Saturday, January 16, 2010

Campbell leads cavalry charge for Blair

Alastair Campbell's appearance before the Chilcot Inquiry this week was simply designed to lay the ground for the main event in a few week's time when Tony Blair himself takes the stand. But the former Prime Minister's plans to mount a robust defence of the Iraq War mean more bad news for his successor. Here's today's Journal column.

When I heard on the radio a week or so ago that Alastair Campbell was to give evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War this week, my first thought was of the Dickensian hero Sydney Carton.

As fans of A Tale of Two Cities will know, it was Carton who, in a supreme act of self-sacrifice at the climax of the novel, uttered the immortal words: “It is a far, far, better thing than I have ever done….”

Would Campbell, a man whose practice of the black arts of spin and smear has done more to degrade British politics in the past 20 years than any other individual, finally be prepared to do a “better thing” than he has ever done in the cause of truth?

Well, in a sense, the answer was yes. Because, although Campbell remains completely unrepentant about the Iraq War, and his role in inveigling the public into supporting it, he has, at least, finally been prepared to be honest about how and why it happened.

Appearing at the inquiry on Tuesday, the former Downing Street director of communications was asked by panel member Sir Roderick Lyne about a series of letters between Tony Blair and President George Bush in the run-up to the conflict.

He replied that the tenor of the letters was: "We are going to be with you in making sure that Saddam Hussein faces up to his obligations and that Iraq is disarmed. If that cannot be done diplomatically and it is to be done militarily, Britain will be there.”

The significance of this revelation is that it provides yet more conclusive evidence that Mr Blair’s determination to remove Saddam over-rode all other political and diplomatic considerations.

As the former Cabinet Secretary Lord Turnbull described it in his own evidence to the inquiry this week, his approach was essentially: “I’m going to do regime change and just talk the disarmament language.”

So what is Mr Campbell up to? Is he somehow intent on further trashing his old boss’s already tarnished historical reputation in the hope of garnering a few cheap headlines?

Not a bit of it. It is, as ever with Campbell, part of a concerted and deliberate strategy by Mr Blair and his inner circle to use the Chilcot inquiry to mount an unapologetic defence of the war.

Mr Campbell has always prided himself on being a loyal party man, but in the context of the forthcoming election, this is, to say the very least, unhelpful stuff for Gordon Brown and Labour.

The prospect of Mr Blair and other senior ex-colleagues loudly defending the war in the run-up to polling day is a nightmare scenario for the Prime Minister - but the truth is there isn’t a damned thing he can do about it.

And it is not just Messrs Blair and Campbell. We learn from a prominent North-East blogger that the Defence Minister, Kevan Jones, is shortly to go into print to explain why he supported the invasion in 2003, and why he still supports it now.

Fair play to Kevan for sticking to his guns, but I respectfully predict it will not win him a single additional vote in Durham North come 6 May - and may well lose him a fair few.

In the months following Mr Blair’s resignation in 2007, Mr Brown had a clear opportunity to distance the government from the Iraq debacle - if not from the actual decision to go to war, at least from the way in which it was done.

Thanks in part to Alastair Campbell, that option now no longer exists.

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Robert said...

Any bets Blair and Campbell have not been sitting around a table talking about how and what to say.

Tidey Sum said...

Why haven't I seen anything in the media about the anti Cameron Facebook group? It's got 100,000 members, which is more than the Brown to go Downing St petition which got so much attention.