Tripped Up Trying to Spin History; Analysis

Article excerpt

Byline: Peter Oborne

THERE are many people who believe that Alastair Campbell will go down in history as an unscrupulous propagandist who lied to the British public on behalf of Tony Blair in the run-up to the Iraq invasion.

Nothing that took place yesterday will have caused that opinion to change. Indeed, as a result of his grilling, we have fresh evidence that Campbell schemed to deceive the British public.

He refused to accept he had done anything wrong. Yet he was repeatedly caught out as he insisted he had not twisted the facts.

For example, Campbell was quickly in difficulties when he brazenly claimed that the notorious dossier of September 2002 which made the case for war had been under the full control of Joint Intelligence Committee chairman John Scarlett.

In that case, he was asked, why was it that Campbell had chaired two drafting meetings on the dossier at which Scarlett was present? Campbell had no convincing answer.

Then, in a breathtaking comment, he told the committee that he took little interest in headlines such as the mendacious claim that Saddam Hussein could unleash chemical or biological weapons in 45 minutes. As anyone who knew Campbell during his years at Number 10 might testify, newspaper headlines were his obsession. Then he tried to demolish claims made by Sir Christopher Meyer (Britain's former ambassador to the U.S.) and others that Blair had secretly signed up Britain to war as early as his meeting with President Bush at his ranch in Crawford in the spring of 2002.

Yet Campbell's denials were sensationally called into question when he told Lord Chilcot that Blair and Bush had enjoyed a private correspondence ahead of the war. Campbell, in the most explosive revelation of the day, said the 'tenor of the letters' was that if diplomacy failed and an invasion became necessary then 'Britain will be here'.

The deadliest questioning came when former British ambassador to Russia, Sir Roderic Lyne, tested Campbell on whether Blair's claim to Parliament that the September dossier had 'established beyond doubt' that Saddam continued to produce weapons of mass destruction.

Sir Roderic - who asked more searching questions than any other panellist - forensically demonstrated that Blair's lurid warnings to the Commons and to the British public conflicted with the information he was being given by our intelligence services at the time. …