Labour should stop fighting this futile war

Even now, Mr Blair's lackeys are still hurling insults with a ferocity undiminished by tragedy
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The Independent Online

When the Prime Minister announced the establishment of Lord Hutton's inquiry - and pleaded for "restraint" until his findings are published - there was an implied hint that ministers, MPs and spinners were sensibly being encouraged to observe a dignified silence, thereby allowing Dr Kelly's family to grieve.

The cut of Lord Hutton's jib suggests that he possesses the demeanour and authority to be able to get to the bottom of the circumstances leading to this tragedy. The refusal of the Prime Minister to allow the inquiry to include wider issues may yet backfire since Lord Hutton gives every impression of being his own man.

We can be reasonably certain that the inquiry can establish the part played by ministers and officials at the Ministry of Defence. It ought, also, to be able to sort out whether Dr Kelly's name came into the public domain at the behest of either Geoff Hoon, or Alastair Campbell or others in Downing Street. Less clear is whether it can account for the discrepancy between Andrew Gilligan's report and Dr Kelly's evidence to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.

The measured responses of Oliver Letwin for the Tories, and Charles Kennedy for the Liberal Democrats, suggest that the principal opposition parties are resisting the temptation to make too much political capital out of recent events and are willing to give the inquiry a fair wind - notwithstanding its regrettably limited remit. They, at least, seem to appreciate that the public has had a basinful and that this is surely the moment for suspending judgement until the facts are known, and they have both behaved with appropriate decorum.

But what is so extraordinary is how, in spite of the arrangements that are now in place, the Prime Minister's plea for restraint is being totally undermined by his New Labour lackeys. Even now they are still pursuing their futile war with the BBC and continue to hurl the insults with a ferocity undiminished since before last Thursday's tragedy. Twice in the past four days, I have bumped into Peter Mandelson in the Millbank broadcasting studios fresh from his latest assaults on the Corporation. Little Chris Bryant, the yap dog Blairite MP - desperate for ministerial office - pops up on every TV screen while Gisela Stuart, a speak your weight machine lackey, trots out the New Labour, Stalinist mantra.

Every time these characters appear in the media they do more damage to what is left of Mr Blair's shattered image. It is beyond comprehension that even reinforcements from the original Blair spin team, Lance Price and Tim Allen, have been pressed back into service - giving the clear impression that this campaign of vilification of the BBC is being conducted with Mr Blair's tacit approval. But it is a battle they cannot win. The more they seek to insult and bully, the more disservice they are doing to Mr Blair. The latest batch of opinion polls show the Prime Minister's honesty and integrity are now at stake, whereas the BBC is still broadly trusted.

The Prime Minister needs to recognise that every spinner doing his bidding is failing him. Mr Campbell will have to perform the ultimate sacrifice - even if he is exonerated. The post of Director of Communications and Strategy should then be abolished. In the meantime, Geoff Hoon should stand aside from his post unless and until he is cleared by the Hutton inquiry.

Having been party to a litany of political crises during the Tory years, I recall that closure of each was usually only achieved by the catharsis of resignation. The Falklands crisis in 1982 began with the resignation of three ministers, two in the cabinet. Even the Westland affair of 1986 - trivial by today's standards - resulted in the departure of two cabinet ministers, Leon Brittan and Michael Heseltine. That sort of catharsis is needed now.

Mr Blair has got to face up to the fact that New Labour's methods simply do not work anymore. Of course, take away New Labour's methods and we might as well admit that New Labour itself would probably then in its death throes. But this may still take some time to complete. The resignation of Nigel Lawson was the beginning of the end for the Tories but it took another nine years before they left office.

The big question now facing Mr Blair is whether he could still operate as Prime Minister without using New Labour's methods. Mr Campbell is alleged, recently, to have said that Mr Blair cannot do the job without him. Judging from Mr Blair's frightened appearance before the press in Tokyo, devoid of Mr Campbell, he may have a point. But if Mr Blair is to have any hope of surviving, he has to ditch new Labour's methods and personnel. Unfortunately, these are all that are now left of New Labour - so what would be the point of Mr Blair anymore?