How the Government rounded on its 'contemptible' critics

Hutton Aftermath: The Victors
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The Independent Online

To concentrate on the positive, then, let us be grateful to Lord Hutton for the way he conducted his inquiry, the widened terms he established, the audacious way he demanded and obtained papers from every level of government and for the website which presented the largest collection of the most sensitive and embarrassing documents ever revealed in British public life. That the Government can present itself as victims of corrosive media cynicism is a testament to their powers of delusion. If they could reconstruct a country as well as they reconstruct the past, then Iraq would have the standard of living of Switzerland. They've been trying this on for a couple of years, ever since Alastair Campbell called for a settlement between the media and the political class. In its current version, ministerial directives instruct us to subscribe to a West Wing view, where benign leaders fight day and night to do their best for us whatever the personal cost. We are told by characters such as John Reid and no less than Lord Hutton that it is unacceptable to impugn the integrity of public figures without evidence.

Ironically, Hutton's bequest to us is a body of documents that give us exactly the evidence we need. The documents show us the raw workings of government, the flavour and substance of power, and the age-old fact our masters tell us as little as they can get away with. Why wouldn't they? We're shocked but not really surprised, are we?

When Mr Campbell gave evidence to the foreign affairs committee he included a list of his requested changes to the September dossier. It was a letter he sent to the Joint Intelligence Committee. It did not mention his surgical work on the 45-minute claim (in another letter to the JIC). Mr Campbell leaked it to The Guardian . We don't have to be corroded by cynicism to suspect Mr Campbell thought he was on safe ground: the committee had no power to call for the sort of documents Hutton obtained.

In the belief the real evidence would never see the light of day, Tony Blair was able to say: "The idea we doctored such evidence is completely and totally false." Actually, he's still saying it. His ability to carry that off is marvellous.

The 45-minute claim was a central part of Alastair Campbell's doctoring. The original claim was WMD "may be" deployed within 45 minutes.

But "may be" doesn't work in the Commons. For Tony Blair to make his alarming case for war, total certainty, utter conviction was necessary (he likes these categorical absolutes: "completely and totally false" being one such example). So Alastair Campbell asked his "mate" running the security committee to change the wording from "may be deployed" to "are able to be deployed". And so it was that Tony Blair was able to do the thing he excels at - displaying his passion in front of the most appreciative audience in the world. Of course, there's more. "The allegation the 45-minute claim provoked disquiet amongst the intelligence community, which disagreed with its inclusion in the dossier ... is completely and totally untrue." Now, the Prime Minister said this in Parliament too, so it's more serious.

There was indeed disquiet in the intelligence community. Our most senior intelligence specialist in WMD sent a memo to the head of the committee expressing very serious reservations and explicit disagreement with its inclusion in the dossier.

On his travels, fresh from American triumph, Mr Blair was asked whether he had anything to do with the release of Dr Kelly's name. "Emphatically not" he said. In Hutton, it transpired he had chaired the meeting that decided to release Dr Kelly's name. There isn't documentary evidence that he acquiesced in the decision because the meeting was unminuted (oh).

Mr Blair's defence pre-Hutton was: "I suggest that if people have any evidence they actually produce it." The evidence Lord Hutton produced deserves a long and well inspected life in the public domain.

Alastair Campbell, former No 10 director of communications

"The most important thing for me today is the fact that the allegations against us have been withdrawn. I'm content with the fact that finally, after all that everybody's had to go through, that these allegations have been withdrawn. It's for the BBC to decide whether having somebody like Andrew Gilligan on their payroll is a way to restore their integrity and their reputation."

Tony Blair

"This for me has always been a very simple matter of an accusation that was a very serious one that was made. It has now been withdrawn, that is all I ever wanted... I want to make it absolutely clear I fully respect the independence of the BBC.

"The BBC will continue, as it should do, to probe and question the Government in every proper way. This allows us to draw a line and move on."

Peter Hain, Leader of the Commons

"Some of the attacks made by the Leader of the Opposition have been absolutely despicable and contemptible and ought to be withdrawn.

"It is one thing to put tough questions and make strong points to the Prime Minister across the dispatch box. That is the role of Opposition. It's another question to challenge his integrity and to accuse him of lying."

Chris Bryant, Labour MP

"The truth is their position had become untenable. This is a dent in the family silver, but that does not mean we want to throw the silver away."