Mr Blair May Survive Hutton, but the Labour Party Is Losing Faith in Him
Brown, Michael, The Independent (London, England)
John Scarlett, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, spent the bank holiday yesterday in his Whitehall office. I know this at first hand because, when I signed the minicab docket after being returned home from a Sky News interview outside the Royal Courts of Justice, I noticed that the previous passenger's signature was that of Mr Scarlett - who was collected by my taxi driver from his home at 8am and driven to the Cabinet Office.
Mr Scarlett was presumably preparing for his evidence, later today, and was no doubt trawling through Alastair Campbell's testimony to the Hutton inquiry to make sure that the two of them are not singing from different hymn sheets. Most observers expect Mr Scarlett to corroborate Mr Campbell's claim that the JIC had "ownership" of the September dossier, and that there was no last- minute "insertion" by Downing Street of the 45-minute claim about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction. But it will still be intriguing to get Mr Scarlett's take on how he viewed the 15 occasions on which Mr Campbell communicated with him to suggest drafting amendments to the document.
It is less easy to know just what choreography, if any, there may be between Geoff Hoon and the Prime Minister when they give their separate testimonies later in the week. It would be revealing if we could also see what e-mail traffic there has been between these two - indeed among all the participants appearing before Lord Hutton - over the past few days. Perhaps one of the minor consequences of this whole affair is that there will be a greater reluctance by politicians and officials to commit thoughts and instructions to computers and inter-departmental memos.
Mr Hoon is expected to have the most difficult questions to answer since he is already on written record as having refused the advice of Sir Kevin Tebbit, his permanent secretary, not to allow Dr Kelly to testify before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. There is already enough documentary evidence available on the Hutton website to enable the Prime Minister to reinforce the line that he wanted the matter of publicising Dr Kelly's name to the press to be dealt with by the Ministry of Defence. There is also Mr Hoon's incriminating comment that, for "presentational" reasons, he decided to over-ride his chief official. So far, it looks as though Downing Street's strategy is to shift the blame on to Mr Hoon.
But if Mr Hoon were to decide that he is soon to be ministerial toast and chose to cut up rough, he could make life very awkward for Mr Blair. There is also compelling evidence to show that in the crucial meetings in Downing Street, attended by senior officials and Mr Blair, the Defence Secretary was out of the loop - he was not present. Mr Hoon could, therefore, make a convincing case that he was simply carrying out orders handed down to him from above.
Rumours abound that if Mr Hoon accepts the role of sacrificial lamb he might be suitably rewarded in the future. This happened to Leon Brittan after the Westland affair in 1986. He was, similarly, unfairly made to bear the brunt of the fall-out; and the guilt Margaret Thatcher felt about the way he was treated accounts, largely, for his subsequent appointment as a European Commissioner.
Mr Blair's appearance before the inquiry on Thursday is being trailed as the highlight of the week. I suspect that it may turn out, however, to be a bit of a non-event. He will be briefed up to the eyeballs and, having six years of regular experience …
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Mr Blair May Survive Hutton, but the Labour Party Is Losing Faith in Him. Contributors: Brown, Michael - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: August 26, 2003. Page number: 12. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.