Irrespective of Lord Hutton's conclusions, his inquiry has already inflicted enduring damage on the Blair Government. Indeed, there are almost 9,000 pages of damage
That is the volume of paper already released on the Hutton inquiry website. It has not yet been properly analysed - though it will be - and there is a lot more to come. All this from a government which has been determined to avoid releasing any information until it was sterilised and spun. But its entrails and digestive processes have now been made public via Lord Hutton's X-rays. It is not an edifying spectacle.
The Hutton transcripts depict a government obsessed by presentation. It seems that Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell and Jonathan Powell, the chief of staff at No 10, never consider a course of action without wondering how it will play on the news broadcasts. In the 1960s, Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian academic, briefly enjoyed cult status because of a remark he made: "the medium is the message". In those days, despite Professor McLuhan's fame, no one really knew what it meant. Now we do. He was being prophetic. He is the philosopher of Tony Blair's Downing Street. This is government by scriptwriting.
If normal people set out to write a script, they would produce words first and then clothe them in pictures. That is not how the scriptwriters of genius work, in Hollywood or in Downing Street. They fuse pen and camera, words and pictures.
That produces great movies. But it makes for lousy government. The process of government should not be a film script. It ought to be a hard slog through difficult events. Yet the Blairites do not seem to worry whether they are doing good. They are only interested in looking good.
It is unlikely this behaviour pattern is confined to No 10. If we had 9,000 pages from other government departments, it would be a similarpicture, with one additional source of distortion. The other ministers would not only be concerned to ensure the press flattered them. If they wanted to keep their jobs, they would have to make sure they flattered Alastair Campbell and made no public statement which would displease him.
All this helps to explain why the immigration and asylum systems have collapsed, while school examinations are in crisis and health expenditure has increased so rapidly with so few discernible improvements. This Government cannot act on real problems. It can only act in front of the camera. It is like an aging socialite who spends her entire day gazing into the mirror and adjusting her make-up.
The officials must take some blame. Under the last Tory government, I regularly heard ministers describe the obduracy of the civil service machine. One formed the impression that Robin Butler, the then head of the Civil Service, was a potentate who guarded his prerogatives and safeguarded the Civil Service.
This went far beyond Sir Humphrey stuff. When he held his post, Lord Butler regarded himself as the custodian of the permanent machinery of government. When necessary, he would defend that system from political encroachment.
After 1997, all this began to break down, partly because of an excess of goodwill. A lot of senior civil servants had been hoping for a change of government. This was not because they were natural Labour supporters. Civil servants like governments which can get things done; by then, that was no longer true of Mr Major's government.
So the incomers were allowed latitude. After all, hardly any of then had been in government before. They must be allowed to learn how the world worked. Over time, they would see the sense of the old rules.
This benevolent attitude underestimated the Blairites' determination. They were not interested in the old rules. They intended to fuse politics and administration. They would then sublimate both into presentation.
They should have encountered more resistance from senior officials. It would have needed a bold figure to say No, Prime Minister, to Tony Blair. But at the highest level, a failure of boldness is a failure of duty.
I still believe that those in charge of intelligence safeguarded the integrity of their material. So far, nothing in the Hutton inquiry challenges that view. But there is the sense that Alastair Campbell was allowed to get closer to intelligence data than he should have been: that at moments, almost everyone in No 10 allowed themselves to be caught up in the urgency of the PM's quest for good publicity. Senior civil servants should not rush to act as handmaidens to Narcissus.
When Nigel Lawson was chancellor, he appointed a new press spokesman, Bob Culpin. Bob, now Sir Robert and a permanent secretary, had a beard. Indeed, he looked like an archimandrite (he still does). He did not possess a television set. He never read the papers, with the exception of one pink rag which occasionally touched on financial matters. Bob Culpin thought that it usually got everything wrong.
His predecessor had been a jolly fellow who would have a pint in the pub with the tabloid hacks and talk them through the ABC of Treasury policy. Bob Culpin had a brisker approach. "You'll have studied the latest Bank of England quarterly and the budget red book. You'll have read the speeches which the chancellor gave in Dallas, Yokohama and Aberfeldy. So there shouldn't be a problem. It's all in there.''
Even Nigel Lawson, no respecter of bruised sensitivities, had to ask Bob Culpin to be a bit less astringent. But imagine someone like that as a press spokesman now. It is inconceivable that someone like Sir Robert would be allowed anywhere near an information post under this Government. Even before Dr Kelly, they did not think much of beards. From the outset, they had no interest in honesty.
This helps to explain why the Blairites have so few achievements to their credit. Strong officials, disdaining spin and maintaining the independence of the Civil Service which has long been a mainstay of our system of government, would have ensured a better standard of government.
The Blair Government deserves to be found innocent of the charge of hounding Dr Kelly to his death. But though they do not form part of Lord Hutton's remit, even graver charges have emerged from his scrutiny. There is enough evidence already on file to convict the Government of chronic cynicism and of repeated assaults on the integrity of the Civil Service.
It may be that Mr Blair's testimony will do something to restore his moral authority. In order to do so, however, he will have to defend himself against the accusation that he personally over-sexed intelligence material. Even if he succeeds, any recovery will only be temporary. As the Hutton small print seeps out into public debate, the Government will suffer irretrievable damage.
Lord Hutton has revealed the skull beneath the skin. To paraphrase Hamlet, let the Blairites paint an inch thick: they will still come to this.Reuse content