The BBC was doing its job – bring back Gilligan

So there he goes again. The cordite is carried off by the breeze. The dust settles and out of the crater creeps the Prime Minister, beaming his chipmunk grin. He acknowledges the cheers of his back benches, flicks an invisible speck from his irreproachable Paul Smith sleeve and saunters off back to Downing Street.

It is just flipping unbelievable. He is a mixture of Harry Houdini and a greased piglet. He is barely human in his elusiveness. Nailing Blair is like trying to pin jelly to a wall.

For weeks we have been told that his extermination at the hands of Hutton has been as predetermined as the convergence of the Titanic and the iceberg. And now what? The judge has decided that the Prime Minister behaved with complete honour and candour throughout.

Blair, Hoon, Scarlett, the whole lot of them, have been sprayed with more whitewash than a Costa Brava timeshare. Hutton has succumbed to blindness of Nelsonian proportions. As snow-jobs go, this beats the Himalayas.

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Question: Weapons of Mass Destruction, Iraq and the legality of the war (to Geoff Hoon, Secretary of State for Defence)

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Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley) (Con): Given that a vital part of the reconstruction of Iraq is presumably the discovery and removal of weapons of mass destruction, may I remind the Secretary of State of an answer that he gave to me more than six months ago, when I asked him whether the failure to find weapons of mass destruction undermined the legality of the case for war? He gave a four-word answer, which was, “They will be found.” Does the right hon. Gentleman still believe that? If not, does he not think that it is about time that the public saw all the legal opinion upon which the Government based the case for war?

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his ingenuity, but he needs to check more carefully the precise circumstances in which military action was taken. It was taken on the basis of resolution 1441. We know that Saddam Hussein had used weapons of mass destruction previously; 1441 was given by the United Nations to Saddam Hussein as a last opportunity to co-operate with the international community. The coalition forces judged that he had failed to take that last opportunity. I am sure that a fair-minded observer of these affairs, as the hon. Gentleman is, would reach that conclusion.

Question: Commons Townlands hospital in Henley (to Dr Stephen Ladyman, Junior Minister, Department of Health)

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Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley) (Con): Speech therapy is among the many services provided by the head injuries unit at the Townlands hospital, in Henley. How is it possible, at a time when this Government are allegedly pumping umpteen billions into the NHS, that it should be seriously contemplated that that hospital close? Will the Minister do everything in his power to live up to his Government’s promises and stop the closure of this valued and much-loved local hospital?

Dr. Ladyman: The reconfiguration of hospital services, as the hon. Gentleman perfectly well knows, is a matter for local decision. We have devolved these matters to local areas so that local people can be involved in local decisions. If I were in a position to ask the hon. Gentleman the sort of question that he has just asked me, I would ask him how many speech and language therapists there would be if we carried out his plans to cut spending by 20 per cent.

The hole in the heart of the euro

In the course of the long afternoons of my youth, when I was meant to be reporting on EU agricultural meetings, I brooded on this gnomic Letzeburgish. After deep thought I decided that Sid Gudder Ding Mid Bofferding means, roughly speaking, that you are on to a good thing with Bofferding.

And if ever there was a group of people conspicuously on to a good thing, it is the hordes of lawyers, from all over Europe, who will be descending on Luxembourg to drink the place dry, Bofferding included.

For the next six months the taxpayer will be coughing up the per diems of even more of m’learned friends than will be engaged in the Shipman inquiry and these lawyers will be disputing a case that is simultaneously ludicrous and potentially epoch-making.

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The totality is – the Prime Minister lied

Right. OK then! Now I get it (slap forehead). How could I have been so slow on the uptake? I understood until yesterday that the Prime Minister had been caught out in a great big fat steaming smoking-pants lie. I thought it was clear to the meanest intelligence that Tony Blair had authorised the naming of poor Dr David Kelly to the media, and then pretended otherwise.

But it turns out that we haven’t been paying enough attention to the “totality” of what he said. No, no, he kept saying yesterday, as he wriggled before Michael Howard like a kebabbed witchetty grub. Only the “totality” is operative, said Blair, irresistibly recalling the performance of Nixon’s spokesman during Watergate. Well, let us indeed examine the totality of the Prime Minister’s words and deeds, and discover how we came by this misunderstanding. They total up to quite a lot.

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Speech: Gilligan, Hutton and the and the legality of the war

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I suppose I should begin by declaring an interest of sorts, in that I edit a magazine which received Andrew Gilligan’s reports throughout the Gulf war – and very proud we were of those reports, none of which was remotely anti-war.

I shall now do a very unfashionable thing, which is to stick up for Andrew Gilligan. We heard from the Labour benches about how people have been pilloried and vilified. No one has been more pilloried and vilified than that journalist. I propose to try to vindicate what he said.

This debate takes place after the Prime Minister has announced an inquiry into the Government’s extraordinary failure to give an accurate picture of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction before the war. I hope that Lord Butler will somehow in his findings pay tribute to the work of Andrew Gilligan in exposing the way in which Downing Street revised raw intelligence material in the hope of making it sound more alarming and making the threat sound more imminent.

