Two Scotsmen do battle: the truth and the war

Gerry Hassan
7 February 2010

The many sides of Alastair Campbell were on display on the Andrew Marr Show this Sunday morning. The good, the bad - and the ugly, in a way which will dominate the Monday morning press.

Here he was plugging his latest potboiler novel, ‘Maya’, all oozing charm and charisma, and as the interview ‘segued’ into the Chilcot inquiry, the many other facets of his character emerged. First, there was the fragility, as he paused and took account of himself, the cracks in his psyche opening to reveal the weakness behind the machismo. Then it was on to the combativeness, even nearly challenging Marr about the number of Iraqi dead post-invasion, but realising it better to let that one go.

Campbell like Blair must have some inclination of what they have done and how they are perceived, and the damage they have done to our democratic ways of life, how politicians and civil servants are seen, and our standing in the world (let alone the mess in Iraq and impending conflict with Iran if the warmongers in the West get their way). Instead, what one gets from Campbell in full drive, is a Caesar-like personification of how tough it was for him and Tony in the bunker, and particularly making the case for how tough it was for his master.

Marr, who is normally a bit of a sycophant asking questions, has to get special credit here. Normally his show is a bit like a slightly more serious version of Jools Holland’s Later, but he excels in harrying Campbell.

The extract below is where Campbell gets all emotional, apparently about comparisons between his novel and the government’s dossier on Iraq’s non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction. Not of course about the (at least) 600,000 Iraqi dead since liberation. Revealing at a crucial juncture, Campbell says, ‘Forgive me for this’, perhaps showing that somewhere in him he realises the gravity of his actions. 

Marr: So I come back to my original question then. If ‘beyond doubt’ is  not established in the intelligence when this inquiry looks at the intelligence, does it then follow, Yes or No, that the Prime Minister misled Parliament? 

Campbell: The Prime Minister did not mislead Parliament.

Marr: Even if the intelligence when it is looked at does not confirm that assertion that it was ‘beyond reasonable doubt’?

Campbell: Yes because as I said (pause). Forgive me for this (takes breath).

Marr: This is the question. This is the thing. People say you can’t answer this question.

Campbell: I’ve been through a lot of this Andrew. And I have been through a lot in  that inquiry. And (pause) Tony Blair is a totally honourable man and I also think that what we have taken on this is, and what I’ve taken on this constantly. You did it again this morning which is probably why I am a bit upset. This constant sort of vilification.

Marr: How did I vilify you?

Campbell: You compared the novel to the dossier and it's all fiction and the rest of it. It's not.  And I just think the way this whole issue has developed now where I don’t think people are interested in the truth anymore, Andrew. You are all interested in settling old scores and setting the agenda and I am sorry if I get upset. But I know how that decision was made because I was there alongside Tony. I know that decision weighed on him and I know the care we took.

And to think British constitutional experts and political commentators used to worry about the role of Bernard Ingham. Good to know that such advice is back helping Gordon Brown at No. 10 and will be a central role in advising and shaping Labour’s forthcoming election strategy.

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