Politics.co.uk Blog

Friday, 18 September 2009

Unfriendly fire

I'm going to kick off my blog contributions with the reflection that sometimes, in politics, the funniest things you hear are often overheard.

I was seated close to the front of the packed Central Hall in Westminister yesterday evening as the "pre-eminent practitioner of the military arts in the world today", General David Petraeus, gave a speech to his British friends.

His jokes about loving Boris Johnson, the royal family and PMQs - in that order - were quickly lost in a flurry of serious-minded strategy and tactical instruction, showing quite how impressive a mind he is.

But the main event came shortly before he took the stage. I was seated among a bevy of former top brass - men who had commanded British forces in theatres around the world, and battled with ministers and mandarins within the Ministry of Defence's walls.

One of them was in grumbling mood. "Whoever wins, it's going to be a rough old ride," he said. It wasn't clear whether he talking about the war against the Taliban, or the internal struggles of the MoD.

While praising David Richards, who "did very well in Sierra Leone", this particular former head of the British Army had less than complimentary things to say about the current defence secretary, Bob Ainsworth.

He summed up his cutting assessment with two concise words: "Silly moustache."

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