What's the point of inquiries? They come up with conclusions so vague that everyone involved can claim it clears their name. Fred West must have wished he'd been allowed to opt for an inquiry instead of a trial, as it would have ended: "This inquiry concludes there may have been an attempt by Mr West to disregard agreed practices by obfuscating bodies in a disingenuous manner that may have stepped outside parameters incorporated within the accepted procedure of murder."
If the Hutton inquiry followed any rational procedure it would have issued a report after day one that said: "You went to war for what? Where are these weapons of mass destruction then, ay? Come on, where? You couldn't find them before, you were told by the people you sent to look for them that they weren't there, so you took no notice, invaded the place anyway and five months later still can't find them. If you had any decency you'd stroll into the woods with a pistol you cheeky monkeys."
Instead, it investigates assorted obscure fragments of the giant fib and misses the main point altogether. It's as if the Nuremberg trials had concentrated on whether Goebbels flouted procedure by asking his civil servants to "sex up" a dossier on the threat from the Jews.
The lies told to justify the war were so outlandish, there's no chance of this inquiry doing them justice. It would be like holding an inquiry into the stories told by one of those kids you get at school who can't stop telling lies. The news could report that "today Lord Hutton heard from a next door neighbour, who said he'd seen 'no evidence' of the pet lion the boy claimed to own. But the boy's press secretary replied that the neighbour was a 'single source" and therefore didn't count."
So the inquiry serves to obscure the nature and scale of the Government's storytelling. Asked after the war why Saddam Hussein didn't use his supposed arsenal of chemical weapons, Foreign Office minister Mike O'Brien said, "Because the international community made it very clear there would be severe consequences". As if Saddam was thinking "I'd better not use this lot or I'll be in real trouble". Or there was the spectacular line of the Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, following the cruise missile that killed dozens of civilians in a Baghdad marketplace, that the Iraqis may have blown themselves up to win sympathy. He probably had to be stopped from claiming Kofi Annan planted this week's bomb in Baghdad to win much needed support for the United Nations.
Like all great liars, the Government's great skill seems to be in convincing itself that it's telling the truth, no matter how obvious it becomes that the weapons of mass destruction didn't exist. It's like the person in an argument who never gives up, who insists that "At the Dark End of the Street" was by Otis Redding, and even if you show them the record cover saying Percy Sledge, they insist the record company must have got it wrong. So the stories aren't believed by half the country, most of Europe and all of Africa, and are vehemently opposed by almost all the Arab world and most of the Iraqis we're supposed to have liberated.
Even if George Bush announced that the whole case for war had been made up by him personally, Tony Blair would say "that's because George doesn't have faith. Only those who truly believe will find the righteous path to weapons of mass destruction." And he might add: "For many years I felt empty, until weapons of mass destruction came into my life and gave me some meaning." Until, eventually, even his followers will be forced to say that "the Holy Dossier isn't meant to be taken literally. Stories such as the tale of the 45 minutes are meant to be seen as a metaphor, a sort of moral code."
But for now the story is bogged down in Alastair Campbell's performance at the inquiry, as if it was a sporting event. Newspapers are even publicising each day's order of play as if it were Wimbledon. Maybe it should be presented by Sue Barker and John McEnroe, who could make comments during each break like "Andrew Gilligan will be just telling himself to relax, but he mustn't let the pressure of the crowd get to him and, whatever else, he must keep his concentration because when this committee spots a weakness it can be fearsome". Or as the BBC is one half of these proceedings, it could turn it into a Saturday night show, fronted by Matthew Kelly, who could clutch the performer after his or her slot and say, "Oo Alastair, you were really nervous earlier, but I don't know why, you were smashing".
Meanwhile, much of the rest of the country seems to have held its own inquiry. At a recent gig by the Eighties ska band The Beat, the group launched into their out-of-date hit "Stand Down Margaret", and the entire audience belted out spontaneously "Stand Down Tony". He's now so much like her that even the songs asking him to go are the same.Reuse content