Politics - John Kampfner searches for Blair's fingerprints

The Prime Minister will survive the Hutton inquiry, not because he should, but because it has been t

The final act in the drama has been performed. We now await the verdict. As Lord Hutton prepares to draw his conclusions, it is time to proffer some pre-emptive advice. All around Tony Blair lies the debris of a Whitehall machine that was suborned and subverted to his cause. All around him lie the casualties, physical and political, of an informal relationship with the truth on the road to war. Yet the Prime Minister will survive this sorry affair, not because he should but because it has been thus engineered. In the manner of the man, he has left no fingerprints of his own. A cordon sanitaire has been thrown around him. The inquiry has been told time and again that he left the dirty work to others.

There can be little doubt that Downing Street and the Ministry of Defence, in the name of Geoff Hoon, connived in a strategy to encourage journalists to name Dr David Kelly. How else can Alastair Campbell's diaries be read? There can be little doubt that the September dossier was sexed up, over-egged, enhanced, clarified, improved. How else can Jonathan Powell's copious e-mails or any of the other evidence be interpreted? There can be little doubt that Andrew Gilligan was partly right in his allegation, but allowed the excitement of the moment to get the better of carefully chosen words; or that his BBC bosses were partly right in defending him, but allowed their battle with Campbell to get the better of a carefully prepared investigation.

Gilligan's most important error was to give the impression that one man, Campbell, was responsible. The truth is more dark. This was the work of the whole of Downing Street and the Joint Intelligence Committee, operating in tandem to turn unimpressive and hedged raw intelligence into something more definitive for public consumption. Whatever reservations a few individual spooks and scientists might have had, the top people were behind the plan.

Blair himself had doubts about the intelligence throughout. Whatever the potential dangers, whatever the despotic nature of Saddam Hussein's regime, there was not enough intelligence to sustain any claim that he posed a real and present danger to the world, as the PM asserted.

The final stage of the hearings over the past fortnight provided the most delicious drama. There were many sub-plots, none more diverting than the unspoken class war between the barristers and the government, the sneers of the questions resounding through the Royal Courts of Justice. Two exchanges in the final week bore testimony to the corruption of the process. First came Hoon's suggestion that it was the newspapers that were to blame for screaming headlines warning of the long-range dangers posed by Iraq's chemical weapons. If this government wants to improve the quality of journalism, it should not encourage reporters in inadvertently conveying falsehoods. Just as the onus is on the BBC to be completely, not just partially, accurate, so it is on the government.

Then came Campbell's diaries. While the attention of journalists and potential publishers focused on the fruity language, some of the more mundane entries were the most revealing. In his 8 July entry, Campbell describes how John Scarlett, Jonathan Powell and Sir Kevin Tebbitt joined him in Godric Smith's room down the corridor of Downing Street and wrote up a press release about the source of Gilligan's story. This begs the question: what were the chairman of the JIC, the Prime Minister's chief of staff and the permanent secretary at the MoD doing hunched over the computer of a spokesman, writing a press release? What has happened to the gravitas of office?

The broad parameters of Hutton's report have been set. The proceedings suggest that the conclusion will criticise the September dossier, namely the JIC and its intimate relationship with the No 10 press office. It will criticise the MoD and its treatment of Kelly. All this will be tempered with criticism of BBC journalistic practice and its procedures for dealing with complaints. The strength of those criticisms will determine the fate of the individuals in question. Important though these issues are, they will, because of the narrow remit of the Hutton inquiry, fail to get to the bottom of the big questions. What was the nature of the raw intelligence that was fed into the system to start with? If it was largely wrong, as the US weapons inspection team now seems to be admitting, when did the government and the security services first know that?

Blair knew what his people were doing in Downing Street. He chose them. He encouraged them, if not in their every decision, then in their broad strategy. But when he needed to, he distanced himself from them. He is guilty by association. But in a court, that is not enough to convict.

Blair's Wars by John Kampfner is published by the Free Press.

Next Article