Blair’s Political Suicide

Right, here’s the problem: you need to go to war, but you’d find it ticklish – and frankly, boring – to go into your real reasons for doing so, so what are you going to do? If, last September, you were Tony Blair, you’d decide that the best way forward was to blind the electorate with science. Or at least, the next best thing: secret stuff, which you’ll allude to (can’t go into any serious detail, obviously, I mean, grow up), and other people, well, journalists, will get het up about and print banner headlines and generally go woo-hoo for war. And thus problem solved: your case for going to war is that you need to, despite the fact that you know full well that you don’t need to, but are instead doing so for entirely optional reasons of statecraft.

Anything else would be complicated to explain to the electorate: they’re not interested in nuance like your belief as to how Britain needs to go to war in order to put one over the lesser satrapies, or how – and admittedly, you can’t regardless say this in public – our participation will act as a desirable deadweight on elements in the administration who otherwise will push on with a war you won’t like. All jolly complicated that, and sooo much more tempting to take advantage of all those right-wing ninnies in the Murdoch and Black papers who’ll cheer you on to Baghdad. That’s it, dress it up as a moral crusade, and a vital matter of the national interest: hee hee, won’t that be the clever thing to do? Never mind that you haven’t the slightest what you’ll do once the cakewalk’s over, at least you’ll have solved the short term problem, and that’s what you’re good at. Is this the genesis of the Hutton Inquiry, and l’affaire Kelly? Yes, and, uh, no. Bad, which is to say, incompetent government, has brought us to this pass, but that it is not a very serious pass at all is soon going to be seen as the truth it is, no matter how much the press squeals otherwise.

How We Got Here

Oh it would have so much simpler if only Tony Blair had done what I told him to do: if you have to fight the war (and I understand from your point of view – blind, unthinking, reflexive Atlanticism – why you felt that was the realistic thing to do), then do so with as few rhetorical commitments as possible. Don’t fall into the rhetorical bog alongside our wanna-cons, who ludicrously thought that virtue was afoot a few months ago in the Gulf. Shrug your shoulders, roll your eyes, jerk your head towards Dubya and knowingly arch your eyebrows: ‘well if it had been simply down to me to decide what to . . .’ – that would have been the way forward. Make clear to the Cousins what an absolute chore it was to get involved, screw something substantial out of them in return, then high tail it out of Iraq, where you never wanted to be in the first place, even sooner than decency allowed.

Gosh, think on all those soldiers who’d still be alive, hmmn, anyway, let’s keep this light-hearted, it’s only make believe after all. That’s what he ought to have done, and to pre-empt all those right-wing clowns who believe that Blair believes what they believed, and thus think that ‘Tony’ wanted to go to war to get rid of Saddam: baloney. The Prime Minister, appreciating what a fourth or fifth order of consequence the Iraqi dictator’s departure was always going to be, never sought it as his principal goal. How do we know this? Desperately easy that: if, by whatever implausible means, war could have been avoided (the inspectors had been allowed back in, Saddam, ah, acquired serious amounts of WMD in order that he might, er, disacquisition them, on television, with an ad during the superbowl – seriously, whatever is very much the thought here) Blair would have avoided it. His goal, the object of British foreign policy as directed by him, was neither war, nor the supposed consequences of the war that did in fact take place, but the maintenance of the Anglo-American lock-step. If that could be done by America keeping pace with Britain, so much the better, but if it had to be done the other way round, so be it. The thing was, not to get out of step. Hence off to war we went, and now that that conflict is over as easily as, ahem, some of us said it would be (no chickening out here, not like those fretting wusses in the war party: remember the wobbling?), the problems of peace are firmly with us.

As far as the British government (and the Australian too, though not yet the American) is concerned, the primary problem of peace is not the good government of Iraq, or even of the sacerdotal ‘war on terror’, but the rising complaint that what we supposedly fought for doesn’t seem to be quite the pressing and precarious urge it was once felt to be. I have limited political sympathy with this complaint, if boundless patience for the ‘slow to anger, but sure to fight’ spirit which I think informs it. In other words, all the mewling left-liberal nonsense that, ‘Blair put one over on us: he lied us into war’ – well boo hoo. Who actually believed all the 45 minute pap at the time? A few addled hacks on The Times, perhaps, but nobody seriously thought the government was telling anything like the truth. This sort of reasoning was seen as being entirely secondary by whole-hearted advocates of the war (‘we’re in it for the children of Iraq’ blah blah); and, those opposed to the war either disputed such claims as being factually tendentious, or right but utterly irrelevant to the issue at hand. Which is to say, all the stuff in the dossier being arduously investigated by Lord Hutton did not determine whether we entered the war. The canard that it did should be dispensed with by clever people like us: we know why we went to war, despite, not because of all the arguments bandied about at the time. We knew it at the time, and media myopia notwithstanding, we should remember it now.

