Issue 283 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published March 2004 Copyright © Socialist Review
A whitewash has rarely been so misjudged as Hutton's, writes Pat Stack
I find there are few things quite as enjoyable as watching a smug, arrogant bully having the smile wiped from his or her face. Imagine then the pleasure I've had seeing a collection of smug, arrogant bullies watch in amazement as their apparent hour of vindication was greeted with indignation, disbelief and downright hostility by all but their most ardent supporters.
For that has been the tale of the shower of New Labour cabinet ministers and spin doctors, ever since the establishment lackey Hutton produced his repo... er, whitewash.
One can imagine the scene before Hutton was appointed--Blair addressing senior civil servants and his many friends in high places in the legal establishment, saying, 'I need a safe pair of hands to get out of this mess caused by the death of that leaker fellow Kelly.'
'None safer than Hutton,' must have been the reply. Safe maybe, but sadly for him he clearly forgot to add in the caveat 'smart'. For Hutton's report was so one-sided it was just simply stupid. For these inquiries to work, they have to show a semblance of balance. Hutton did no such thing. His report was so deliberately blinkered and so fatuous that any half-thinking person would spot its real purpose immediately--to whitewash the government.
The equivalent would be for the Saville inquiry into the Bloody Sunday massacre by British soldiers in Derry 1972 to find that the whole thing was the fault of Martin McGuinness, for not naming IRA men 30 years later. Possible of course, but one would have thought they would not want to enrage the entire Catholic population of Northern Ireland by being so stupid.
Indeed, not since Lord Devlin produced the appalling cover-up of Bloody Sunday at the time has any public inquiry been greeted by such cynical disbelief.
It's not even as if Hutton didn't hear that politicians and spin doctors were editing and sending back changes to the dossier drawn up by the spooks, instructing them to replace ambiguous findings with much more one-sided and definite ones. Nor can Hutton have been unaware of the 45-minute claim, and the fact that it was allowed to stand, despite the fact that it was a piece of bogus flannel. 'Sexing up' is a term that strangely springs to mind here.
He also knew that Blair and others including the loathsome Hoon had discussed unmasking Kelly, the damn question the whole narrowly focused inquiry was supposed to have been about, and that Bliar lived up to his name by lying to journalists about it. In other words, whatever the minute detail, Gilligan to all intents and purposes got it right.
This shouldn't surprise us, for it is obvious now to anyone who casts a vaguely sceptical glance back at the events that led to war that Bush was going to invade Iraq irrespective of WMDs or any other fig leaf. Equally it is clear that our grovelling gobshite of a prime minister was going to follow him to war regardless.
The problem Blair had was that he needed a pretext, and therefore the intelligence had to fit the intentions--hence sexing up and battlefield weapons being presented as WMDs which could pose a 45-minute threat. For there is no doubt that when Blair said he wasn't aware of the limitation of the weapons he was quite simply lying!
None of this, though, stopped a parade of arrogant sneering bullies appearing on our TV screens the night the report was published. Led by the disgusting Alastair Campbell, on they went, suggesting that instead of questioning them BBC journalists should grovel, apologise and never criticise or interrogate New Labour ministers again.
It says much for the spinelessness of the governors of the BBC that their first instinct was to cave in. There is no doubt that by accepting Greg Dyke's resignation this was their intention.
Now Dyke is a boss, a millionaire, and up to now a big pal of New Labour--in other words not somebody this column would have much time for. But it is to his credit that in his going he threw down the gauntlet to Campbell and Co.
It is of course hugely to the credit of BBC staff that they showed a lot more mettle than the governors. If part of that protest was in support of Dyke, then it was easy to understand why after hearing the pompous prat John Birt give us his twopenceworth of crap in the House of Lords. Such is Birt's reputation as an employer that just about any sweatshop owner would have been seen as an improvement by staff. Dyke certainly was.
Still though, it took the arrogant bullies days to suss they had got it wrong. Two editions of the BBC's Question Time turned out to be a joy. On the first Ian Hislop made an opening statement bluntly and angrily attacking Hutton. I think he earned the loudest and longest applause I've ever heard on the show. He proceeded to make mincemeat of Margaret Beckett, who floundered like a fish on a line.
A week later and this time it was Rod Liddle bringing the house down while laying into Peter Hain. For all his smoothiness and contrived anger Hain was left with egg all over his face. What a pitiful sight, though, to see a man who earned his name as someone who practised civil disobedience, and displayed contempt for the establishment, arguing that we had to accept the report because Hutton was 'a respected high court judge'.
I know Blair has many well paid advisers, but here is a bit of free advice: if you are going to hire a lackey and a yes man, then hire a clever one who understands the importance of subtlety. Failing that, do us all a favour and resign!
It took the arrogant bullies days to suss they'd got it wrong