Alastair Campbell told intelligence chiefs the Iraq dossier “had to be revelatory” even though Tony Blair had told him “there was really not much to say at the moment”, according to his diaries. Blair was reluctant to recall Parliament and did not want the Cabinet to discuss the dossier. Campbell also thought the secret draft of the dossier by spin doctor John Williams represented a Foreign Office takeover attempt. But the diaries leave out many key events that show how heavily Williams and other spin doctors were involved in drafting the dossier and the insertion of the notorious 45 minutes claim.
Campbell records that he met Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) chairman John Scarlett and others on Thursday 5 September 2002 to go over the dossier, two days after Blair had announced it would be published. He demanded something revelator and records “we needed to show that it was new and informative and part of a bigger case.” As a footnote, he mentions that John Williams, the Foreign Office’s press secretary, was offering to write the dossier full time.
Significantly there is no entry for Friday 6 September. On that day Williams emailed Campbell saying he had Foreign Secretary Jack Straw’s permission to carry out “the media-friendly editorial job that will need to be done when John Scarlett and his team have produced the dossier.” No record of Campbell’s response has surfaced, but Williams has told me he put together his own draft of the dossier that weekend. It is this draft, dated 9 September, whose existence the New Statesman’s Martin Bright revealed in November and which is still being withheld by the Foreign Office, in spite of a ruling from the Information Commissioner that it should be released.
Campbell was aware of what Williams was doing. He records that on Monday 9 September that he met John Scarlett, who “agrees with me that the FCO was trying to take [the dossier] over”. Then: “Jack Straw called me about it and I said John Williams should be part of the team, not the writer.” But Campbell told Hutton that he had no knowledge of “John’s draft of 9th September”. Asked whether there was a dossier on that day, he replied, “No, there was not”.
Campbell’s diaries leave out what happened next but Williams continued to be closely involved. The first meeting of the dossier drafting group was described as “a Cab Off meeting at 2pm today w John Williams on the dossier”. Campbell told Hutton he had no knowledge of whether this meeting had gone ahead. Williams also failed to tell Hutton about the meeting. He has told me that he has no recollection of it but has not entirely denied attending it. He has said that he was not at any meeting that took the decision to include the 45 minutes claim.
But according to the government’s own evidence to the 2003 Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry, the 45 minutes claim was inserted in the dossier after it was discussed at this meeting. Also at this meeting was Daniel Pruce of the No. 10 press office, and possibly other spin doctors.
Campbell told Hutton that Pruce, who represented him at the meeting, was “not terribly closely involved in the process”. Clearly he had good reason to try to portray Pruce as out of the loop as it was Pruce’s email on 10 September that discussed the Williams draft as something that would lead to a “further draft”. In another email, Pruce revealingly referred to John Scarlett’s “first draft” of the dossier as “this latest draft”.
The government has always presented John Scarlett’s draft on 10 Septemberas the pure work of the intelligence services but it is clear that the spin doctors’ fingerprints are all over it. Campbell records receiving Scarlett’s draft late that day. Scarlett also sent a covering note acknowledging “considerable help from John Williams” who apparently already had a copy of the draft.
Having demanded a “revelatory” document without knowing what its contents might be, Campbell says he was happy enough with the dossier at this point. He says that Blair “felt it was pretty compelling stuff” but was “in a bit of a strop” over plans to recall Parliament and was under pressure from within the Cabinet.
“He also didn’t want Cabinet until after a recall. Ridiculous. No wonder Betty Boothroyd said it was becoming more presidential.”