‘Admit anything you safely can…deny everything else…and you’re all right.’
(1) Trippingly off the forked tongue of Harold Adrian Russell Philby, also known as Kim, thereby concluding his address to the assembled bureaucrats of the Stasi, also known as the East German secret police.
Philby, formerly a high ranking officer in Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, defected to the Soviet Union in 1963. Converted to the Communist cause in the 1930s (greatly Depressed decade of disillusion with capitalism), for decades he routinely passed on top secret information to Moscow contacts.
He lived a further quarter century on the other side of the Iron Curtain, where he was accorded privileges pertaining to a KGB officer but also regarded with suspicion. Some of Kim’s ‘comrades’ saw him as a turncoat who had never fully turned.
Beginning his speech with a True Brit bit of self-deprecation (no public speaker am I; my whole life spent avoiding publicity), Philby’s speaking voice is the baritone of Britain’s ruling class (pater governed millions as district commissioner in India, before ‘going native’ and turning to Islam). Frequently fruity with occasional Noel Coward cadences – syllables rising like soufflés above their stationary function.
But for all the variations, gradations between sonorous and sylph-like, Philby’s delivery remained consistently theatrical, deliberately demonstrative – until the final four words:
‘And you’re all right’.
These words are lighter, less commanding. Not propelled as in previous pronouncements but drifting like smoke in the direction of Philby himself. As if in that moment he is talking mainly to himself, reassuring himself or trying to that decades of double cross could not have been all wrong.
But jaw muscles tightening, fidgety fingers more mouth-hiding than chin-stroking; such involuntary gestures mirror his private uncertainty.
(2) Hair parted on the left, pressed flat and combed over to the right: classic bourgeois boyish haircut also worn, but less convincingly, by various ministers in Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government of the early 1980s. The likes of Kenneth Baker and Cecil Parkinson taking their seats in Cabinet just as Kim was calling the Stasi his comrades; but their public utterances carrying less conviction than this secret speech, unearthed only recently by the BBC, from the infamous traitor.
For if in the Imperial glow of Philby’s boyhood, Rudyard Kipling’s fictional character Kim proved himself a true servant of the Raj, then Kim the grown man, the very type of treachery, was equally true to the two-faced times he lived through.
(3) Prime Minister David Cameron has admitted that he fluffed it. Instead of holding back until it was dragged out of him, better to have acted in accordance with Kim Philby’s advice and admit having previously profited from the offshore investment fund his stockbroker father established in the Bahamas nearly 35 years ago.
This he could safely have said on Tuesday, rather than staying mum till Thursday. And now the old cliché rings twice as true (‘a long time in politics’ reduced to half-a-week); but somehow Cameron doesn’t and may never do so again.
Not that the prime minister lacks weight, exactly. Hardly burly but bordering on it. And a small mouth only exaggerates the pale expanse of his cheeks, appearing to confirm his reputation (near mythical) as a bit of a porker.
Diction, education, on-the-job training, they all say ‘substance’; but in Cameron’s case the more it is mentioned, the greater the absence.
Perchance Britain’s premier came unstuck in the week that migrants were first returned to Turkey from Greece under something like a debt-equity swap scheme. This highly leveraged, EU-sponsored arrangement entails sending back one ‘irregular’ migrant and bringing forward another (cherry picked from an officially recognised refugee camp); migrants as mirror images entered into the sphere of circulation on a like-for-like basis.
What if Kid Stockbroker Cameron knows that in strange days like these – days of funny money and clamping down on offshore migrants and many of us floating through an unbearable lightness of being – for what he says to sound suspiciously hollow he doesn’t even need to have lied?
Even when – true to form – there was nothing of substance in his eventual admission, perhaps this partly explains the p-m’s failure to follow Philby’s advice and ‘admit anything you safely can’.