Magazine article The Spectator

Blair Is Not Guilty of Mendacity but of Weakness and Poor Judgment

Magazine article The Spectator

Blair Is Not Guilty of Mendacity but of Weakness and Poor Judgment

Article excerpt

Swimmers, scanning the sea for signs of danger, look beyond what breaks the surface. It is by the slight but unexpected troubling of the waters that hidden peril is often best located. Where something jagged lurks beneath or where two currents collide, a sudden agitated choppiness in a small patch of sea may tell us more than the great, regular rollers which we know how to breast.

Most people seem to think that as regards the David Kelly affair, the Prime Minister himself is out of the roughest water; that Lord Hutton's evidence-taking has somehow 'cleared' Downing Street - or at least that lesser figures are conveniently placed to take the rap. I too expect Mr Blair to escape. But a curious perturbation on the media waves last Sunday morning should have reminded us how tricky the position remains for him, and how much logic-chopping and evasion may lie in store early next year, before we finally tire of the story and (as Mr Blair regularly urges us) 'move on'.

On his regular Jonathan Dimbleby programme on LWT, a rather well-armed Mr Dimbleby was interviewing the Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon. Dimbleby had been studying the evidence offered quite recently by the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence, Sir Kevin Tebbit, in his second evidence-giving - an episode completely overshadowed by the Conservative party's latest ructions.

Dimbleby turned to the way in which Dr Kelly's name had reached the press. You will recall that immediately after Kelly's death a Daily Mail journalist asked Tony Blair, on an aeroplane, whether the decision to 'out' the scientist had been his. No, replied Mr Blair. In that case, asked the journalist, had he authorised the decision? 'Emphatically not', replied the Prime Minister.

The decision to 'out' Kelly was what Dimbleby wanted to discuss with Mr Hoon. We could do worse than simply read the transcript:

Jonathan Dimbleby. Can you confirm that the so-called policy decision which authorised the conditions under which the Ministry of Defence would confirm or give out the name of Dr David Kelly to journalists, those specific circumstances, was taken at a meeting at which you were not present but was chaired by the Prime Minister on 8 July?

Hoon at first declined to enter this discussion, but Dimbleby persisted.

JD: I'm just asking whether you share the view expressed by your permanent secretary Kevin Tebbit, at the inquiry, when he said that the policy decision was taken at that meeting which was chaired by the Prime Minister. Is that your understanding?

Hoon said this was misleading, and added, 'There was no policy decision in the way you suggest.'

JD: I'm only quoting Sir Kevin Tebbit. He says, 'A policy decision on the handling of this matter had not been taken until the Prime Minister's meeting on the Tuesday.' That's the 8th '. . . and it was only after that that any of the press people in the Ministiy of Defence had an authority to base this on which to proceed, the decision was taken at a meeting in No. 10 with which the Ministry of Defence concurred.' Is that true?

Geoff Hoon: The policy decision that he was referring to in his evidence was the policy decision to tell people that someone in the Ministiy of Defence had come forward who had had an unauthorised contact with a journalist; that was the policy decision to which he was referring.

JD: Forgive me, that is not the case, at that point it was specifically, he was answering the questions specifically, in the context of whether or not, or how the questions and answers briefing which would allow a Ministry of Defence press officer to say. …

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