Greg Dyke: Two years after the war, one year after Hutton. Why hasn't Blair resigned yet?
28 January 2005
Today marks the first anniversary of the publication of the infamous Hutton report which led to my departure from the BBC and that of my chairman, Gavyn Davies. Looking back 12 months, and knowing what we now know, the saga has an unreal quality because, today, there is no doubt that the BBC story which led to our departures was fundamentally right when it said that Downing Street had sexed up the case for going to war in Iraq.
So, if this was true, why did such a bizarre series of events happen, events which led to the departure of the two top players at the BBC? Of course I am not unbiased, but I think the answer can be found in the combination of a conservative and na´ve judge in Lord Hutton, a disingenuous Prime Minister, a talented but increasingly unstable head of the government information service in Alastair Campbell, and a gutless bunch of BBC governors who behaved like frightened rabbits.
However, 12 months on, a series of questions still need to be answered. How did Hutton get it so wrong? How did the general public know instinctively that his report was a whitewash? How damaged is the BBC? Did Dr Kelly kill himself? And the biggest question of all, how has the Prime Minister survived the political fallout from Iraq, Hutton and, in particular, the Butler report?
What is now clear is that the person who has suffered the most from Lord Hutton's report is Lord Hutton himself, a man now widely regarded as a joke figure. He was a virtually unknown law lord when he was selected to chair the inquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly. He knew nothing of media law and the only inquiry he had held before was into the re-routing of a river in Northern Ireland.
So how come he was chosen? His name was reportedly suggested by Peter Mandelson, clearly as he believed Hutton was likely to support the establishment position - and that's exactly what he tried to do. One of Tony Blair's inner circle, his close friend and pollster Philip Gould, has said as much.
When extracts from my book Inside Story were published in The Observer and The Mail on Sunday in September last year I quoted Gould (now a lord) telling another Labour lord that everything was going to be OK with Hutton because "we appointed the right judge". Initially, Gould not only denied the story but threatened to take legal action. The issue only went away when he discovered we could prove he had said it.
So I think we can assume that Lord Hutton was chosen for particular qualities: as a Northern Irish Diplock judge, he both disliked journalists and had a close relationship with the security services who had protected him and his family many times. The latter is important because, if the saga is about anything, it is a scandal about MI6 and the efforts of people in the secret services to please Blair and Campbell.
Which takes us on to the second question; how did the public recognise the report was a whitewash so quickly? A poll in The Daily Telegraph two days after it was published found that 56 per cent of those interviewed agreed that: "Lord Hutton, as a member of the establishment, was too ready to sympathise with the Government and in the end produced something like a whitewash."
Members of the Government were genuinely shocked by this reaction; they thought they had been cleared, but the public decided otherwise. But, given that it was another six months before the concrete evidence which destroyed Hutton was published with Lord Butler's devastating critique of how Blair runs the Government, how did the public know so early that it was a deeply flawed report?
Here I suspect Lord Hutton was hoist by his own petard. He had held a ground-breaking inquiry: he ran it in a fair way, it was open to the public and all the evidence was available on the internet. The problem was that his findings did not line up with the evidence, which the public had seen and heard for themselves. So they instinctively rejected his ridiculously one-sided findings.
Of course, the BBC governors didn't take the same view as the public and decided to get rid of me as a result. It was a coincidence that they were meeting the day Hutton reported; it was not planned and I suspect if they hadn't met until the following week the outcome would have been different. There would have been no "rush to judgement". But much more important is: What impact has the affair had on the BBC?
Its reputation has been compromised and, as a result, its independence has been questioned, particularly overseas. Whenever I've travelled abroad in the past year I have found a strong belief that it was Blair personally who got rid of Gavyn and I as a means of pulling the BBC into line and to stop it challenging the Government in the future. The feeling abroad is that the BBC had gone along with this to preserve its future.
Now, I don't believe this to be the case but, until the new leaders of the BBC stand up and make their position clear on the Gilligan affair, people won't know for certain whether or not to believe these allegations. Other executives inside the BBC who were intimately involved in the Kelly affair have also gone remarkably quiet since. It is probably time for them to speak out too.
And then we come to Dr Kelly. I have never been a conspiracy theorist but too many questions have been asked and not answered. An inquiry asking: "Did he kill himself or not?" is needed. I suspect it would find that he did commit suicide, but that needs to be settled. However, the likelihood of this Government re-opening the affair is nil and, as a result, the conspiracy theorists will gain credence.
