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The recent death of General Pinochet has Andy Goff all misty eyed. No, not about the murdering fascist despot, but about a time when - briefly - Britain didn't sing castrato on the international stage.

The only time I really cheered the “new” Labour government was in 1998. Jack Straw had suddenly turned into a minister with cojones. He arrested General Pinochet, on a shopping trip to London, at the behest of Spain where a magistrate had successfully sought a warrant for his arrest in connection with the "disappearance" of some Spanish citizens.

“Wow” I thought. “At last, we have a government prepared to stand by what it said in opposition and put its words into action.”

Robin Cook had his ethical arms export policy and Jack Straw, another critic of Thatcher's foreign policies, was doing something about righting the wrongs of the past 25 years.

These were early days for a Labour government. They had been out of office for those 18 barren years in opposition and found themselves thrust, largely unprepared, into the spotlight of the world's media. Oh the joy of being untainted by the Reagan years. A clean slate was available and they were going to make the most of it. Tony Blair was worldly unwise and they had a sort of innocence about them that was slightly endearing.

Harold Wilson had the cojones (that's “balls” in Spanish, by the way) to stand up to Lyndon B Johnson and refused to send British troops in to Vietnam (although I gather he did send in “advisors”) but look what happened to the British economy: it went down the pan. (Remember the pound in your pocket?)

One can imagine the conversation that Tony Blair had with the State Department after Jack arrested Pinochet.

“Hi Tony, hear you picked up one our guys on behalf of Spain. He was a friend of ours and he was a friend of Britain's. Remember the Falklands?... The Falklands, Tony, South Atlantic. You had a problem with Argentina picking up mixed messages from Maggie's boys and they thought it was OK to invade. Well our General P. helped you solve the problem.”

“Really? I had no idea.”

“Yeah? Well he did, believe me and now you've gone and arrested him on a shopping trip.”

“But he wasn't one of the good guys was he? Didn't he ‘disappear' people?”

“Look Tony that was just a rumour. Trust me on this. He was one of ours.”

“Yeah, yeah, right, a straight kind of guy.”

“Yeah, well we don't want him arrested, OK?”

“But Jack said we should and we have obligations in Europe!”

“Look, Tony, let me make myself clear. WE DON'T WANT THIS GUY ARRESTED - we look after our own. If you know what's good for Britain, and best for you in the long term, LET HIM GO. Have a show hearing and keep your left- wingers happy but let him go home. That way you can enjoy some serious economic growth and we won't screw the deal Maggie did with Saudi Arabia on Al Yamamah. Don't forget there's only one super power now and we're it and anyway it'll make Henry happy.”

“Henry who?”

“Henry Kissinger, dumbass!”

“Oh yeah, right, OK - I'll have a word with Jack.”

And so it came to pass that General Pinochet was found, in an Ernest Saunders kind of way, to be too unfit stand trial or serve a sentence and Jack sent him home, first class no doubt.

While the Chileans garnered the strength from this episode to attempt to put the bastard on trial he would run to the doctors who would deem him too unwell to be tried.

Finally, at an age that would suit most of us to reach, he popped his clogs naturally.

What a shame for those thousands that popped theirs unnaturally at his behest.

And what a shame for Britain that our cojones were handed over with him.


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