The thing about Alastair Campbell wasn't the swearing and dismembering. The reason he was such a figure in the Government was his charm. He was attractive. People liked him and wanted to please him. He seduced political editors with his professional caresses. How he could make them purr and raise their tails invitingly!
Then if that didn't work there was the swearing and dismembering. With his charm and his chainsaw he was formidable. And it wasn't just the lobby he operated on – there were military personnel and intelligence leaders too.
Very big, very tough, very clever, and probably very sensitive with it.
His diaries suggest that he had some sort of mental collapse over the death of David Kelly. And maybe he hasn't fully recovered. In the middle of a perfectly coherent case to Chilcot he'd say things that were simply psychotic, like "I don't believe the dossier misrepresented the situation in any way."
He was referring to the September dossier with the 45-minute claim in it – that was "not a significant part of it", he said. In fact, the only reason the dossier was controversial was because of "utterly dishonest" reporting by Andrew Gilligan. "I defend every single word of the dossier," he said. "To the end of my days."
If he has come to believe these words (and God knows, that's a big job) there must be very powerful psychological forces at work. The stakes are high, certainly. Much reputation, earning power and sanity depends on believing it. There's an awful lot of dead people out there connected with his dossier and to Campbell's credit he is sensitive to guilt, if not remorse (hence the breakdown over Kelly).
John Chilcot asked how the Prime Minister could have presented "sketchy" and "sporadic" evidence as "beyond doubt", knowing as we do now that intelligence is never beyond doubt.
Campbell's answer wasn't noteworthy. But the committee didn't skate over that. I think they may be getting into their stride. Now that they're getting into the executive parts of the war machine the questions are hotting up. They did say when they started that this was their plan, and we hurried to rubbish them. I was pleased to be in the vanguard of that particular judgement.
Sceptics should note this: the inquiry revealed they are going to look at the secret intelligence papers through the late summer of 2002 – when the assessments went in a couple of weeks from "limited" to "beyond doubt". Thus, they asked: if these assessments didn't support the claims in the dossier, would Campbell accept that Parliament had been misled? There was a rather vital answer then from the communications director. "No," he said, "I wouldn't."
How on earth could he defend that? Ah, the claims Tony Blair put forward were phrased as "what I believe intelligence has assessed beyond doubt". The "what I believe" is there for a reason.
"You still stand by 'beyond doubt'?" he was asked. "Yes," he said, "because that is the judgement he was led to make."
He's loyal you see, another of his virtues. He may save Blair but the rest will be hanged.
If the inquiry finds a discrepancy between the secret intelligence and the public claims in the dossier – this will destroy Campbell and the former intelligence chief Sir John Scarlett. No wonder there is such a vast sense of denial in the old combatant.
At the end, Campbell was asked by Roderic Lyne whether he thought, in view of the huge loss of life over the last seven years, the instability in the region and the training ground for international terror within Iraq, whether the policy had been successful. "I do," he said. "Given the obvious caveats you've made, I do." But you'd have to. You go completely nuts if you didn't.Reuse content