In relation to what was supposedly at issue in the Prime Minister’s famed dossier, and thus is causing, in the debate over its veracity, the current fuss, I have no idea whether Saddam had plentiful, weaponised battlefield ABC munitions. Whether we just got lucky, or, our super-smart spooks [of whom, more later] brilliantly bribed the right Iraqi officers (not to use any WMD gizmos when the command came down from on furry-white-cat-stroking high), or, the right people on the other side all, at the same time, saw the writing on the wall, and wisely forbade from carrying out their supposed orders, who can say? My ante-bellum point was that it didn’t matter a fig either way, as Saddam was never going to use WMD even if he did eventually get them. (And there was the British side argument to this particular recipe for peace that added: ‘it especially doesn’t matter to us, because no matter what we do, the Americans will sort [sic] it out anyway. With us benefiting to exactly the same degree that every other civilized country that didn’t take part in the war against Iraq is assumed to have profited thereby from America’s selfless discharge of the burden of global leadership’ etcetera, etcetera – honestly, you sometimes get the distinct impression the other side forget what script they’re reading from).

Scepticism therefore seems to me to be the most natural response to the claims of both the ‘we were lied into war’ brigade, and the ‘we lied you into war, but it was good for you, and you wanted it anyway, bitch’ lot. So what that we were lied into war? With the feeble counter-arguments put up by most of the loudmouths the antiwar left scrabbled together, the plain truth is that, had we stayed out of the conflict, we’d most likely have been lied out of the war. I mean, you did listen to the tosh the likes of Tariq Ali and Edward Said spouted, but you, wise old you, surely didn’t believe it?

Lying to one side, the more practical problem for Tony Blair appears to be that he’s now caught in a vice between the lumpen-realism of the public (which consistently supports ‘national interest’ wars, but opposes cuddly, humanitarian ones) that expected there to have been some semblance of a threat for us to have met in Iraq, and, weirdly enough, that of the state, and its functionaries. And it is this latter realism, which conflicted with his Atlanticist realism, that is really causing the Prime Minister all his present bother.

Simply put, although Atlanticism is a defining and widespread realism within the British establishment, it is not the only realism on offer, and in advance of the war against Iraq there were plenty of men inside the military, diplomatic and intelligence services who felt that the country could safely sit this one out. All kinds of disparate thinking – crypto-Europeanism, old fashioned Ameroscepticism, plain and simple Arabism, sublime inertia, you name it, there were plenty of powerful ideas that could justify the exceptional move of, for once, not standing by America – separately and severally informed this forestalled desire for a policy of strategic lethargy. But what, I believe, was crucial to this dissent, and the form it took, was precisely the way the Government publicly justified the war. By drawing upon the prestige of the state to make the case for war, by suggesting, rather than stating, that the war was in our interest, as well as being more windily "right", the Blairite Labour leadership relied upon what could not be said to justify fighting. They depended upon that which, to some small degree, they and their most advanced followers had been waging cultural war against for a decade: the security services, the armed forces, and all the rest of the panoply of ‘old Britain’, most notably the higher ranks of the Foreign Office.

What more than anything else the outward case for war rested upon was the Government’s stated faith in what these men had told them. Crucially, for this compact to work, the Government has to affect to the public very largely what indeed they actually have been told – for if they don’t, it compromises the professional pride of the people in question. These are the sort of men who care what the history books will eventually say about them after the thirty year rule has had its way. This is the origin of David Kelly and his discontents, and of the far wider unhappiness which lies behind him. Tony Blair said, let’s go to war because you’ve got to trust the people whispering in my ear. They didn’t like the use their good name was being put to, not because they’re anti-war, but because they knew he was using the wrong arguments. That he had to rely upon the credibility of such quintessential ‘forces of conservatism’ says a lot about the Labour leader’s diminishing political capital, but that is a distraction from the issue at hand: the coming irrelevance of the Hutton report.

