It is Gordon Brown’s turn today to face the Chilcot Inquiry. If the committee does its job properly, there should be nowhere for him to hide – except through obfuscation and denial. The fact that it is being broadcast live will only compound Brown’s sense of being intensely scrutinised. However, the Scottish history so beloved of Brown (he holds a PhD in history from Edinburgh University) offers a neat if surprising solution for his discomfort.
in the seventeenth century was lagging behind in sanitation. As late as 1750, men
carrying buckets and large black cloaks would walk the streets of
The great sanitation engineer, S.S.Hellyer, noted a century and a half later in 1893 that the phrase, ‘Wha wants me for a bawbee?’, was still being “used against the Edinburgh people as a joke or satire upon an ancient custom.”
Its power was certainly not lost on the satirists. In 1792 James Gillray depicted Pitt the Younger (the Prime Minister, although that term was not then in use) squatting on a chamber pot while his Home Secretary, the wily Scottish lawyer Henry Dundas (the last person to be impeached in the United Kingdom), covered and protected him with a cloak – an apt and scurrilous metaphor for the legal shenanigans by which Dundas shielded Pitt from his political opponents.
(James Gillray - Wha Wants Me? June 1792)
Today, of course, the roles are somewhat different. It is our Prime Minister who is the Scot and the Home Secretary is not a dodgy lawyer but a former Tesco shelf-stacker and postman. How times have changed.
Nevertheless, as Gordon Brown faces up to the Iraq Inquiry, he just might be pondering on the past and wishing that his erstwhile Home Secretary (or anyone else for that matter) would rush into the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre and throw a large, metaphorical cloak around him.