The Sketch: Limping a little, Downing Street's alpha male makes it safely back to the jungle

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Towards the end of the interview, when Alastair Campbell had fully established himself, he made a mistake. He showed us freely what he was made of. It's pretty impressive stuff. He started enjoying himself by kicking MPs round the hall - scoffing, pointing, jeering, haranguing, hectoring, exaggerating, laughing, thumping the table and mocking his inferiors.

It was a vivid glimpse for those of us who'd never seen before what an alpha male he is. And what we saw for the first time was how Whitehall's officials, bureaucrats and apparatchiks could have been bent and subordinated to his personal power.

Sir John Stanley led the prosecution in a most impressive select committee performance. In short, he nailed him. Speaking slowly, and with a sense of implacable judgement, Sir John said that the clear inadequacy of the so-called dodgy dossier led the Prime Minister to mislead the House of Commons in a very serious way. The House had been told that new intelligence had been released on the infrastructure of concealment in Iraq. This was to be taken gravely because it reflected on the integrity of the security services. "They're not making it up," the Prime Minister had said.

Sir John recapped the mood in the House. "Every member of the House of Commons would have had no doubt this dossier had gone through the Joint Intelligence Committee process, it had been approved by JIC and had JIC status. As we know now it was largely culled off the internet, and it was partly on the basis of that we took the decision to go to war."

"That's a very, very grave charge," Mr Campbell said, "and I think it's one I reject." Think I reject? Think?

It's unusual to set Alastair Campbell back on his heels; it quite suits him. His plea was that he produced a deluge of material and out of all there was but one single mistake. Without realising it, they mixed up academic research with intelligence assessments and changed a couple of words. Hardly a hanging offence. Done with the best of intentions; hardly an offence at all.

When asked why Dr Ibrahim al-Marashi's words had been changed, Mr Campbell said: "That work wasn't changing Dr al-Marashi's work because they had no idea who Dr al-Marashi was." An ingenious defence, you'll agree. Even cleverer, when asked whether the Cabinet Secretary was aware of the provenance of the information, he said: "He was neither aware of it nor unaware of it." Joe Orton crafted lines like that with enormous care. For Mr Campbell it's shelling peas.

Are people interested in this? Sir John makes a case for its significance. Noting Mr Campbell's position on the fulcrum of policy and presentation, he said: "This new revelation that you are in the business of making, drafting suggestions to the chairman of the JIC ... I don't believe is conducive to the integrity of the JIC."

After three hours, the interview was over and the alpha male went back into the jungle, limping a little, perhaps.