They’ll Tell You It Is, but It Isn’t

What the press want to do – it suits their collective ego, and at any rate, some hacks feel guilt at the degree to which they were manipulated before the war, and wish to assuage it – is to tell you that this is all about them and the government: that the factions within the Government, and the country’s relations with its allies, big and small, let alone the contest with the Official Opposition, these are all small beer compared to the fight between Mr Blair and the fourth estate. In one sense, and one sense alone, it is true that this is about the press. David Kelly committed suicide for reasons which we can never know, but that the consequences of his actions entailed a press culture barbarous enough to prevent him from even reaching his own home was unlikely to have been absent as a factor. Whatever coddling term you want to use, tipping point or final straw or as you wish: Dr Kelly died after he had been subject to the attentions of the British press. The evidential onus is on them to disprove responsibility: they can’t. Their manner of going about reporting Kelly directly contributed to the state of mind in which he foolishly and wrongly took his own life. In that sense, this ought to be about the press, but just as David Kelly’s death is not really the issue at stake in the Hutton Inquiry, despite its official remit, so too are the media ultimately a preening irrelevance. Britain went to war, and ‘why?’ is the question. The arrant pointlessness of having a judge ask this is neither here nor there, for soon we are to have his oblique answer.

Before coming onto the sequence of events that leads up to the Hutton Inquiry, we should though praise the Tory party, which for once is doing the right thing, and saying nothing. There’s plenty that an opposition which had pursued the correct policy before and during the war could now be saying, and gravely to the detriment of the Government too, yet sadly that option is forever precluded by the hapless line we actually took, which was of course one of supine support. So the best the comprehensively compromised Conservatives can do is to leave this to the Government, the civil service, and their bastard off-spring, the BBC. We’ll benefit, if we can keep our traps shut, even though we don’t deserve to, and should instead be soundly flogged for our incompetence. But I feel deviation coming upon me, so should return to Lord Hutton and his inquiries.

Brian Hutton, as was, is an Ulster QC from one of those ‘well-established’ middle class legal families that used to be the mainspring of professional life in the Province. There were few things better in Britain gone by than having some measure of professional gentility: outside of London lawyers and doctors and the like enjoyed, as our Marxist friends would like to put, all the status of the ancien regime, without many of the unprofitable or time-consuming responsibilities. In short, if you wanted to socialise someone a Tory, Brian Hutton’s your man. He rose to become Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland during the troubles at their most dispiriting (the 1980s, not the time when most people were being killed but the period when it became evident that the state was never going to do anything much to deal with terrorism beyond the least possible). After his retirement from that post, he was inducted into the law lords, being in recent years, though this amounts to a gross over-simplification, the most conventionally ‘conservative’ of them after the great Lord Lloyd. I don’t think it would be to suppose too much of his table talk that, this, additionally, is a man who would share the puzzlement that we have a Prime Minister who can send troops half way round the world, all the better to fight terrorists, whilst at home he prefers to have them made devolved education ministers. All in all, a friend of the state, and the state moreover that Tony Blair, until oh so very recently, seemed to have terribly little time for.

The Government man then, for all that? I rather expect so: or to put it a more emotionally honest way, a man predisposed to respect proper authority. The danger for Tony Blair lies in his having transgressed against, rather than merely allowed others to fulminate at, the established way of doing things in Britain. Has, will or even, can, Hutton demonstrate that he did? What, in retrospect, this period, that is to say, the first six years of Tony Blair’s premiership (or as I am sure we will say in the fullness of time, ‘the first half’ of the 1997-on Labour regime) will amount to is this: he tried (to subvert traditional means of governance) but failed. The will was there, but the job was never truly pulled off. This is what the Hutton documentation proves, and, ironically, it is exactly the sloughing off his attempts at an unconventional style of personal government that is going to enable Tony Blair to continue in office for some time to come.

What Hutton Saw

As a favour to a friend – papers are very short-staffed in August – I went into a Sunday last week to help plough through Hutton’s documentation. One of the engaging things about the Inquiry is that so scared are the Government of being assailed with any more charges of ‘spinning’, they have neglected to equip Lord Hutton with any of the press paraphernalia any such undertaking would have received during the previous five years of new Labour (cf Campbell, NATO’s press room and the war against Yugoslavia, etc, etc). As a result Hutton neither knows when it is being spun, nor indeed how to spin itself. One tragically missed opportunity came when Alistair Campbell was revealed by the paper [sic] trail to have canvassed the idea of leaking Dr Kelly’s name by means of planting it on a tame hack. Sadly no one at the Inquiry asked the Prime Minister’s Director of Communications & Strategy, ‘now, how would you have done this? Do take us through the process, pull back that curtain and show us the magic at work . . . I see, you’d have rung up who? Tom what-win? At The Times? And what, he’d have written it up just so – how jolly interesting, who’d have thought?’ – how we’d have laughed, but we must remind ourselves that the discomfiture of the press, though amusing, is trivia. This really is a matter of war and peace. Anyway, Hutton’s media unworldliness extended to publishing its documentation (all the stuff anyone who felt themselves covered by the remit of the Inquiry had voluntarily submitted to it) at an ever-slipping hour last Saturday. Much to the angst of people putting together Sunday newspapers.

