I first wrote about the Hutton Inquiry on 30 Aug 03. For posterity, I have included my original writeup here, along with a new writeup in light of the events following the publication of the Inquiry on Wednesday 28 Jan 04.
Original Writeup (30 Aug 03)
The Hutton Inquiry has already caused some potentially far-reaching consequences for
Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labour Government. The Government was already
taking a battering in the polls as it lost public trust. When the recent
conflict in Iraq started, public opinion was hugely against the Government
committing British troops to what was felt to be an unjust and illegal war.
Various polls rated public hostility against the war as being between 60 and
When mass graves were discovered in Iraq by coalition forces public
opinion swung sharply in the Government's favour.
However, when Andrew Gilligan's article surfaced, suggesting the Government
had lied to the public about its reasons and justification for going to war, the
public again turned against the Government. "Principled objectors" -
ministers who quit the Govermment before the war started (notably Clare Short
MP, the former Secretary of State for International Development and Robin Cook
MP, the former Foreign Secretary) gave interviews that basically boiled down to
"I told you so," and Her Majesty's Official Opposition - the
Conservative Party - gained several points in the polls, cutting Labour's
lead over them to the lowest it has been since 1994.
Dr David Kelly was already causing a storm as he anonymously leaked
information to the BBC. The BBC, whose Chairman is appointed by the
Prime Minister, has in recent years been a bastion of support for the
Government. However, Blair's Director of Communications, Alistair Campbell,
felt that the BBC had turned against the Government, and he embarked upon what
is popularly considered to be a smear campaign, attacking the BBC's
credibility. Following Kelly's death there was much controversy over who had
leaked his name to the media, as it was his "outing" in the newspapers
that, apparently, gave rise to his suicidal frame of mind. He was grilled by the
Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and the public began to realise that they
had been duped by the Government. His death caused public outrage, and
self-righteous editorials appeared in the papers that had published his
identity, calling him an innocent man who had been destroyed by a shadowy figure
at 10 Downing Street leaking his name.
When Alistair Campbell appeared before the Inquiry he admitted that he had
leaked Dr Kelly's name, but he would not be drawn upon whether-or-not this was
on Blair's orders. Tony Blair appeared before the Inquiry shortly afterwards -
only the second British Prime Minister ever to appear before a judicial
inquiry (following John Major) - he said that he felt partly responsible for
Kelly's death, since it was No 10's media strategy that outed him. He also said
that if it was established that he had endorsed lies or directly caused Kelly's
death, he would resign.
Alistair Campbell himself resigned from No 10 on 28 August. He said that he
had reached and agreement with Blair last April that he would resign mid-term.
The Hutton Inquiry will continue into September. It has already uncovered
some unsavoury facts about the way the Government worked in the run-up to the
war. The Government's credibility has been decimated. Even the BBC has been
heavily criticized for its role in the messy affair. Blair has lost Campbell,
considered by many to be the truly dominant figure at No 10. True or not, he has
been Blair's greatest source of support and advice, and will be a huge loss to a
beleaguered party for whom "Spin" may yet have the same devastating
consequences as "Sleaze" had for John Major's government.
Updated Writeup (1 Feb 04)
Lord Hutton delivered his damning verdict on Wednesday 28 January 2003. The Government was cleared of all charges of lying or neglect, while the BBC was condemned for Gilligan's "flawed" report claiming the Government had lied. Having just survived a crunch vote in the House of Commons over university tuition fees, Blair seemed unassailable, his position secured by a complete exoneration.
Swiftly, however, he found himself subject to even more public disgust as the BBC Chairman, Gavyn Davis, and its hugely popular Director-General, Greg Dyke, both resigned - or, as turned out to be the case with Dyke, were forced to resign. Thousands of BBC workers staged a walkout in protest over the Corporation's grave wounding as a result of the Hutton Report, while the new Chairman, Lord Ryder, issued an abject and, some newspapers said, grovelling apology to the Government. The BBC is one of the most respected institutions in the UK, and is probably the most respected and emulated media organisation in the world. The public was disgusted that Hutton failed to apportion any blame at all to the Government, despite repeated and undenied revelations that the infamous dossier on WMD was "sexed up" to make it more palatable, and the Government's popularity took a nosedive. A recent YouGov poll revealed a 55% level of distrust in the Government, 29% in the BBC. Other polls have placed popular distrust in the government as high as 80%, almost solely because of what is perceived as a "Whitewash" in the form of the Hutton Report.
What was not in doubt was that Gilligan's report was flawed and that it was not scrutinised closely enough before being broadcast on BBC Radio 4's flagship Today Programme, and as Director-General Greg Dyke was also Editor-in-Chief of all BBC output and therefore would almost certainly have taken some of the blame anyway.. Gilligan resigned from the BBC on 30 January. The Government had 3 "scalps," and Greg Dyke went on the offensive. Alistair Campbell one of the most widely despised men in British politics for his shadowy influence over the Prime Minister, had been cleared of any wrongdoing by the Report, despite it being widely known that, in Dyke's words, he "bullied" the media into reporting sympathetically with the Government. He was "ungracious" about the Report's findings, and it was probably his undoubted skills of media manipulation that lost the Government much of its public support before and shortly after the war in Iraq.
Blair faces troubling days ahead. From seeming unassailable immediately after the Hutton Report's publication, he has lost even more support than ever before, and many politcal analysists are expecting him to resign during this Parliament. Undoubtedly one of the most gifted and talented politicians in the world in the last decade, he has squandered much of his public support by refusing to accept his own weaknesses and mistakes. Whether his eventual departure will spell the end of Labour's honeymoon with the British public, and the Conservative Party's exile, has yet to be seen. No one can doubt, though, that he has been severely weakened by what should have been one of the greatest boosts to his position - a situation clearly unlikely to provide him with enough support to remain at No 10 beyond the end of the next parliament.
On 3 Feb 04, Blair called a new enquiry into the collection, presentation and use of intelligence by the Government, to be conducted by the head of the Civil Service, Lord Butler. He had to call this new inquiry after coming under unprecedented pressure from the public, media and opposition parties to investigate his own Government's shortfalls. The Conservative Party leader, Michael Howard, specifically pressured Blair to include the use of intelligence in Lord Butler's terms of reference, believing that this would force Blair to admit culpability over the publication of the notorious, and highly inaccurate, claim that Iraq could deploy WMD within 45 minutes. In fact, the intelligence about WMD only suggested that battlefield weapons could be deployed in this short time, which would destroy Blair's claim that Iraq could have attacked neighbouring countries with WMD at 45 minutes notice. As more former senior intelligence officers come forward to say that Blair knew the distinction between battlefield weapons and longer-range weapons, Blair is again under extreme pressure to resign for duping the public. The issue will certainly have a major - and perhaps decisive - effect on the next General Election, currently scheduled for May 2006.