I used to be in the Navy - so I have a lot of books with a salty tang.

A book about the Falklands "Beyond Endurance" by its Captain the late Nick Barker has some unexpected topicality for students of government and its foibles because of similarities to the Foot and Mouth scene. The sub-title was "An epic of Whitehall and The South Atlantic". H.M.S. Endurance was the RN Antarctic patrol ship at the time of the Falklands War and was put up for sale beforehand; this fact sent an unfortunate message to the Argentinians with their territorial ambitions. It is 20 years after the Falklands and the book is semi in the news. Half the book is about the Whitehall bungle-fest which preceded the Falklands Conflict. And some of it about "the subsequent enquiry", i.e. the Franks enquiry - when that nice, really very sharp gentleman was bamboozled by Whitehall. With every page I read "Foot and Mouth" between the lines.

There was the same kind of deaf, arrogant Ministry. On this occasion the FCO, not the Min of AG. They had a really deep mind set amounting to "Britain is in decline, we are Ancient Greece to the Imperial Rome of the USA. But we have our special relationship." Nobody debated this or argued alternative mind sets. The Brits I knew - BBC, media, techies and Oxford scientifics didn't buy one scrap of any of it. But the Ministry of Defence was determined to save money as demanded and loyally put the carriers up for sale as well as Endurance. The Foreign Office were flabbergasted when Maggie sent the Fleet... In Europe each outpost rang around the others to ask if every other Embassy was just as astounded as they were. The idea that all their views were utterly alien to those of the nearly all the people who paid their salaries was a shock. More or less the same for Foot and Mouth I'd say- just a different Ministry.

Even after the battle was over they were still shaking their heads. It is the same with the renamed Ministry of Food. Change the name and set up a few Enquiries (not public) where you sketch the answers you want (nobody was to blame) and then write the terms of reference. But things remain the same because the people are the same. You still hear "farming is just an industry and, like mining or ship building, might no longer be economic. Too many small farms. We must face the facts etc." For "Endurance" there were three things that changed the drift. One; A small number of active MPs and Lords (Buxton of Anglia TV) who got on their feet often in Westminster and got a steady flow of publicity. Two; The Daily Telegraph, the BBC and Simon Jenkins, plus a few other columnists good at needling Whitehall and detecting hidden agendas. Three; a cabal of academics and commentators capable of making the government's civil servants and line experts feel unsure, e.g. Correlli Barnett, Heseltine, Jo Grimond.

...a familiar pattern. I haven't got the answer. Public campaigning needs young lobbyists who never have moments of doubt. "warmwell" provides the chapter and verse, the ammunition box. Nothing more to say.