In consequence, every Sunday paper, to the varying standard their, uh, resources allowed, filleted as much of the 900 pages as they could before they had to go to bed, and each one tried to find some magic bullet, ideally fatal for the Government, but at pinch, especially on the Murdoch papers, anything damaging for the Beeb would do. All this naturally took place before Hutton’s report, and in fact, before even the final round of witnesses have this week been taken (and that includes both Tony Blair and Geoff Hoon). The paper I was helping settled on, ‘Blair knew Kelly was feeling under pressure and did nothing to help him’, and this did for a front page. Others went as the mood took them. No one found anything terminal though for the Prime Minister, and nor will they. To see why that is, and why it was always going to be the case, and why convening this oddly inappropriate forum was always going to facilitate Tony Blair vaunting out of the mess Alistair Campbell had immediately created, and he himself had more fundamentally caused, we have only to look to the origin of the Inquiry.

Lord Hutton is being asked to ‘urgently to conduct an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr Kelly’. No more, no less. He doesn’t have the power to compel witnesses to attend, those who do won’t be subject to criminal sanction should they subsequently be proven to have fibbed through their teeth to him, and no one, government included, is legally obliged to provide full documentary disclosure, should they fall under the mysterious remit of the Inquiry. Self-evidently the terms of reference would better have been served by an investigation by a minister of the church, or to satisfy any secularist fanatics reading, a psychiatrist I suppose. Not a judge, sitting in a pretend court, considering ream upon ream of bureaucratic output concerning the formulation and advocacy of a war, and not of the unknowable mental and moral state of being of Dr David Kelly. Hutton is due to Kelly, but it is not about Kelly; and nor will its findings be treated as being him. That after all it what the poor man’s inquest will be for in due course.

The Lord Chancellor sought out this esteemed law lord to inquire into the death of Dr Kelly because no other way was to hand to stop the crisis caused by Alistair Campbell from spinning out of control. This crisis started with Andrew Gilligan’s infamous, single sourced report on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme (morning talk radio, for those of you not familiar with it: I must say, I never listen), which, inter alia, claimed that it was being claimed that Alistair Campbell had personally ‘sexed up’ the Prime Minister’s parliamentary dossier justifying the case for war against Iraq. Campbell, an entertaining and talented man, ten times the performer anyone in the parliamentary lobby is, went [word? word please!] mental [not totally sure that’s the mot juste, but we’ll go with it]: here then is the start of our crisis – Campbell did not have to react as he did, Blair did not have to let him react as he did. Now whether Campbell went nutso for tactical effect (he casually demolished one Marxoid telly hack in a captivating live appearance, which should have been but won’t be an exemplary masterclass in how political actors should treat broadcast journalists ie with contempt), or was genuinely out of control is tangential. Here, in response to the debilitating BBC smear that the Government spun before it governed, and lied as easily as it breathed, is where the crisis began. And it started because, in point of fact (as Hutton and his documentation are going to demonstrate in excruciating detail) Campbell didn’t technically do what Gilligan had allowed him to be accused of.

Here, therefore, is what I, moving over to historicist pomposity, think we can sensibly reconstruct as to being the thought-processes of Alistair Campbell during this critical period: Gilligan misspoke [we’ll come back to that]; Campbell saw his opportunity; it was an opportunity he should have been cold-blooded enough to resist, but he didn’t. Why was that? I shall explain: Campbell is already quitting Downing Street. This very fact is what gave him the freedom to over-react in the way that he did. Control and calculation went out the window in response to a chance to go out on a high, sticking one on the BBC and the high liberal-leftist critics of the Blairite project as he went. The end result is going to be that Alistair Campbell’s departure from Downing Street is delayed until the forthcoming Hutton report finally serves to drain this issue of all immediate passion. In that sense, yet again Campbell’s demob unhappy lack of judgement will have cost him (extra, unwanted time in Downing St – where the Prime Minister’s wife, and her kooky friends, humiliate Campbell’s wife on a daily basis) but, he will, as we shall see, get that uncertain pleasure of landing a sickner on Auntie.

