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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Thursday, February 26, 2004
 

Blair channels John Prescott as Clare Short might just have picked a winner for once


On the allegations that UKG spied on Kofi Annan, made by Clare Short on the Today programme, Blair said this, amongst other things, at his monthly presser today [1]:
When people put to you specific allegations, it is why it is so irresponsible to make them, they know I'm in the position where it is the practice that I must hold to that you can't confirm or deny them, and then of course you will get endless speculation about why certain things are done.

The party line is that
we act in accordance with domestic and international law, and we act in the best interests of this country
but without confirming or denying that the bugging of Annan took place.

It seems to me that the substance of the Frank Koza/Katharine Gun business [2] (spying on UN Security Council members) has implicitly been admitted by HMG - use of ECHELON was no doubt made.

Can the Annan spying allegation gain traction where so many other, at first sight promising, Iraq-related lines of attack on Blair have fizzled?

At the moment, we have squat. What we need is something tying Blair into the business. The Hutton evidence suggests that the weakest links are the extraordinarily eager-to-please Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee John Scarlett and the head of MI6 (with an ego the size of Texas) Sir Richard Dearlove: aided by the shambolic system of record-keeping, general dissension amongst the spooks - it's just possible that an interesting leak might emerge.

There is, of course, the element of attrition: Blair is certainly much perkier since being whitewashed by Lord Hutton. But every scandal takes its toll. As time passes, more folks become disillusioned with him and his running of things; there are plenty in the Commons who have been sacked or passed over; the lack of coalition grip (albeit falling short of Quagmire) over events in Iraq (in which HMG is, at the best of times, a mere bit player); disillusionment in UKIC with politicians' handling of intelligence (and, ex-pols' leaking it): all of these things tend to reduce the threshold of dissent at which the formerly acquiescent feel enabled - entitled, even - to turn to opposition.

I mentioned before the natural parabolic cycle of a news story: a government (in Britain, at least) follows much the same path: the lift of achieving power after years in opposition is enormous, much more than a mere honeymoon. In Blair's case, it lasted until well after his re-election in 2001 - he sailed over such scandals as Bernie Ecclestone and Peter Mandelson (twice). He was walking on water.

No longer. What he would have brushed off in 1998 could well now be fatal. That is what supplies a (small) dose of reality to hopes of killing him off over Iraq. (Metaphorically, please - no Blair Memorial Wars, for Mel's sake!)

One thing seems definite: zero chance of a prosecution of Clare Short under the Official Secrets Act!

  1. See also the briefing of the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS). Who might have been Godric Smith or Tom Kelly - the guy who smeared the then dead David Kelly as a Walter Mitty character.

  2. As expected, Gun was acquitted on the direction of the judge when, at the start of her case at the Old Bailey, the prosecution stated that they would offer no evidence.

    The Guardian's intel guy, Richard Norton-Taylor, has an interview with Katharine Gun.


MORE

Tip for drama-doc makers: Gun - who is not Katherine - is, in some pics, a ringer for the pleasant-looking but absurdly named Honeysuckle Weeks.


STILL MORE

Interesting to see how HMG is spinning the Clare Short 'revelations'.

Short was a sort of licensed maverick as Blair's International Development Secretary, from the heady days of 1997, when Blair wanted one or two characters among the grey suits and Stepford Blair's Babes.

Her having kangaroos in her top paddock was her USP for Blair, it seems. He kept her on where other ministers would have got booted.

As a war prime minister, however, he found Short less amusing. But still he refused to sack her when she called him reckless - she threatened to resign over the war, but didn't [1]. Afterwards, she did.

Now she makes a twat of herself on reality TV. But they still invite her on news shows.

Tony's spinners are saying that she was
back in her own world
when she was talking about the UN spying stuff.

And, evidently, drawing attention to the fact that her outrage at seeing product from the spying on Annan had not risen to a level to impel her to do anything about it at the time.

(That cuts both ways, of course: Tony knew she was a loonie, yet kept her in the Cabinet. Goes to judgement - not Tony's strongest area.)

If that's all she's got, her revelation is a one day wonder. As the FT suggests, it might even have done Blair a favour by overshadowing HMG's difficulties over the collapse of the Katharine Gun trial.

However, these things tend to proceed in a crabwise fashion. What appears a setback may in fact be the cause of progress. The UKIC is in a fragile state right now. Some may be extra-careful to keep their heads down; others may be pushed over the edge into leaking, with HMG's climbdown on the Gun case naturally fresh in the memory.

What we need is evidence: and they, spooks and those, like David Kelly, who work with them, are the only viable source of such evidence.

And of course Short herself has breach a mammoth-sized hole in the Official Secrets Act herself. Assuming no prosecution is forthcoming - and, though I suspect Blair would find transportation to Devil's Island for life an inadequate penalty, she's pretty safe from a dawn knock on the door.

(Simon Hoggart, one of the parliamentary sketch-writers - that odd British breed - takes an amusing look at the situation.)

  1. Stuff in the March 2003 archives on the business.


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