Labour MPs go on the attack as No 10 plays for time

Click to follow

Alastair Campbell mounted a private campaign to shore up his short-term political future and the long-term survival of his boss, the Prime Minister, in a series of telephone calls to selected newspaper editors yesterday.

As Tony Blair faced furious calls to resign from within the Labour Party and was publicly calling for "restraint" and "respect", the spin continued. Mr Campbell privately let it be known that he is unlikely to resign over Dr Kelly's death.

Friends said, however, he would not have continued his dispute with the BBC over whether the dossier on Iraq's weapons capability had been "sexed up" had he known where it would lead. But they said that he still thought he had acted correctly. Mr Campbell was said to believe that "something has gone horribly wrong with our political and media culture".

Though he may not step down now, Mr Campbell's long-term future as No 10's director of communications and strategy has long been in doubt and insiders suspect this latest episode can only have dampened his enthusiasm for the job. For now, however, he will protect his beleaguered boss.

As recriminations continued to fly, the Government's official line was that no judgments could be made until the outcome of an independent inquiry into the death of scientist Dr David Kelly, the Secretary of State for Defence, Geoff Hoon - to whom the inquiry will report - carried out an extensive round of television interviews.

Mr Hoon, when asked whether he could have somehow helped to prevent Dr Kelly's death, told Sky News yesterday: "Obviously over the past 24 hours or so I have been going over these events in my own mind, asking myself that question, could these events have been avoided."

The Defence Secretary concluded that the "appropriate procedures" had been followed - a phrase which later infuriated a former minister, Glenda Jackson, who called on Mr Blair, Mr Campbell and Mr Hoon to resign immediately.

It was Mr Hoon's letter to Gavyn Davies, the chairman of the BBC, that identified Dr Kelly as the source the infamous story by Andrew Gilligan, the corporation's defence correspondent.

Ms Jackson branded the situation "shameful", adding: "They decided to create an artificial and completely politically motivated row with the BBC to avoid the real issue and out of that has come this clearly honourable, decent public servant being thrust into the spotlight in my view to protect ministers. I think that is absolutely disgraceful."

She said it would be impossible for the Government to function properly while the inquiry took place and instead said that those ministers "ultimately responsible" should step down.

Mr Hoon told Sky News that he had warned the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, chaired by the Labour MP Donald Anderson, that Dr Kelly was not used to giving evidence to Parliamentary committees. "I informed the chairman of the select committee to take that into account in the way that the business of the committee was conducted," Mr Hoon said, in a move that one Labour MP described as a "sickening" attempt to shift the blame elsewhere.

Mr Hoon said the letter to the BBC chairman, from which Dr Kelly's name was leaked, was "entirely confidential" and was sent "for his eyes only". The Defence Secretary admitted that although a "great deal of effort was made within the Ministry of Defence to support Dr Kelly", he himself had not spoken to him.

Labour MP, Bob Marshall-Andrews yesterday added his voice to calls for the Prime Minister to step down. "I think there is now a very wide and general view that the time has come for him [Blair] to go and I think, forgetting the politics of it, he is now making quite serious, regular errors. He has lost his political touch, which is inevitable over a period of time," he said.

Such is the level of anger that Ms Jackson publicly said that Mr Blair had been prepared to pay the "blood price" by waging war on Iraq. "He is still prepared to pay that blood price provided the blood is not his own," she said.

Mr Blair, when asked at a press conference in Japan whether he had blood on his hands and whether he had discussed with Mr Campbell or Mr Hoon their possible resignations, refused to be drawn. "The reason for having an inquiry, and I think people would have expected us to have one because of the tragedy that has occurred, is so that the facts can be established," he said.

"And I don't think it is right for anyone, ourselves or anybody else, to make a judgment until we have the facts. The person who can conduct this inquiry is someone who is highly respected and will get to the truth of what has happened. In the meantime, I think for both of us if you like, for the politicians for our part, for the media for your part, it is important that we show some restraint and also some respect."

Dr Kelly will be remembered at a civic service at Lichfield Anglican Cathedral tomorrow. The Most Rev Vincent Nichols, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham, will say in a sermon that it "distresses" him that there are people who know the answer to questions Dr Kelly was being asked, yet remain silent.

Donald Anderson

The Labour MP and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee was warned that Dr Kelly was not used to giving evidence to Parliamentary committees

Iain Duncan Smith

The Tory leader said that the investigating tribunal should sit in public "wherever possible" and command the full support of the British people

Bob Marshall-Andrews

The Labour MP was among those who claimed that the Prime Minister had lost his political touch, and called for his resignation