Slip if ever there was one.  The German Ambassador, Herr von Richthofen, did not come to address the Group as planned. He was summoned to Germany by the Chancellor, Herr Genscher, when the Berlin Wall fell.  The following committee meeting featured as usual a list of some 20 applicants for E-AG membership.  Von Richthofen had applied.  The custom was for a Chairman, in this case Lord Rippon, to read out each name and accompanying thumbnail CV slowly, then pause, ostensibly to give those present a chance to voice objection to the candidate’s suitability.  Lord Rippon, with customary gravitas, read out the names, as (a hypothetical) example: ‘James Smith, (pause) …The Director of Smith, Smith & Smith Heavy Industry PLC (pause)’. Lord Rippon’s recital of names and justifications of fitness for membership went on:  ‘His Excellency Baron Hermann von Richtfofen’.  He continued giving the qualification for entry with solemnity: ‘…The German Ambassador who did not come, as promised, to address the Group’.  Lord Rippon saw if too late that he was hardly advancing the cause of the applicant.  The chance of blackballing the Ambassador was not seized, amid a gust of laughter.

Left, Lord Mereworth, poet and playwright with the Earl of Limerick KBE FBA, Chairman and then President of the Group 1998-2002 at anE-AG Reception on 24.11.1997 for the Hon Peter Caruana, Chief Minister of Gibraltar

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, quoted from an E-AG dinner in ‘The Times Diary’ of 14th December 1999 aroused the synthetic ire of Lord Limerick.

(Left) The ‘Times Diary’ 14th December 1999; (Right) Lord Limerick and Lord Irvine looking in different directions. Averting his gaze in the foreground is Admiral Sir Julian Oswald.
Letter of protest from Lord Limerick printed in ‘The Times’

Patrick Limerick ran a risk of acquiring the mantle of being ‘the Earl of the Limerick’. It may not be fair; his poetry branched out, as seen in the E-AG Journal, Politics Tomorrow (see below), and the acumen he brought to restructuring the Group in line with new legislation illustrates abilities that took him far in business and diplomacy.

E-AG delegates offered much food for thought with lighter moments and bonhomie that made it all go with a zing did not go for the food for eat.  Obstinate souls cavilled at the chicken, for years the main course.  A former Minister of Iran under the Shah, prepared for the worst, was delighted to behold ‘Poussin’ bedecking the menu.  As other guests at his table knew, it means ‘Baby Chicken’.

“Ah!” cried that dignitary with satisfaction: “…Poussin!   At long last! ….FISH!” No one enlightened the gourmand as to the translation of ‘Poussin’ preferring instead to await with glee his disconsolate reaction on being served, yet again, the E-AG’s dish of the day and every other day.  His fellow guests were not disappointed as his face fell on seeing the plate put before him.  It is a little-known success story of the E-AG that he kept coming back for more.

The former Iranian Minister when off duty could be the life and soul of a party.  Photo not taken at the E-AG
© Copyright Justin Glass

[1] A Review by Sir Curtis Keeble of Sir Frank Roberts’s book, ‘Dealing with Dictators’, is in the Speeches & Book Reviews section, as are book reviews by Sir Frank Roberts, and one of his speeches to the E-AG.

[2] The Rt. Hon. Michael Portillo, Secretary of State for Defence, speaking to the E-AG on 21.11.1996

[3] Michael Wade is the editor of this E-AG History as well as of books and screenplays. In his lecture to the English Speaking Union on the English language, he referred to one of his ‘…Great Displeasures (as the lecture was) …a lament or, if you prefer, a light-hearted rant about the grievous assault on English grammar and syntax that pervades our airwaves.’ Among many other credits his hour-long recitation, ‘Cardinal Newman: The Second Spring’, was given at the Vatican, Westminster Cathedral and the Brompton Oratory. (mikewade416@hotmail.com) 

[4] The Rt. Hon. Sir Leon Brittan, PC, QC, Vice-President, Commission of the European Communities, spoke to the Group at a Luncheon Discussion on 6.11.1992. His apparently cavalier attitude to reportage did not extend to inaccuracies; his office wrote on 16.11.1992 to correct a quotation in a Reuters note submitted to the E-AG for checking, Sir Leon not having said that “John Major is wrong and Martin Bangeman is right.” but the reverse.

[5] Abba Eban, Former Foreign Minister of Israel, spoke to the Group on 4.3.1985.  His speech is in the Speeches section

[6] Sir Bryan Cartledge KCMG, Ambassador to the Soviet Union, spoke at the E-AG on 20,2,1989. His speech is in the Speeches section, as is that of Daniel Bernard, mentioned at the start of this Section, and that of Mr Peres.

[7] The Hon. Shimon Peres MK, former Prime Minister of Israel, speaking to the E-AG on 2.12.1997

[8] In Genesis, dwellers in a tower to Heaven babbled in so many tongues they did not understand each other   

[9] General Sir Michael Jackson GCB CBE DSO ADC spoke to the Group at the Naval and Military Club on 26.2.2008

[10] Sir Stephen Wall KCMG LVO UK, Permanent Representative to the EU, speaking to the Group on 12.2.1998. His speech is in the Speeches section.

[11]  Sir David, now Lord, Richards spoke to E-AG in February 2009; his speech is in the Speeches section on Afghanistan, below, which includes a paper put out by the Group

[12] J.M.A.H. Luns, Foreign Minister of the Netherlands and President of the North Atlantic Council,

[13]

[14] His speech is in the Speeches section.