It goes without saying that Campbell obviously did do his bit (he wasn’t alone, and the tone came from the top) to pitch the case for war in the Jesuitical and logic-chopping manner we are wearily familiar with. But he didn’t do what Andrew Gilligan accused him of having been accused of doing, right when he was supposed to have done it. That mistake is going to result (career-wise) in Andrew Gilligan’s guts being spread all over the place. Which is good. Not because I wish my university coeval any personal harm, but because his epating will do its bit – which will not be enough in itself, so we all have to keep pushing – to smack the BBC out of its bad, relatively recent habit of trying to make rather than merely report news. The BBC is too powerful and too left wing to be allowed to do this.

Andrew Gilligan was brought to the Today programme by its former editor (former because he was sacked, after a fashion, for mistiming his boringly ‘shocking’ views about pro-hunting types in a newspaper column), Rod Liddle. Liddle, a third rate self-publicist, though by all accounts exceptionally able BBC fonctionnaire, managed, in the course of his self-serving defence of Gilligan and his shabby performance, to repeatedly and unintentionally knife him and his kind over and over again. The reason, he said, why he had brought Gilligan (from The Sunday Telegraph) on board was to generate the sort of stories Sunday papers ran. In other words, speculative, anticipatory, and above all else, manufactured to deadline. This is not what BBC broadcast news ought to have been doing. Today, already the worst and most self-opinionated aspect of the BBC’s output has long been riding for the fall that Gilligan’s error has set it up for. So what was his error? The world and its mother will, slyly or directly, write this up as having been to reply upon the late Dr Kelly, and his take on Campbell and the presentation of news (not exactly the good Doctor’s area of expertise), but that just ain’t so: what Gilligan did wrong was to belong to a culture of comment in a place where there should have been none. Had Gilligan run straight with what he had, rather than trying to be needlessly confrontational with the government he would not now be in the undoubtedly unhappy place he presently is.

David Kelly came to Andrew Gilligan, rather than the other way round: this, at least to begin with, is always the way with hacks and their most esteemed source. The motivations of the sources, whatever the news to hand, are as varied as the topics they know about; the functional interest of the hack is always and in every instance the same: to meet the deadline, to fill the page, to drive away the dead air. The media are always hungry, there are generally always enough sources to keep them well enough fed. This, to a substantial extent, is what Dr Kelly did, in between finding WMD, and other still more secret stuff. He was, in a suitably and usefully hands off fashion, licensed by his employers in the MoD in his enterprise.

Here then is where we find the downfall of Andrew Gilligan. It is as old as journalism, and it is of two equal parts: Dr Kelly, ambiguous as all experts are, told Gilligan what he wanted Gilligan to hear, Gilligan heard what it was useful to hear; then, Gilligan was allowed on this basis to opine on air just after six in the morning on an underheard radio station. Without wanting to put too fine a point on it: this is journalism everywhere. It’s not so much that Gilligan was unlucky and got ‘caught’, it’s more that for once, and unlike 99.9999% of all forms of media output everywhere, this actually mattered. As we have seen, the transformative factor, what made this matter, was the quixotic intervention of Alistair Campbell. To repeat: if Campbell hadn’t played up the way he did, no one other than Gilligan, and probably not even him, would have remembered a solitary word of his report on Today. It wouldn’t even have had the consolation of providing wrapping for fish n’ chips. And David Kelly would, most probably, still be alive.

I say no one other than Gilligan would have remembered an untransmogrified by Campbell report, but that is not absolutely true: Kelly would have remembered, near word for word, for as a source, this would have been of compelling interest, in as much as any of his work mattered to him. And that brings us back to the class of men David Kelly can assuredly be taken as being entirely representative of: the secret people horrified, for reasons of tone as much as anything else, by the manner in which the Blairites used their public reputation – essentially one of deliberative efficiency – to justify as unavoidable a war in fact positively optional.

This stance may not be that of the majority of the British military, diplomatic and intelligence community, but it certainly has taken on enough of a critical mass for it to be unwise for the Prime Minister to ignore it. Moreover, as with all state bureaucracies – we can call this the Guthrie syndrome for want of a better term – the men able enough to hack their way to the top of the governmental service tree have the skills necessary to be agreeable to their temporary political masters. On paper, in emails, this is going to look an awful lot like they actually agree with them, on substantive matters of policy, when in fact all they are doing in what is required for the sound dispatch of government business. Hutton and his documentation are going to confuse a lot of people about the whys and wherefores of senior civil service behaviour: priestly as it might be to say this, there really is a case for historians being left many years later to read minutes and explain what apparently oleaginous bureaucrats were actually up to.

