Campbell's f*** letter tirade

By Magnus Linklater at the Hutton Inquiry

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL took us into the heart of Downing Street yesterday -- and what a dark place it turned out to be.

Shorn of courtroom niceties, and legal jousting, this was the Kelly affair as it was seen direct from the corridors of power: nasty, brutish and with no holds barred. If the Campbell diaries are ever published, they may one day achieve the same notoriety as the White House tapes of Richard Nixon, their vocabulary similarly rich in four-letter words and schoolboy slang.

Mr Campbell appeared at the inquiry to offer explanations for some of the more cryptic of his diary entries. We did not need them; the text was quite explicit enough. We heard about the grim satisfaction that spread through No 10 when word came that the source for Andrew Gilligan's BBC reports had come forward. We learnt of Mr Campbell's immediate instinct to expose David Kelly's name as soon as possible, and of the Prime Minister's cannier instinct to get "the bureaucracy" to do it for them. We glimpsed the growing desperation in Downing Street as the BBC refused to buckle under the pressure. The immediate instinct of Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, was to "throw the book at Kelly", or else to extract "some form of plea bargain". Mr Campbell and Mr Hoon got together to speculate that the evidence might well be "double-edged", but were equally certain that "it would f*** Gilligan if that was his source". And Mr Campbell makes his own position clear. This was to be a war to the death with the BBC: "I wanted a clear win not a messy draw and if they presented it as a draw that was not good enough for us."

This, as Mr Campbell hastened to point out, was the roughest of rough accounts. "It's me, sitting down and scribbling whatever comes into my head," he said.

There was no question of writing for publication (Oh no?) -- it should not be taken literally. It did, nevertheless, have one quality which made it priceless -- it was contemporary, unvarnished and utterly authentic. Who else could compose a sentence like: "GH and I both wanted to get the source up, but TB was nervous about it", or "TB felt we had to leave it to Omand/Tebbitt judgment and they didn't want to do it". Or, "GH wanted to get up source, TK, GS, felt best to wait until tomorrow and had to do it right". GH, it emerged, was Mr Hoon, TK Tom Kelly, and GS Godric Smith, both spokesmen for the Prime Minister.

Lord Hutton, a man for whom language is an arterial route to the truth, was fascinated by Mr Campbell's use of the word "it". What, he inquired, did "it" mean? Mr Campbell said it was a general reference to the best way of responding to the crisis.

Lord Hutton was unconvinced. "Is your evidence that you had no idea what the ‘it' was?" he asked. Mr Campbell, who knew perfectly well that "it" meant everything from getting "up" his source, stitching "up" the BBC and f***ing "up" Gilligan, was overcome by a sudden onset of respectability. "They didn't want to do anything untoward," he said, primly. His explanation sounded almost as unconvincing as his assurance to James Dingemans, QC, that "I don't spend that much time speaking to journalists . . ." or "I no longer know what on the record and off the record is".

Perhaps the most interesting revelation of Mr Campbell's "black" diaries is the unflattering light they shine on the cabal within No 10 and the Ministry of Defence, which was orchestrating the whole Kelly affair. In particular, Mr Hoon, who had spent much of yesterday morning presented a robust defence of his position, emerges as a prime mover, a man who is, as Mr Campbell points out, "almost as steamed up as I was". Far from wanting to distance himself from some of the more Machiavellian schemes to get Dr Kelly's name into the public domain, Mr Hoon is constantly pressing for immediate exposure. "We kept pressing on as best we could at the briefings," Campbell wrote, "but the biggest thing needed was the source out."

In the end, however, elation gives way to frustration and finally despair as the BBC refuses to apologise, and the evidence from Dr Kelly fails to produce the triumphant vindication that Downing Street was hoping for. "Looking forward to Kelly giving evidence," says the entry for July 15 , "but GS . . . and I all predicted it would be a disaster, and so it proved."

Whether it will be a disaster for Mr Campbell's own literary future as he contemplates life after Downing Street, remains to be seen. His diaries may not be for publication but they are certain to whet the public appetite for more of the same.