[15] Karl Gunnar Myrdal was a Swedish economist and sociologist. In 1974, he received the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences with Friedrich Hayek

[16] The former Malaysian President was introduced by Kevin Cahill, author of ‘Who Owns What in the UK’

[17] H.E. the Hon Raymond Seitz, the US Ambassador, spoke to the Group on  26.3.1992

[18]  General John Galvin Supreme Allied Commander, spoke to the Group at Guildhall at the Group Commemoration of the 40th Anniversary of NATO on 24.4.1989, and on 23.11.1987. See his speech.

[19]  The Hon Royce Frith QC, High Commissioner for Canada, and H.E. Don Alberto Aza Arias, Ambassador of Spain, spoke to the Group on 27.4.1995. See transcript of Royce Frith’s speech in Speeches section, also for photograph of the occasion on Page 7

[20]  This was before a  horseshoe seating arrangement limited numbers in the Grand Committee Room

[21] Forest View Road, London E17 4EL H.E. Mr Leonid Zemyatin, Ambassador of the USSR to the UK, spoke to the Group on 26.4.1990.   See Speeches section.

[22] Apart from giving participants a fair hearing, traditionally British and in the ‘E-AG Debating Conventions, the E-AG gave price of place to descendants of illustrious figures of English history, such as Lady Olga Maitland, Lord Onslow, the Duke of Somerset, David Gladstone, and David Montagu Corry (descendant of Disraeli’s Secretary), to name but some, as well as to those bearing great names of the past, such as Lady Londonderry.; and, from abroad: Christopher Dreyfuss and Count Bernstorff.  The list is long. 

[23] In the Bosnia War

[24]  As Jan Bolting wrote:‘…the distinguished guests made very good speeches, especially General Sir Charles Guthrie but it was sad that a certain gentleman felt it necessary to shout out about the bombing. I could see though that you had him well in line.’ Letter to Mr Glass from Jan Bolting 20. 5.1999

[25]  See speeches section for speeches to the E-AG by Lord Carrington and summary of Sir Mike’s talk

[26] 19.11.2009 – Letter to Mr Glass from Alastair Watson, Private Secretary to The Duke of York, Buckingham Palace. The equerries were extremely helpful and, on the night, HRH Prince Andrew was excellent, with his major contribution received with marked appreciation

[27] Identical wording was used at the Savile Club on 18.9.2007 by the Chairman Sir Michael Burton, the former Ambassador, when introducing the Speaker, his namesake Sir Michael Burton, the Judge

[28] Letter to Mr Glass from the Hon Sir Clive Bossom, Bt. 11.11.2009  (See photo n NATO Picture gallery). Sir Clive father was Sir Alfred Bossom who, in the 1950s,offered the Group hospitality at the Anglo-Belgian Club. Churchill famously remarked ‘Bossom! Neither one thing nor the other!’ 

[29] The Ladies Committee had an Annual Ladies Luncheon but in the period in question their undoubted help, such as that of Mrs Rous, Lady Burton, Katerina Jeffrey &  Doreen Willis-Bailey, was on an individual footing

[30]Sir Philip Goodhart did Trojan work for the Group as a Trustee and was amenable to instructions, writing to Justin on 13.2.2001: ‘I always just follow your lead whenever I can understand what you are writing or saying.’

[31]  Letter to Justin Glass 5.7.2007.  Professor Stephen Haseler and Derek Scott was speaking to the E-AG about the EU at the Savile Club on 19.6.2007.

[32]  The Light Brigade famously charged into withering fire of Russian canon in the Crimean War. Letter to Justin Glass 30.10.2008. Sir Philip was on the 1922 Committee.  He wrote ‘A Stab in the Front’ the account of how, as a journalist and then politician, he discussed with the protagonists of the Suez War, Nasser, Eden, and Eisenhower, their perspectives, his conclusion being that their moves were miscalculated and on the basis of faulty Intelligence

[33] H.E. Mr Yuri Fokine, the Russian Ambassador, spoke to the Group on 26.11.1998

[34] See Speeches section for the E-AG paper on Afghanistan and the E-AG debates on this topic.

[???] John Gouriet was a co-Founder of ‘The Freedom Association’ and author of ‘HEAR  HEAR!’ which won the Elma Dangerfield Prize for literature

[36]The Rt. Hon. Margaret Beckett, former Labour Foreign Secretary, spoke to the Group on 6,3.2007
[37] February 25th 1997.  NB E-AG Debating Conventions are at the end of a Sample Guest List below.

[38] Sir Michael Quinlan GCB

[39] Sir Neville Chamberlain famously waved a piece of paper signed by Hitler and declared ‘Peace in our time!’ shortly before WW2.  Louisa Hutchinson, an E-AG member, was in the property business.

[40] H.E. Mrs Fu Ying, Ambassador of China, spoke to the Group on 24.4.2008

[41] Sir David Goodall GCMG spoke to the Group on 25.3.2002. His speech is in the Speeches section.

[42] Photo taken at a Gala organised at the Hilton with the E-AG in tandem with David Griffiths

[43] See Lord Dahrendorf’s book review. Duchene spoke at an E-AG luncheon-discussion Group on 17.7.1995. 

[44] The Rt. Hon. Sir Malcolm Rifkind QC MP, Secretary of State for Defence, spoke about President Bush’s plans to the Group on 13.7.1993.  He wrote in July 2020 ‘….I can claim to be fons et origo of the title “When Bush Comes to Shove”.  It came to me, like an epiphany, when I was thinking what I might say….’

H.E. Mr Mohammed Shaker spoke to the Group on 12.12.1994

The E-AG Cufflinks
The E-AG Cufflinks
The E-AG Tie

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