Dyke: Blair's world of 'lies and bullying'
·Ex-BBC chief says PM reneged on deal after Hutton report
· Governors 'should resign' after bowing to No 10 pressure
Kamal Ahmed, political editor
Sunday August 29, 2004
Greg Dyke, former director-general of the BBC, today lays bare the astonishing inside story of the war waged by the Prime Minister and Downing Street against the BBC over its coverage of the Iraq war and the controversial issue of weapons of mass destruction.
In an explosive autobiography which returns the corrosive issue of Iraq to the heart of political debate, Dyke reveals that Tony Blair wrote an unprecedented letter to him and Gavyn Davies, the former BBC chairman, trying to force the corporation to change the tone of its coverage.
In the extracts serialised in The Observer today, Dyke reveals:
· That he believes Blair reneged on a deal not to call for 'heads to roll' at the BBC.
· That he believes Alastair Campbell, the former Number 10 director of communications, was forced out by Blair for being 'out of control'.
· That six still-serving BBC governors should resign over their part in the affair.
The disclosures, which will reignite the row between the BBC and the government, will again raise the question of trust which has dogged the Prime Minister since the WMD row first surfaced. It is unheard of for a serving Prime Minister to write to the head of Britain's public service broadcaster. Dyke, who says the move was intimidatory, claims Blair later regretted sending the letter, but was persuaded to by Campbell.
Dyke says Campbell had become 'obsessed' with trying to 'beat' the BBC, was out of control, vindictive and eventually had to be removed by the Prime Minister.
The book, Inside Story, also claims that Blair broke a promise to Davies that he would not demand the resignations of either himself or Dyke following publication of the Hutton Report.
The Hutton inquiry was set up after the death of David Kelly, the government scientist linked to claims on the Today programme that Downing Street had 'sexed up' intelligence to make a stronger case for war.
Both Davies and Dyke left the BBC within 36 hours of the report's appearance, after Campbell accused the corporation of lying in an officially sanctioned statement.
The book reveals that the BBC was baffled when Hutton said the government was not guilty of the 'sexing up' claims. Dyke's book quotes a comment by Philip Gould, one of Blair's closest allies and advisers, by way of explanation, alleging that he told a Labour peer: 'Don't worry, we appointed the right judge.'
Dyke says a number of governors should resign after capitulating to political pressure. He accuses Blair of allowing Number 10 to produce 'mountains of untruth' in two dossiers published by the government to justify going to war. He said Downing Street started using techniques similar to those of Nixon's White House to smear those seen as being against the interests of the government.
'The charge against Blair is damning,' Dyke says. 'He was either incompetent and took Britain to war on a misunderstanding, or he lied when he told the House of Commons that he didn't know what the 45-minute claim meant.
'We were all duped. History will not be on Blair's side, it will show that the whole saga is a great political scandal.'
The book also reveals fresh doubts at the very top of the intelligence services about claims that Saddam Hussein was an international threat.
Dyke says John Scarlett, former head of the Joint Intelligence Committee who was promoted by Blair to head of MI6, had professed private doubts to a BBC journalist about the case for war. In particular, he was concerned by claims that Saddam could launch a chemical or biological weapons attack within 45 minutes of an order to do so.
'At the BBC, we knew he [Scarlett] was uncomfortable with the public case being made for the war because that is what he had told one journalist on a bench in the grounds of Ditchley Park, the exclusive Oxfordshire house used as a centre for high level discussions on international affairs. Scarlett told the journalist he was particularly worried about how the dossier had been interpreted in the press.'
Dyke says he was forced out after the governors failed to back him following Hutton. He argues that the six governors who voted for him to go, including the former chairman of the JIC, Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, should resign because they 'bowed to political pressure' and damaged the BBC's standing.
He also reveals that when the BBC did finally apologise after Dyke had quit, they first checked the statement with Number 10.
'I had no idea I would be fired by a board of governors behaving like frightened rabbits caught in car headlights,' Dyke says. 'The new BBC chairman, Michael Grade, needs better, more knowledgeable, governors to support him. There is no greater betrayal of BBC principles than to fold under political pressure, particularly from the government of the day.'
Blair's letter, revealed for the first time, to Davies and Dyke was sent on 19 March, 2003, a week before the war in Iraq started.
'It seems to me there has been a real breakdown of the separation of news and comment,' the Prime Minister wrote. 'I believe, and I am not alone in believing, that you have not got the balance right between support and dissent; between news and comment; between the voices of the Iraqi regime and the voices of Iraqi dissidents; or between the diplomatic support we have, and diplomatic opposition.'
Dyke says he sent back a robust response.
'My view was straightforward: if the government was going to try to bully the BBC, then I was going to fight back,' Dyke says in the book.
After Kelly's death, the government further tried to turn the screw, with one Cabinet minister briefing journalists that 'the problem with the BBC was too much money and Greg Dyke'. The minister also spoke of 'revenge'.
Dyke wrote to Blair saying the attack was a 'blatant threat to the funding and editorial independence of the BBC from a member of your Cabinet'.
He initially thought that he could sit out the post-Hutton storm because of a private pledge the Prime Minister had made to Davies.
'I knew Blair had told Gavyn in a private telephone conversation that, whatever happened, Number 10 would not be calling on either Gavyn or me to go,' Dyke says. 'When we watched Blair in the Commons [following the Hutton publication] Gavyn realised the Prime Minister had gone back on his word.'
Defiant Gilligan alleges Labour relied on 'stable floor sweepings'
Sunday August 29, 2004
Journalist Andrew Gilligan launched a blistering attack on the government yesterday, claiming that 'not only will New Labour never be able to get away with another war, it will never be able to get away with another war against the BBC'.
In a defiant speech to an audience of TV executives at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, the former BBC defence correspondent said subsequent events showed his controversial Radio 4 report, which accused the government of lying over Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, was correct.
In the report, Gilligan said the government included the 45-minute claim knowing it to be false. He said: 'The intelli gence presented to us by the Prime Minister as detailed, authoritative and compelling was actually stable floor sweepings from second-hand sources, third-hand sources.'
Gilligan, who resigned from the BBC last January, conceded his original report broadcast on the Today programme 'did not accurately reflect what David Kelly had told me. That is why I apologised and it's one of the reasons I resigned'.
But he claimed the government would think twice about taking on the BBC in future. 'In contrast to what's happened to Tony, [Blair] the BBC's ratings for trustworthiness haven't fallen Not only will New Labour never be able to get away with another war, it will never be able to get away with another war against the BBC.'