Now Nobody Is Safe: At the Top of Government, There Is a Sense That, after David Kelly's Death, Anything Can Happen. Almost Inevitably, Someone Will Be Sacrificed

By Kampfner, John | New Statesman (1996), July 28, 2003 | Go to article overview

Now Nobody Is Safe: At the Top of Government, There Is a Sense That, after David Kelly's Death, Anything Can Happen. Almost Inevitably, Someone Will Be Sacrificed


Kampfner, John, New Statesman (1996)


Think back to the scandals, crises and little local difficulties of the past 20 years. Think back to Westland, to Geoffrey Howe's resignation, to the poll tax, to Norman Lamont singing in the bath, to Rolex watches, to Neil Hamilton, to the sexual peccadilloes of John Major and his back-to-basics team, to Lakshmi Mittal, to the Hindujas, to Bernie Ecclestone, and to Jo Moore's burying of bad news. Not one, as a senior Downing Street official reminded me, "actually involved a death". You had to go back to the Profumo affair and the suicide of Stephen Ward for that. There was a chill in his voice. Step back and consider the consequences, not just for Tony Blair and his people, not just for Greg Dyke and his people, but for the political process.

Or this from a cabinet minister, voice quaking, three days after the death of Dr David Kelly: "We feel and act as if we are abused children, hounded and wary of contact with people we fear we can't trust." Abused or abuser? Often one turns into the other. In the case of this government and political journalists, it is hard to tell who first abused whom. Was it the untamed beasts of Fleet Street, with destructive powers built into their DNA? Or was it the much-chronicled spin and manipulation of the new Labour machine? Both have now collided with desperate consequences.

Already, the sheer horror of what happened seems to be dissipating. Within hours of the discovery of Kelly's body, I received a request from a newspaper asking if I would write a piece on "the Prime Minister as war criminal". I politely declined. For all the many mistakes he may have made on the road to war, for all that people around him may have stretched the truth, for all the lack of a big idea to guide them, I have never subscribed to the view that Blair is either mad or bad. If I had, I would be financially better off, with countless more media commissions. That is the culture we inhabit.

Within days, the Westminster village had gone from Alastair Campbell's resignation, to successors to Dyke and Gavyn Davies at the BBC, to a clear-out at the Ministry of Defence starting with Geoff Hoon.

The inquiry by Lord Hutton has already, perhaps inevitably, been reduced to sport. Ringside seats are being reserved. Daily coverage is being planned. If the law lord does his job properly, he might shed light not just on Kelly's death, but on the much bigger question of whether Britain went to war on a false pretext. In Blair's office, they are already preparing for their appearances. Files are being compiled on all aspects of the saga, from the internal minutes of Joint Intelligence Committee meetings with Campbell and others, to contacts with the BBC and other media, to the events that followed Andrew Gilligan's story, Kelly's decision to volunteer himself to the MoD as the possible source, and the circumstance of his death. "We are not operating from a standing start," says one official. The BBC is also marshalling its forces. Both sides are hiring teams of lawyers--at the taxpayers' expense.

The shock and horror of the events are compounded by mystery. Friends of Kelly find it hard to believe that he did actually kill himself. Just before he took his walk in the woods, he is said to have finished an assignment on his computer for the Foreign Office and sent a series of e-mails. In one, he spoke of "many dark actors playing games" but this, I am told, was a phrase he had used several times, and suggested rivalry among his colleagues rather than sinister notions. Kelly had been angry at his treatment from the foreign affairs select committee on 15 July, but is said to have felt more sanguine after appearing before the separate inquiry of the intelligence and security committee the next day. He was looking forward to going back to Iraq to help the government in the desperately important job of finding those elusive weapons of mass destruction. "There lies the terrible irony of the situation. …

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