Alastair Campbell, Chilcot and snow

The Chilcot inquiry is a win-win for Blair and Campbell

One of the drawbacks of putting those accused of war crimes on trial is that they can use the occasion as a public platform. I fear the Chilcot inquiry is doing just that. Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's director of communications and the guiding hand behind the dossiers that supposedly made the case for the Iraq war, showed no contrition, no admission of the slightest error, not even a hint of embarrassment. He said Britain should be "proud" of what it did in Iraq. I'm not sure even Blair would dare to say that.

Faced with a negative story, Campbell's technique was always to divert it by going on the attack. It was shown to brilliant effect when, with criticism of the war growing, Campbell went for the BBC and its reporter Andrew Gilligan over the claim that the September 2002 dossier was "sexed up". What ought to have been a story about Blair's errors became one about the BBC's. Campbell dealt similarly with Chilcot's questioning about the dossier's claim that Saddam Hussein could launch weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes.

“We wouldn't be having this conversation," he said, "if it weren't for the controversy that subsequently ensued" - "controversy" being code for the dreaded Gilligan. He went on to insist, quite implausibly, that he had no idea newspapers would come up with such headlines as "45 minutes from doom" and that nobody had bothered about this preposterous exaggeration until Gilligan highlighted it.

Campbell gave us a masterclass in how to defend the indefensible. Expect the same from Blair. Unfortunately, Chilcot is not actually a war crimes trial and cannot provide us with the satisfaction of knowing that the miscreants will eventually be punished. It is, as I feared from the start, a win-win for Blair and Campbell.

Attention deficit

Can anybody explain what the Tory poster "We'll cut the deficit, not the NHS" is supposed to mean? The slogan suggests these are alternatives and that Labour will do things the other way round, cutting the NHS, not the deficit. This is obvious nonsense that could easily be cured by the insertion of a "but". Perhaps the confusion is deliberate and the Tories believe, probably rightly, that many voters won't understand what the deficit is and imagine the reference is to some private indulgence of Gordon Brown and his ministers. Or are they making some sophisticated point about how, if the deficit isn't reduced, high-interest payments will eventually force NHS cuts?

More likely, the Tories just aren't very good at expressing themselves clearly. It hardly augurs well for the government they hope to form.

Brown and white

Snow, I find, puts everything into proportion. Is my journey necessary? No, not really. Can I survive a few weeks without the dustbins beingcollected? Yes, quite easily. Can children afford a few days off school? Sure they can. I suspect the snow even had an effect on the failure of yet another attempted anti-Brown coup. According to the press, the plot was originally hatched, as Labour plots usually are, in a curry house. My guess is that cabinet ministers and MPs couldn't be arsed to plan further moves by tramping through snow and ice to find more curry houses. Could they live a little longer with Gordon? Of course.

Paper trail

I most recently went to the British Library's newspapers collection at Colindale in north London to research a piece on newspapers in 1984 to mark the 25th anniversary of the Guardian's media section. Nowadays, most papers have to be read on microfilm through fiddly digital devices, which take all the tactile pleasure out of it. However, after some pleading, the staff brought me the original papers so that, as I explained, I could view them "in the round" and get a feel for that era of journalism.

In future, my request would have to be refused. Colindale is closing (probably in 2012) and the microfilms alone will be available at the main library in King's Cross. The newspapers will migrate to Boston Spa, where a new building will provide temperature and humidity controls lacking at Colindale. I have nothing against Boston Spa, presumably chosen for its low building costs and cheap migrant labour from eastern Europe. It seems a pity, though, that somewhere more accessible can't be found. Newspapers aren't just about information, of which they usually contain little. They are an art form that cannot be appreciated without the feel and smell of the papers themselves. Would anybody think of decanting the contents of the National Gallery to Lincolnshire and making only slides available in London?

Luck of the draw

Three times in six months, England's cricketers have drawn a Test match they seemed certain to lose. Nothing else in sport offers comparable drama. Only in cricket, and then only in its longer form, can a losing side, otherwise well beaten, still achieve a kind of victory.

Moreover, the climax often involves a number 11 - Monty Panesar against the Australians last summer, or Graham Onions twice against South Africa this winter - who is not picked for his batting skills. Uniquely, cricket can make the outcome of an international match hinge on a man doing something at which he is not, in fact, very good.

Those who hate cricket, and the racism and snobbery that besmirch its history, express bemusement that socialists such as myself should so adore the game. But those drawn matches provide an explanation: long struggle against odds is rewarded; the mighty are brought low; and humble bowlers, the proletarians of cricket, enjoy the riches of batting success.

Peter Wilby was editor of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 18 January 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Palin Power