To understand what I think happened – and I am paid to say what I think – one must remember the origins of Alastair Campbell as a tabloid journalist. He was political editor of the Daily Mirror, and went to Downing street as editor-in-chief of the propaganda campaign, in particular the propaganda campaign to convince the public – and especially Labour Members, whose votes were very important – that Saddam was a clear and present threat to this country. In his office in Downing street, Alastair Campbell chaired a series of very important meetings. Very senior civil servants were there, among them John Scarlett, chairman of the JIC. Alastair Campbell told John Scarlett

> “I will chair a team that will go through the document from a presentational point of view, and make recommendations to you.”

Everyone who has worked on a newspaper, tabloid or broadsheet – as I have – will know that newspapers are basically monarchical in structure. If the editor is known to be partial to a certain story or a certain subject – pheasants, say – loyal underlings will provide the editor with pheasants. Or a story about topless models, or whatever it happens to be. That is how it works. He is the Sun King, and they are sunflowers who turn their faces towards him.

(Andrew Mackinlay: Their faces?)

(Mr. Johnson: The hon. Gentleman clearly has a keen understanding of these matters.)

As Lord Hutton himself observed, this may be subconsciously – he said “subconsciously” – corrupting. But I think that in the case of the influence of Downing street on the intelligence services it was clearly more than subconsciously corrupting, for there was a whole series of overt and explicit memos. In the spring and summer of 2002, the intelligence services had produced a fairly cautious document about the state of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. It may be remembered that the original document, which was not published because it was too feeble, said that there was a chemical and biological weapons capability, but made no mention of actual weapons. It said that Iraq was at least five years away from producing a nuclear weapon. That, of course, was not exactly what the editorial staff in Downing street wanted to hear.

Phil Bassett, himself a former journalist and a member of the Downing street press office, sent a memo saying,

> “We’re in a lot of trouble as it stands now.”

Another memo went out from Downing street saying,

> “No 10 through the Chairman wants the document to be as strong as possible within the bounds of the available evidence.”

> “Therefore this is a last (!) call for elements that agencies think can and should be included.”

In due course, naturally, Scarlett obliged. He produced a dossier in which some of the language had been strengthened. But Campbell, the editor-in-chief, still was not happy. There was a sentence that read

> “The Iraq military may be able to deploy chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes of an order to do so”.

Mr. Campbell pointed out that that was weaker than the wording of the summary, and requested that it be changed. That request was granted, along with requests for a dozen other material changes designed to beef up the language.

Some analysts on the Defence Intelligence Staff were uneasy about the 45-minute claim. Dr. Brian Jones – whose intimate involvement with the whole business was discussed earlier by the Prime Minister – said:

> “The way the intelligence was reported did not give us any confidence that the primary source knew very much about the subject.”

He went to see Dr. Kelly, who himself expressed some doubts about, for instance, the biological weapons claim, but when they passed their concerns up to their superiors those concerns were ignored. Jones said he felt that

> “the shutters were coming down”.

An unnamed official was so alarmed by the draft that he wrote a highly unusual memo of protest:

> “The 20th September draft still includes a number of statements which are not supported by the evidence available to me… What I wish to record is that based on the intelligence available to me, it has NOT been established beyond doubt that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons.”

As for the notorious 45-minute claim, he said

> “This is based on a single source. It is not clear what is meant by ‘weapons are deployable within 45 minutes’. The judgment is too strong considering the evidence on which it is based”.

Yet four days later the Prime Minister was at the Dispatch Box waving a dossier and making that claim no fewer than four times. He made it in his own foreword. He said:

> “The threat of Saddam and weapons of mass destruction is not American or British propaganda. The history and present threat are real”.

A couple of hours beforehand Jonathan Powell had sent a memo to Alastair Campbell – someone mentioned this earlier – saying:

> “Alastair, what will the headline be in the Standard”

after they had published this thing?

> “What do we want it to be?”

We do not have Campbell’s answer, but I think we can guess, because the Evening Standard duly obliged the Government’s propaganda machine and said “45 minutes from attack”.

The Sun said, “He’s got ’em . . . Let’s get him.” It was nonsense, of course. It was an inverted pyramid of piffle. To make matters worse, the Government allowed the tabloids to misconstrue the 45-minute reference to mean ground or air-launched missiles rather than battlefield weapons. In other words, a claim that was rubbish had been embellished at the Government’s behest and at the specific request of Alastair Campbell.

Let us go back to the fateful change and the psychology of the parties involved. The intelligence services are already straining to oblige their political masters and they have beefed up the language as far as they dare, but Campbell comes back to Scarlett and wants him to ratchet it up one notch higher. He wants to move the claim from the conditional to the indicative mood, as the grammarians would say. Why does Scarlett accede to that? Because he is in the position of a foreign correspondent who has before him a campaigning editor, but the story is not quite hot or strong enough, so he agrees to hype it up. He takes a risk because he thinks he can get away with it because the facts may well turn out to support his editor’s desire and he wants a quiet life and to be obliging.

That is, in essence, what Andrew Gilligan reported. He said that the Government probably knew that the figure was wrong. They and Campbell certainly did not know that the figure was right, yet they put it before the public and before Parliament as an incontrovertible fact. Gilligan said that his source was involved in the production of the dossier, which was certainly true. He said that there was anxiety in the intelligence services about the dossier, which has been amply confirmed.

I ask Labour Members who deride Gilligan whether they are happy that those facts were brought into the public domain. I also ask them in their triumphalism to reflect on whether it is possible that the Government made mistakes in the production of the dossier…

(Madam Deputy Speaker, Sylvia Heal: Order. The hon. Gentleman’s time is up. I call Dr. Gavin Strang.)