As to whether simply just Hutton so far shows eg a JIC incapable of adequately analysing and extrapolating intelligence streams, or whether the incoming intelligence is woefully, monumentally misshapen, is something we will have to wait even longer to discover and understand. Either way, the fact of John Scarlett having had ownership of the dossier does neither him nor his craft a great deal of credit. And should the fears of Muslim-fearing friends be anything other than baseless, our shield is not comforting to think on.

What Hutton Will Not Do

It is a deceit of our frighteningly shallow media to call for the head of the Defence Secretary because he over-ruled the senior MoD civil servant, and agreed that Kelly’s name would have to be released to the press. The forgotten chronology of this is the very start of the present fuss: when Gilligan was challenged on the veracity of his claim, his source was sought, both by the Government, and by the rest of the press. When Kelly ‘fessed up to his line manage, it was a development no one inside the political track can have meaningfully expected (certainly there was no assumption that any internal leak inquiry would produce a name), and Alistair Campbell least of all. It is possible indeed that the unfortunate man may not even be able to comprehend the notion of confession to a superior that one has leaked something to the press. But being in possession of this unwelcome knowledge, what on earth was Geoff Hoon to do? Had he denied or otherwise suppressed it, any subsequent discovery would have led to braying calls for his resignation (for the ‘cover-up’) from exactly the same poltroons who are presently demanding it for his releasing, when asked, poor Dr Kelly’s name, and thereby adding to the pressure Kelly felt himself under. That, as we have discussed, a mighty part of the direct and upfront pressure Kelly surely felt himself to be under was precisely that exerted upon him by the press, is not something much of it seems as yet to have found subsequent space to regret. Perhaps when Hutton publishes his report, they will, but then again, perhaps not.

The good news for Labour that Hutton unwittingly encapsulates – and as I have said, it runs through the fascinating documentation – is how one central part of the new Labour project has been defeated. Tony Blair, rightly from his own point of view (if he has, that is, a point of view he believes in), wished on coming into power to transform the machinery of central government. He wished to make it much more responsive to the personal wishes of the Prime Minister (in, I contend, a witting or otherwise extension of ‘mandate theory’, which held that since the Prime Minister, as party leader, was really the source of his government’s electoral mandate, he ought to have much more say in its direction than our parliamentary system seems to allow him), and accordingly less hedged in by Cabinetism (such an old theory) like, for example, the Cabinet Office. This manifested itself in the appointment, by orders in council, of Labour party flacks in Downing Street, who rather than being there to advise, were able to direct civil servants (something the civil service act rightly otherwise bans political advisors from doing). Campbell, Hunter, Powell, and Morgan all superintended the attempted Prime Ministerialisation of British government, and, one by one, they failed, and have either left, or are about to leave.

To take the obvious examples, when Campbell goes, and then Blair’s chief of staff, Jonathan Powell departs, neither man’s hybrid job will be replaced. Their roles will fall with them, as legacies of the Blairite project’s opposition mode. What the Hutton documentation inescapably shows is how Downing Street has been recaptured by, and for the traditional forms of the British civil service. This, after the disastrous final period of Blairism as a governing technique, will be greatly to the benefit of Tony Blair the politician, and his prolonged presence in Downing Street as a result is singularly to the electoral benefit of the Labour party, which could not hope to compete as well without him. Such is the perversity of politics.

What Hutton will hopefully do is to damage the BBC in a way that shocks, or more realistically, starts shocking it back into being what it should be: a public service broadcaster, and not a self-appointed public champion, defender of right, and scourge of the wrong. We have, in a parliamentary and capitalistic system, fully enough of those. The BBC in its arrogance takes on more and more the qualities of the unreformed church of English legend. Andrew Gilligan has done his little bit to trigger its necessary reformation. One final point is particularist in the extreme, and it is this: the BBC is also a bigger danger to both conservatism, and to the Conservative party than is the Labour government. If what we call ‘Hutton’ damages just the government, it will be a far lesser gain for Toryism than if it damages chiefly the BBC-as-is. Do that and you will fatally weaken both enemy propositions, attack merely Labour and the BBC will await the next Tory government as strong as ever.