At first sight, the Hutton Report seemed to provide further evidence of Tony Blair's intuitive political genius. It was extraordinary to have reaped from the appointment of Lord Hutton a set of findings which transformed a crisis that threatened to be overwhelming into a vindication of every aspect of the government's conduct, and of the prime minister's moral probity in particular. But when the full implications of the report sank in, as the opinion-makers and others who had already commented on it got round to reading it, the true extent of its partisanship sank in too. As Lord Hutton ploughed on, turning a messy political story into an occasion to destroy the BBC, so the political skills that had created the stage for this report began themselves to look increasingly debased. In the immediate aftermath of the report's publication, the Napoleonic posture of Alastair Campbell, proclaiming his integrity from some sort of throne against a grand imperial backdrop, contrasted with the BBC employees' mobbing of their departing director general to give us the two images with which Hutton will now always be associated. It is possible in politics to be too clever by half; this attribute can be found very close to genius on the political spectrum and, in the excitement of the success of their ploy, Blair and his (former?) spokesperson (ventriloquist?) may have strayed towards it. Given that it remains the case that a neocolonial war has been fought to please neo-conservative friends in an administration despised abroad and at home, this crowing may prove not to have been the wisest of moves.
LRB 19 February 2004 | PDF Download