Do William and Kate have the right man as adviser?
With his Iraq war background, Sir David Manning is an unsuitable adviser to the royal couple
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are not taking a lady-in-waiting or anyone to help with the clothes on their trip to Canada and the United States, according to Clarence House. But they are accompanied by the Duchess's personal hairdresser and the couple's 'adviser', Sir David Manning, former British ambassador to Washington, appointed to the part-time role by the Queen in 2009.
Senior members of the Household apparently felt that he was a suitably wise and experienced man to mentor Prince William's entry into public life.
He is indeed experienced, charming and understated in a very British way. But his glittering curriculum vitae contains a very toxic appointment in which he displayed poor judgment, if not worse.
Between 2001-2003, he was foreign policy adviser to Tony Blair and a member, along with Alastair Campbell and John Scarlett, of the 'sofa government' responsible for all the big (and disastrous) decisions on Iraq. Tony Blair's reward for him, once the Iraq war was safely started, was the ambassadorship to the court of George W Bush.
After giving public evidence to the Iraq Inquiry at the end of 2009, Sir David returned for a further session behind closed doors on June 24, 2010. A heavily censored transcript was subsequently published on the Inquiry's official website.
It makes interesting reading. His efforts to subtly distance himself from his previous master's views on regime change are neither convincing nor honourable. The transcript is festooned with the phrases "I don't recall" or "I can't remember". Certainly, based on his performance at the Iraq Inquiry, neither his loyalty nor his memory are going to be much use to Prince William.
Sir David is now a director of the US armaments firm Lockheed Martin and an adviser to the shadowy, ex-MI6-run consultancy, Hakluyt. Those are the sort of well-paying billets ex-ambassadors secure for themselves - but they are hardly appropriate for a courtier.
The dishonest debacle of our intervention in Iraq is no longer a prominent theme in British public life. Today, people are more worried by the problem of Afghanistan and the puzzle of Libya. But it hasn't gone away.
Every time Tony Blair's orange tan glows on our television screens we are reminded. And we will be strongly reminded when the Iraq Inquiry files its report later this year. The Inquiry itself won't seek to apportion blame but everyone else will.
How can a man with a 'Blair sofa' past mentor the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge? Having Sir David Manning advising the young couple on the proper conduct of their public life is like having General Percival advising them on the defence of Singapore.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have received the finest educations any country could offer - Eton and Marlborough, respectively, followed by good degrees at St Andrews, Scotland's most ancient and revered university. If they need any further advice on how the monarchy or modern public life should work, surely the system can come up with a wise man or woman untainted by the bitter controversies over the Iraq tragedy.
The young Princess Elizabeth was prepared for her future role by the constitutional historian, Sir Henry Marten, then Provost of Eton. Her father King George VI, our great wartime king, was so pleased with his teaching that he knighted him on the steps of Eton's chapel.
Today's equivalent would surely be Dr David Starkey, England's favourite royal historian. His deep historical knowledge and clear respect for both our modern democracy and constitutional monarchy would be an invaluable resource to the Duke and Duchess. Although he might be considered, even in these enlightened times, a little too flamboyant to accompany a royal visit abroad. ·
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