The Sketch: His lordship looks down on our masters and takes their word for it

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The Independent Online

Faced with whitewash of this quality it's impossible to curb one's instinct to cover it with graffiti. All right. One thing that Lord Hutton said. If the various components of the Government's action were looked at "in isolation", he told the court, "it would be possible to infer, as some commentators have done, that there was an underhand strategy by the Government to leak Dr Kelly's name to the press in a covert way".

Not that Lord Hutton's integrity is to be questioned any more than his brushwork, but that "in isolation" bears a curious rhetorical resemblance to the Prime Minister's famous request to look at his actions and statements "in their totality". Is it a legitimate question, then, in the light of Mr Blair's other-worldly calm under questioning, to ask whether No 10 had any early indication of what the report was going to say? Or is that the sort of thing the Prime Minister will not put up with now? "You don't have to be nasty to be effective," he told us, and John Prescott waved his finger (just the one, for once) at the press gallery.

But then who will feed my children? Lord Hutton's report is clear, coherent and reasonable. He has taken the government case at face value. But, in my view, the wrong face. By the way he named the officials and their titles, he conveyed his impression that they could be telling nothing but the transcendental truth. When he said the words "an attack on the integrity of the Government itself", it was as though he could hardly understand what the words might be intended to signify. But none of these boobies had any idea Libya was on the very brink of a nuclear capability! Because he exists at the top of the establishment looking down, I suggest, he doesn't know what our masters look like from underneath, as we look up.

Later in the House, Michael Howard did what he could, with very little to go on; and heaven knows, the going was very heavy for him. The Prime Minister was superb, I say that without irony. His instinct for the House is unequalled. The low tones, the dignity, the humility, the quiet certainty, the absence of rancour, the lack of triumphalism, the sheer saintliness of the man as he comes to feed us: nobody does it better. "Today was a test of character," he said of Michael Howard, "and he's failed it." Even I could feel the sting.

His backbenchers were more than usually disgraceful. When the Speaker made it clear he would throw out anyone he saw shouting they started to hiss Mr Howard. We used to hum at school, in the same sort of circumstances. Mr Prescott, with more delicacy than you might have expected, shhssd them, but it was left to the Speaker to threaten to suspend the House if the booing continued (they were booing). What a week of triumph it's been for Mr Blair. His steadiness under fire is an inspiration to us all. He's a public school icon. In earlier days he'd have been a hero of the Empire. To have undergone the worst experiences of leadership - private e-mails being published; a chief of staff's scornful dismissal of the Joint Intelligence Committee's dossier; the overt sexing up of the dossier's language and the changing of its very title by Alastair Campbell; the going to war on a prospectus based on the gossip of Iraqi exiles ... and then to be vindicated by one of the country's most respected and attractive judges. No wonder Tom Kelly, the Prime Minister's spokesman who sits in the press gallery, couldn't stop smirking.

During Mr Blair's emotional performance in the House last year, when he swung the vote on going to war, he used some examples of dangers that he must have known to be untrue. Or in the more responsible phrasing he urges upon us, that he can't have known to be the case. Did he believe it at the time? As Paddy Ashdown, quoted in the House, said: "Tony always believes it at the time." But that is small comfort to us whom he leads. "Believing it at the time" is the equivalent of the legal verdict "guilty but insane".

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