The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Friday, August 29, 2003

Hutton: did Alastair Campbell lie about his computer skills?

I'm serious.

In all the profusion of evidence placed before the Inquiry, so much is susceptible of differing interpretations, matters on which reasonable men of integrity might disagree. Lord Hutton will, in time, have to weigh such evidence and arrive at his own interpretation.

What our side [1] needs is to catch out a key HMG player in an outright lie, on which there is no room for reasonable men of integrity to disagree.

We are - to analogise [2] - several derivatives in [3]. But the lessons of past scandals is, that doesn't matter. The semen-stained dress from the Gap was pretty damned remote from the Great Fornicator's creative notions of integrity and truth-telling: but it at least got an admission of his false testimony on the record.

And, of all modern British prime ministers, Tony Blair's shtick with the voters was, Trust me! He put it in play - just as John Major put his ministers' marital fidelity in play with his Back to Basics speech.

So - AC and PCs, then.

He told Hutton (143:10)
I am
11 afraid I do not use a computer...

Now, there is an initial question of interpretation here: he could be saying that he knows how to use a computer, but chooses not to do so. But I don't think that's tenable, either from the English used (no one would say I don't drive to mean I don't have a car) or the likelihood of the fact of a man of AC's background - he was a hack himself before he joined Blair - age, and position knowing how to use a computer, but not doing so.

So, it seems he's talking about ability: he's saying he can't use a computer.

That is the statement we have to falsify. It's not under oath, but the effect on AC's credibility, and, by extension, Blair's [4], would be pretty damned close.

What's the evidence? Now, I'm pretty sure that, one way or the other, it's out there - in the possession of his erstwhile colleagues in the media. But nothing online that I can find which suggests his protestations of computer illiteracy were questionable.

However, I happen to have on tape a BBC fly-on-the-wall docco by Michael Cockerell (a hack specialising in candid political docs) called News from Number 10, which was shot over a month around April 2000, a time when Blair's spin machine was high on the agenda, and during which AC retreated from taking daily briefings to his current position, just behind the arras.

The show is illuminating, to an extent, on AC computer use. It shows, in a couple of shots (1:25, 45:00) a PC on a side-table to AC's left as he's sitting; there is a framed photo between the keyboard and the monitor, which, in each shot, is clearly off.

So, one might conclude, the PC is there for show; because the janitorial department said, everyone of his grade had one, and it was too much hassle to argue. Or because it was there when he moved in, and ditto with the hassle.

A third shot (118:20), however, shows the same PC turned on, with a screensaver on the monitor. If the machine was just ornament or clutter, why switch it on?

Now, this doesn't even rise to the level of evidence a judge would leave to a jury. It's rice-paper thin. But my tape is clearly a mere drop in the ocean compared with - for a start, Cockerell's unused footage. A host of folks would be able to testify - and maybe one or two of them have AC at the PC on tape.

And, frankly, one gathers that AC is not the most popular guy with those most likely to have the goods on him...

  1. I've never pretended to be a neutral seeker-after-truth in the Kelly affair: Hutton is useful from various perspectives - the study of UK government, top of the list, perhaps. But my interest is confined to its contribution (if any) to ensuring that, for Blair, the Wages of Pre-emptive War is (Political) Death.

  2. No doubt, wrongly; my knowledge of calculus is negligible - and that's no lie!

  3. Derivatives:

    • First: whether the intelligence justified the war.
    • Second: whether HMG's appreciation of the intelligence at the time was sound.
    • Third: whether HMG's handling of the media in relation to the intelligence...

    You see where I'm going here...

  4. In his evidence - which I've just skimmed - Blair highlights Andrew Gilligan's naming of AC in his Mail on Sunday article as the real start of the war with the BBC. They're Siamese twins: get one, the other dies. (I'm still talking politically...)

  5. The Beeb aren't going to be repeating it any time soon - but, if you have it, well worth digging out for viewing in current circumstances. The scene (13:20) with Blair just happening to step by AC's office is absolutely priceless as cringeworthy TV. The mock double-take at the film crew (how many takes needed to capture that screen gem?), the absurd (statesmanlike?) pose side-on to camera with one foot on a chair: UK readers would recognise him as the real Alan Partridge....

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