This morning, I posted a series of satirical musical videos about the Johnson/Cummings scandal. In one, I wore a Guards tie and military medals, and impersonated (not as well as Matt Lucas) Boris Johnson.
Since, I have been engaged in a heated public row on twitter with defence minister Johnny Mercer, who made a number of false allegations about my time working for the Blair government. I stand by what I said to Mr Mercer in reply, though I have also corresponded privately on the matter in a more measured way, to point out both my family and personal connections with the military, and also some of the issues on which he criticised me, such as Northern Ireland, to which I have devoted much time and energy over two decades.
I also pointed out that since leaving the employ of the government in 2003, I have continued to work, pro bono, and always privately, for different parts of the military, including recently during this crisis. Indeed, he seemed to be aware of one element of this work. I also actively support military charities, especially on mental health.
However, I subsequently learned that Help for Heroes, for whom I have enormous admiration for their campaigning, fund-raising and service delivery skills, had politely requested me to take down the video. Though they removed their tweet at some time during my discussion with Mr Mercer, I understand it said that while they had no doubt it was not my intention to cause offence, there was a risk some might take it.
I have therefore deleted the video. Help for Heroes is right that no offence was meant. I was satirising Mr Johnson, whose conduct during the Covid crisis, especially in recent days, I have found reprehensible. I have spent many days writing and campaigning in a hopefully serious way on the issues at stake, and decided this morning to do something more light-hearted. Most people seemed to see it for what it was – a piece of satire, especially as I have never served in the Guards, let alone won military medals.
The tie and medals were left to me in his will by my brother Donald, who served in the Scots Guards (pictured above, Northern Ireland) until he was invalided out with schizophrenia. Anyone who knows how close we were knows I would never do anything to mock him, his memory, his medals, or what the Armed Forces stand for. Despite the unhappy ending to his military career, he had nothing but good memories and respect for what he learned and experienced with them. He remained an avid supporter of the Scots Guards Association until his death four years ago, aged 62, months after the photo below was taken.
Donald was very much of the ‘lions led by donkeys’ variety in his views of the military; I have always been a huge supporter of the armed forces at all levels, and among my good friends are people I met while working with the military during and since my time with Tony Blair.
As I told Mr Mercer, I am in a genuine rage about the government’s catastrophic handling of the Covid crisis, and the more they ask me to stop scrutinising and challenging them, the more I will do it.
However, Help for Heroes is an entirely different matter. I am grateful both for the tone and the content of their request to remove the video. Although their tweet seems to have been deleted, perhaps as a result of them seeing my comments to Mr Mercer, I nonetheless think the right thing for me to do is to remove the video, so they, and anyone who may have taken offence, can be absolutely sure that such offence to them was the last thing I had in mind. It was directed entirely at Mr Johnson and his government colleagues, and I am sorry if that was not clear.
The medals are now back with the display of the rest of the memorabilia from Donald’s military and musical life in my office, and having said on TV this morning I would not play my pipes (also left to me by Donald) in the street at 8pm tonight. in protest at the government lie that ‘we are all in this together,’ I have been prevailed upon by some of the children in the street to give it one last gasp, as Johnson called the ventilator procurement scheme.
It’s like Durham Dom … I am a sucker when it comes to doing it all for the children!