And finally we come to Blair, Campbell and the No 10 machine. I understand what Gordon Brown means when he says he finds it difficult to believe a word that Blair says, which is odd because I didn't feel that a year ago when I was forced out. It was the publication last summer of the Butler report which changed everything for me.
Butler showed, without question, that the dossier arguing the case for going to war had been sexed up by people inside No 10 and that the Prime Minister was complicit. In the group responsible for "sexing up" I include the new head of MI6, John Scarlett, a man who in his former job as head of the Joint Intelligence Committee went native inside No 10. In his diaries, Campbell even calls him "my mate John".
It is now obvious that, as far as the dossier was concerned, Scarlett signed off on most of what Blair and Campbell wanted to say about Iraq when the supporting evidence was, at best, questionable. All the caveats which Lord Butler says should have been included were missed out - with Scarlett's approval.
The best example is probably the claim that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction which could be fired in 45 minutes. In his introduction to the dossier, Blair wrote: "We judge that Iraq has military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, some of which are deployable within 45 minutes".
Yet Butler told us that the intelligence on this point shouldn't have been used at all as it was unreliable and that, if it were to be included, the phrase which should have been used was that "a source has claimed some weapons may be deployed within 45 minutes of an order to use them, but the exact nature of the weapons, the agents involved and the context of their use is unclear". Of course, that phrase wasn't used because it would have lessened Blair's case for war, not improved it.
We also know that Blair says he didn't know the 45-minute claim referred to battlefield weapons only, which meant they were no threat to British interests unless we invaded. Yet the dossier suggested otherwise. If he had known this, it would have taken away his legal case for the war; that Britain was threatened by Saddam's weapons. Blair either knew the 45-minute claim only referred to battlefield weapons, in which case he lied about it; or he didn't know, in which case he didn't ask the questions he should have done before committing the country to war. Either way it would have been a resignation issue at most other times in our history.
The evidence is now overwhelming; Blair, Campbell and Scarlett produced a public relations document, a piece of propaganda, called it an intelligence dossier and used it to persuade the Labour Party, Parliament and the country to support Blair's war in Iraq. Their problems came when no WMD were found and people began to look more closely at the dossier, people like Andrew Gilligan, the journalist working for the Today programme who, by having an innocuous chat with Dr Kelly, hit upon the story of the decade. He was savaged by Campbell for his troubles.
What is really disturbing is that we would not have known the truth if it hadn't been for two unforeseen events: Dr Kelly killing himself, which forced Blair to set up the Hutton Inquiry, and George Bush setting up an inquiry into how the security services in the USA got it so wrong, leaving Blair with no option but to do the same. Without these two inquiries - both forced upon Blair - we would know very little. So much for New Labour's commitment to open government.
What is interesting is that the public now believe, like Gordon Brown, that what Blair says is not to be trusted. His trust ratings have collapsed as a result of Iraq, Hutton and Butler and, outside of Labour loyalists, it is hard to find many who any longer believe or respect him. But Blair is still Prime Minister and is likely to remain so for some years. So why has he not paid the price for misleading, even deliberately deceiving, the nation?
I suspect what the whole sad tale tells us is that the public have given up on traditional politics and particularly on politicians. They had great hopes in Blair in that he offered them a new form of politics, but in their eyes he has betrayed them.
The problem they now face, however, is who to vote for. When I was promoting my book I addressed large meetings and the question people asked time after time was: "What's the alternative?" So the public's sense of betrayal is not only about Blair; the great loser is public trust in politics. That should worry us because our democracy has been undermined by this affair.
Lord Butler avoided the decision he should have taken. In his report, he said no single individual should take the blame and that what had happened was the result of a "collective failure". But only one person in Government can be responsible for a collective failure on that scale and that's the Prime Minister. Lord Butler, despite an insightful report, had a failure of nerve; he should have called on the Prime Minister to resign, as we are told that Blair feared he would.
When Tony Blair appeared at Lord Hutton's inquiry he said that if Gilligan's story had been true he would have had to resign. He didn't mean it because we now know that what Kelly told Gilligan was right - and Blair is still Prime Minister. He says he is happy to let history be his judge. It will. But, post-Butler, I suspect history will remember Blair for Iraq and spin and not a lot more, which is unfair to his colleagues with real achievements to their name. But then, they should have done what Robin Cook did. They should have stood up when it mattered.