Postscript

Alan Bennett

2 February 2004. There is nothing that has not been said. Some notes, though. Revealing, since his vanity was the main issue, were the settings in which Alastair Campbell chose to present himself: two Palladian interiors that would not have shamed a head of state. His simple joy at the vindication of the truth about as convincing as Jonathan Aitken’s dedication to it.

Almost the only heartening note was the outright condemnation of the BBC’s apology (and its abjectness) by its most distinguished broadcaster, David Attenborough. With a constituency that far outnumbers that of the Labour Party and a voice that is more respected and indeed loved than any politician’s can hope to be, if David Attenborough is on the other side, the government ought to be worried. It also ought to be ashamed, of course, but we’re long past that.

What happens when the BBC’s charter comes up for renewal is anybody’s guess. I would place no reliance on the word of the fragrant Tessa Jowell, who keeps rattling the charter, then pretending she hasn’t. She needs to be watched: she may be a weasel in talcum powder.

One person who saw it coming was Ludovic Kennedy who, hearing Hutton named to head the inquiry, correctly predicted the outcome. I looked up the judge, then Sir Brian Hutton, in Kennedy’s Thirty-Six Murders, where he pinpoints one of Hutton’s shortcomings back in 1995 as a failure to notice non sequiturs. There was going to be a lot more of that.

Hutton has a look of the actor Bernard Archard, who specialised in policemen of the middle rank who played things by the book. Saying what he feels is required, Lord Hutton would have done well as counsellor to Henry VIII. Trim and somehow spry he has the same tap-dancing figure as an earlier servant of the law, Lord Diplock.

It cannot be stated too often that Blair decided on war, then looked round for its justification and thinking he had found it bumped the country along with him. Robin Cook is careful always to give Blair the benefit of the doubt, saying that Blair really did believe Saddam had the weapons. I’m never sure, though, that Cook’s forbearance is not just an extension of the parliamentary convention that you don’t accuse a fellow member of lying. If Blair knew that the weapons he was talking about were tactical battlefield weapons but which, their nature unspecified, he also knew would be thought by the public to be long-range devices, to leave this misapprehension uncorrected, as Hoon admits that he did, invalidates Cook’s assumption about the prime minister’s honour. Not in Hutton, of course. Not his remit. And not, if Blair gets his way, in the remit of the next report either. And so we go on.

The person entitled to feel most immediately aggrieved by the report is Mrs Kelly. But I suspect that along with all his other received assumptions Lord Hutton regards suicide as a weakness and one that need not detain us long, the whole report almost a dictionary definition of what is meant by ‘a safe pair of hands’.