The Sketch: In front of our very eyes, a new brand of Blair is launched for a dumbstruck audience

The Hutton inquiry, I predict, will prove to be our first experience of this year's Blair brand. Court 73 is the site of a test marketing exercise, before the launch at Labour's Party conference. The new brand value words are: anti-spin, factual, serious, interior, candid. As ever, the new incarnation is terrifically convincing, but as ever, only until compared with previous versions of himself.

Remember, in Japan, he was asked if he'd authorised the release of Dr Kelly's name? "Emphatically not." After the evidence of the past two days we know he meant: "Emphatically yes." That answer in full would be: "I was personally overseeing a process in which we knew Dr Kelly's name was going to become public, so my inner circle instructed press officers and official spokespeople to brief against Dr Kelly, to disparage his credentials, to denigrate his experience, to question his mental and physical health and to minimise his importance so that when we released his name, damage to the Government would be negligible."

James Dingemans, Lord Hutton's counsel, asked in his impeccable manner: "How could he be so sure Dr Kelly's name would have become public?"

"Ah," Mr Blair didn't say, but the inquiry has made clear, "it was inevitable his name would come out because my people in Downing Street had selectively briefed journalists with enough clues to narrow the suspect list down to half a dozen names - and then prepared a Q&A sheet for the Ministry of Defence press office which guaranteed the name would come out. We actively told journalists that if they came up with names we'd tell them when they got the right one. Which we did. Even when one journalist asked 20 wrong names in a row. That's why we knew it was inevitable the name would come out."

Lord Hutton asked: "Why were so many top officials involved in the affair so quickly?" Then Mr Blair said something quite odd. It was: "We had to have a copper-bottomed reason for not telling the Foreign Affairs Committee about it over the weekend." The FAC was about to release its report into the origins of the BBC's allegations of "sex-up" and the 45-minute fraud. Mr Blair said it was all very difficult to know what the right thing to do was, so "it was essential to pass the responsibility on to the officials so that I could say we'd played this by the book, so it could be seen politicians weren't driving the system."

That was true at least, politicians weren't driving the system. Alastair Campbell was. "Driving", incidentally, is a synonym for "debauching".

At any rate, it was all more candid than we were prepared for. It's quite dangerous, this new Blair brand. It could get him into quite a bit of trouble.

Mr Blair recognised more than once that Dr Kelly felt he wasn't the source for the BBC's report. One of his more convoluted remarks yesterday may contain the solution to the whole affair. "We all knew he was saying 'If Gilligan says I said this then I wasn't the source". But we thought he was the source."

And that was why it was inevitable Dr Kelly's name was going to come out. They wanted Kelly out so that he'd tell the Foreign Affairs Committee: "I was Gilligan's source and the scoundrel exaggerated, embellished and distorted what I said to him." That would sink Gilligan and scupper the BBC. But it didn't turn out like that. As Mr Blair ruefully admitted: "One of the reasons I was dubious of Dr Kelly giving evidence is that you can never tell what people are going to say."

It was a reasonable bet for Downing Street; they lost it. In Mr Blair's current incarnation he is able to say that they couldn't conceal Dr Kelly's name because that would have been improper (pause for hollow laughter). And yet, how could they release the name in time for the Foreign Affairs Committee to interview him? It was then that Lord Hutton interrupted in his grave deadpan: "What was your quandary?" he asked. In all honesty, what quandary could there be?

Mr Dingemans' deadpan is a shade more deadpan. He asked Mr Blair why further details of Dr Kelly's identity were being given out at lobby briefings to journalists. "It was hard to find the right way of proceeding," the Prime Minister said. "We couldn't give people wrong information, or just name him [Dr Kelly]."

Mr Dingemans remarked: "Another way of proceeding was by not saying anything at all."

To take that excellent point a stage further: if Dr Kelly revealed himself in his MoD interviews to be fiercely anti-dossier and fiercely pro-Gilligan would he still have been outed? Would Downing Street still have felt it "inevitable" that his name would have become public?

Or would he have been shunted sideways and backwards to live - and be living now - in luxurious anonymity?

Simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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