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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Monday, August 25, 2003

Hutton: a taste of the Kelly family wild card - and Blair withholds evidence!

The object of the Hutton exercise, for those of us who believed the invasion of Iraq took place under HMG false pretences, is the departure of Tony Blair from No 10 under the most ignominious conceivable circumstances. (That's best case, and vanishingly unlikely - on the basis of what we know now. But - you aim high, and expect to give a little...)

A lot of bleating from opponents of the war about Hutton focussing on gossip - a piece in the Guardian today - woman hack - suggesting that it's a sex thing (all the trivia-obsessed witnesses to date being men, apart from Saint Susan Watts, who actually described Kelly's reference to the 45 claim as gossipy - axe-grinding in progress: ear protectors on!). Whereas, the real issue - the issue that Hutton should be examining is, of course, the substantive question of the actual risk that Saddam posed.

Now, of course, there was never, as is not now, the remotest chance of a Hutton being delegated by the Great Fabulator to lead a mass debate on the rights and wrongs of the war. He refused, one should recall, a judicial inquiry on the ultra-narrow point of the 45 minute claim in Andrew Gilligan's story right up until the moment of Kelly's DIY surgery. And, chances are that, just like the Franks Inquiry into the origin of the Falklands War [1], a mass debate-style inquiry would, in any case have fudged the issue.

Enter the Kellys. I've used the expression wild card before about their impact. The fact is that, unlike all the other main players - BBC, MOD, No 10 - they aren't a complex institution with large numbers of personnel fighting wheels-within-wheels power battles of some antiquity. Nor are they tainted - as those institutions are - by the reputation of being a bunch of professional liars and dissemblers.

The greatest impact on Blair during the 2001 General Election came, not from the Tory opposition (which made no impact at all!), but from Sharron Storer [2] who doorstepped him outside a hospital in Birmingham about the cancer treatment her partner was getting (or not). Blair was frit (in both the Lincolnshire and French sense of the word!) because he dare not use his Alastair Campbell play-book against the woman- but the Tories were too much of a shambles to take advantage.

Now, the Kellys have a chance of several free swings at Blair. If they have any sense - and have been properly guided by their lawyers - they won't make a Jerry Springer affair of it. There are no TV cameras, there is no jury. The impact that they can make is solely through the medium of reported speech. All the better [3.]

Their first salvo is a letter dated August 7 [4] from their lawyers complaining of the HMG briefing - latter admitted by PMOS Tom Kelly - that David Kelly had been a Walter Mitty character [5]. An act of the sheerest hypocrisy, since No 10 had been calling for a period of restraint, following Kelly's death.

The fact that Hutton has, as it were, admitted the letter into evidence, is good in two ways:
  • for its own goodness, in highlighting the hypocrisy: and

  • perhaps, even more importantly, in extending the period over which Hutton casts his eye.

We have the evidence of the frenzied activity throughout the upper echelons of HMG, right up to Blair himself, over the outing of Kelly in the weeks following his June 30 letter. How much more frenzied, one might ask, has been the activity of HMG in the last few weeks to try and save Blair wretched neck from the Hutton axe?

We want Hutton to call for everything HMG has covering the period from their most recent disclosure to date.

All the more so since we have the first indication that HMG has withheld evidence from the Inquiry. According to the Guardian today,
The government withheld from the Hutton inquiry pages from one draft of its dossier setting out the dangers Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD) posed...

The omission is of the executive summary of three pages (3 to 5) from the September 16 draft [6]. On the face of it, Hutton seems amazingly relaxed about this:
The Hutton inquiry said it was a matter for the Cabinet Office why the pages of the summary were missing.

A spokesman for Lord Hutton's inquiry said: "His lordship is considering the relevance of these pages. Should the inquiry team believe that these pages are relevant, the option remains open to them to make a request for them.

The inquiry team is concerned at all stages that they receive all documents which are relevant to the inquiry they are conducting.

But, from the first [7], Lord Hutton has clearly tabled the nuclear option of a confrontation but shown exemplary caution in escalating too far too fast. Blair will hope that, the more work Hutton puts into the Inquiry, the more reluctant he will be to threaten walking away.

That, however, would be to suppose him a victim of the Fallacy of Sunk Costs. If Hutton whitewashes Blair, it will be because he's long decided to do so. But there is not the slightest evidence that he has made that decision.

(Interestingly - ominously - other news outlets seem to have failed to make much of the Guardian report. Watch this space!)

  1. There is virtually bugger all online about the Franks Inquiry - you're on your own with the dead trees there!

  2. Guardian May 17 2001.

  3. This is another reason why Hutton might have wanted to keep the cameras out: not only does it stop Blair looking into the glass eye and throbbing If the glove don't fit, you must acquit - it also means that the awkward, stumbling performance that Kelly family members might have given - compared to Slick Tony's - will not be captured.

  4. None of the grownup media who reference the letter give the URL - damn!

  5. Independent August 4 (Paul Waugh).

  6. Here (2MB PDF).

  7. His opening statement of August 1.

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