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Lord Hutton has given his verdict: I shall give mine.
The politics of the last 24 hours has left me distinctly queasy. The Government vote on tuition fees, where they won solely on the appearance of Scottish MPs who aren’t even affected by the bill, was just a taster of things to come. Today’s revelation in the Hutton Report was the icing on Tony Blair’s cake. This time yesterday, we were wondering who would be the next Prime Minister; today, Tony Blair has escaped the flails of justice intact, seemingly stronger than ever.
Certainly, it was a grave accusation that BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan thrust at the Government’s door early that morning – namely that they had lied to go to war. Yes, the BBC reporting is at times woefully unbalanced. Yes, the BBC made errors after the Gilligan report was out. But Lord Hutton seems to have focused his entire critique on that one report; 3 minutes of unscripted dialogue and just one fourteen second long sentence that he suggests serves to represent the ethics of the reporter and, as Tony Blair himself may have put it, as the totality of the evidence against the corporation.
The idea that Blair did not have a hand in the naming of Kelly is also highly suspect. This is a government whose modus operandi has been shown, indisputibly, to be ‘top-down’, centralised and autocratic. Blair’s hand is shown to be central to all decisions – except when something goes wrong, when he is conveniently uninvolved.
And now Alastair Campbell is out, all guns blazing. Now, I’ve a great deal of respect for Campbell’s intellect. But this is a man, a former writer of fake erotic letters for Penthouse, the ex-chief spin-doctor for the government who chaired intelligence meetings. Hypocrisy? Oh no.
I suppose it is possible that the government did not put a foot wrong in this whole affair. And I can’t pretend to be at the hub of the political spectrum – my leafy village certainly isn’t on a par with Westminster. However, watching the news tonight is genuinely cathartic, and a subtext in their comments is telling. Stream upon stream of reporters are dissecting the report, going through the motions of objective analysis but seemingly unable to believe the findings or the sheer one-sidedness of the conclusion. None of them, not even seasoned insiders, predicted the outcome – seasoned insiders that have lived and breathed political debate and cynicism for years inside Westminster; seasoned insiders like Nick Robinson, ITV News’ Chief Political Reporter, who today looked deeply unhappy and talked openly on live television of a “whitewash”. Reporters like Channel 4’s Jon Snow, who seemed horrified at the implications for open investigative reporting in the future and had verbal fisticuffs with the beautiful Margaret Beckett, who almost admitted that government scientists are now unable to voice their concerns about anything much without being sacked.
But I suppose Rod Little, who gave his always entertaining opinion on the Radio 4 Today programme this afternoon, is right – never in history has a Law Lord conducted an inquiry with an anti-government outcome. Too late are the recent revelations of doubts in the evidence Lord Hutton took as fact. Three senior medical experts have cast doubt on the “suicide” of Dr Kelly, according to ThisIsLondon – a subject I harped on about a couple of months ago.
But it’s all too late now, isn’t it?
I leave you with Steve Bell’s excellent cartoon in The Guardian. A thousand words…