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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Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Hutton Inquiry procedural hard(ish)ball suggests the possibility of a result

Spin and counter-spin on the modalities of the release of the Hutton Inquiry report.

First, the Blair spin machine got its retaliation in first (via the Financial Times November 1):
Lord Hutton has alarmed the government by refusing to send drafts of his report into the death of David Kelly to ministers, officials and others - including the BBC - who will be the subject of criticism.

The precedent - civil servants love precedents, especially ones like this! - is the Scott Arms to Iraq Inquiry, where the report was handed over to the John Major government well in advance of publication, in plenty of time for countermeasures designed to minimise its impact to be taken:
Ministers and officials at Downing Street and the Ministry of Defence are concerned the judge's approach gives them virtually no opportunity to challenge the verdict before it reaches the public domain.

I bet they are!

Blair's boys (via the waggonload of spinning monkeys who made a spectacle of themselves giving evidence to Lord Hutton) are also concerned that those criticised will not be given advance copies of the sections of report containing the criticisms: what the FT piece calls Maxwellisation - after the case of Robert Maxwell and an inquiry into his misdeeds as director of Pergamon Press.

The practice is now generally followed - but not by Hutton,
because this summer's inquiry included a second stage of cross-examination. Staff for the inquiry told the FT this second phase "effectively gave parties the chance to refute any criticisms, [so] the plan is not to present the parties with relevant extracts from the report unless something new has come up". There were no examples of such new criticisms...

Now, Hutton and his merry men have taken the offensive, this time bending the ear of hacks at the Guardian (November 3):
"Lord Hutton is determined that his report will not be leaked in advance or misrepresented. He does not want the government to be able to hold on to his findings so that information can be selectively leaked," sources close to the inquiry said yesterday.

His Lordship has Tony Blair's number, as the saying goes.

He apparently told HMG
that he has no intention of producing his report during the parliamentary recess, or in the dying days of the present session, because he believes ministers would try to bury bad news. Instead he would like it published in January, preferably on a Thursday, with a commitment from the prime minister that parliament could debate his findings within a week.

As I've pointed out before, Hutton is not, in Thatcher's immortal phrase, one of us: he's a straightforward Scot-Irishman, and, as evident in the transcripts, was less than amused by the positively serpentine methods employed by HMG and the BBC alike.

He has the example of another prominent Ulsterman, David Trimble, former First Minister of Northern Ireland, who played the Blair double-talk game, albeit apparently with no great enthusiasm, and has, in the past few days, paid the electoral price.

We get an idea of his MO:
Lord Hutton, who is preparing the report alone, aims to write a readable narrative. In its present draft form there are no recommendations or appendices. Instead he will rely on acerbic comments in the narrative to make it absolutely clear who is to blame and what needs to be done.

Is acerbic the hacks' word or the Hutton team's, I wonder?

He's not stinting himself on wordage:
The report is expected to run to more than 1,000 pages.

And the publication date? Thursday, January 15 would seem to fit his stated requirements.

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