Here is the as yet unofficial transcript of part of Alastair Campbell’s session with the Chilcot Inquiry. Quick work to get it up so fast.
Others have dumped on the performance of this New Labour eel yesterday. See Paul Waugh describing how my old boss Rod Lyne did the business:
Campbell blustered, his memory appeared fuzzy for the first time and finally had to fall back on the defence that Blair was "increasingly concerned" about the issue, despite all the caveats of the experts, leaders have to lead etc.
Not to overlook Matthew Norman in the Independent who helpfully dwells on the tendency of people inadvertently to touch their nose in times of stress:
I don’t know if any of Sir John, the admirably dogged Sir Lawrence Freedman, the not so dogged Sir Martin Gilbert, the reticent Sir Roderick Lyne or the sensationally useless Baroness Ushar Prashar moonlights as a professional poker player. On balance, I’d guess not.
But if so, they’d be aware that the most obvious tell of all is someone touching their nose for no apparent reason. If there’s no scratching, wiping or other practical purpose to the nostril-work, invariably it’s a bluff.
Mr Campbell needlessly touched that aquiline hooter a couple of times…
But as people pore too and fro over timelines, dodgy dossiers and the rest, not much attention is being paid to this Historic Passage (my emphasis):
SIR RODERIC LYNE: Why wasn’t the Secretary of State for
3 International Development included in this inner circle
4 of people, given that her department was going to be the
5 lead department on questions to do with humanitarian
6 relief and quite a lot of dealing with the aftermath of
7 the conflict as well as with its humanitarian
9 MR ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: That is a very good question, and
10 I think, in an ideal world, the Secretary of State for
11 International Development would, should, and could, have
12 been in all of those discussions.
13 I mean, how can I put this? I think it is fair to
14 say that, when — let’s step back a bit. Cabinet
15 government. People have talked about Rumsfeld in
16 America being difficult for the President sometimes to
17 deal with. Cabinet, in the end, they are appointed from
18 within a fairly narrow pool, MPs, peers, a small number,
19 and sometimes you have to make political — you have
20 been there when John Major was putting together
21 a Cabinet. Sometimes you are putting together different
22 political factors.
23 SIR RODERIC LYNE: I didn’t work in the political capacity.
24 MR ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: No, but you know sometimes how
25 difficult it was to organise a reshuffle and put
1 together a Cabinet. So the point I’m making is you will
2 get a collection of individuals, of variable competence,
3 of variable trustworthiness in the Prime Minister’s eyes
4 and sometimes he would want to have discussions with a
5 smaller group of people.
6 SIR RODERIC LYNE: Are you implying in your deeply
7 diplomatic way that the Secretary of State for
8 International Development was not regarded as
9 trustworthy or as competent?
10 MR ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: When Clare Short and her department
11 were in support of a Government policy or position, then
12 I think she was both trustworthy and competent, and
13 I think there are people you can talk to in DFID who say
14 that she was terrific at every level. I can remember,
15 for example, during the Kosovo crisis, to go back to
16 that, Clare did an awful lot of pretty extraordinary
17 work at the time. But, look, it is no secret here, she
18 was very, very difficult to handle at times.
19 I think sometimes the military — and I think that
20 emerged in the evidence of some of your earlier
21 evidence. I think the military found her approach to
22 them quite difficult to deal with. I think sometimes
23 there were — there probably were concerns at times
24 about whether — very, very sensitive and tightly held
25 conversations, as to whether, in a political
1 environment, whether sometimes you would maybe be
2 a little bit worried that things would get out into the
3 public domain that you didn’t necessarily want to get
4 into the public domain.
5 Is that diplomatic as well?
6 SIR RODERIC LYNE: Because she was difficult, her department
7 couldn’t therefore be included fully in the work. They
8 didn’t receive, as we have heard from earlier witnesses,
9 the Iraq options paper of March 2001. She heard about
10 it later and complained.
11 MR ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: I must say I did find that
13 SIR RODERIC LYNE: You found that surprising?
14 MR ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: Yes.
15 SIR RODERIC LYNE: It was sent out from Number 10, but they
16 were not on the distribution. That was not a sensitive
17 document. She asked for an intelligence briefing —
18 again, she says in her book — in September of 2002 and
19 initially was told by SIS that she couldn’t receive the
20 briefing on orders from Number 10. A similar story over
21 a military briefing.
22 What were the consequences of this for the
23 Government’s, as a whole, ability to plan effectively
24 for the aftermath of the conflict?
25 MR ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: Again, I’m not an expert on that side
1 of Government policy and planning. I mean, I think it
2 would be — obviously, if you had really good, strong,
3 harmonious working relationships right across
4 government, then I suspect that, hopefully, your
5 Government machinery and its operations would be
6 improved and I know that there were times when people
7 who were out there — you have heard from some of them
8 who said we just had a sense that some elements of DFID
9 were just a bit disengaged from the whole thing, whereas
10 in previous situations, where Clare Short was very
11 supportive of the overall position of the government,
12 those people would be able to really get stuck in.
13 I think it was something that was difficult, but,
14 I hope, correctable in a fairly short timeframe.
15 I don’t think — for example — if you get on to the
16 aftermath, I don’t think you can say that was the reason
17 why things went so — as badly as they did at times in
18 the aftermath, but would it have helped to have had
19 better relations? Almost certainly.
20 SIR RODERIC LYNE: It certainly didn’t help…
As a professional ex-diplomat I can accept our democratically elected leaders making wrong policy decisions for the best of intentions. On Iraq Tony Blair opted for a policy he knew would be unpopular within his party and more widely, but he did not hide the fact and indeed was re-elected despite widespread concerns.
What I can not accept is that Tony Blair ran a dysfunctional government, including in it at high levels people he needed to make his policies work but whom he could not trust.
It is outlandish of Campbell to say that the absence of DFID’s weight within the planning of the post-intervention effort was not ‘the’ reason why the ‘aftermath’ went so badly. It certainly was ‘a’ reason, and a damn big one.
It is unprofessional and immoral to blow up another country’s army without making full and energetic provision to pile in afterwards for immediate humanitarian and other needs.
Yet this is what Tony Blair’s government did, which is why they are busy blaming the ‘aftermath’ on Rumsfeld and others in the USA.
Sure, US planning for the aftermath was inadequate. But we are responsible for our own policies, not theirs. And we 100% failed here.
The global and domestic public can tolerate some ambiguity in the legal case and the planning of an intervention, plus may cut politicians some slack on the wisdom/timescale issue. But people are usually unforgiving when they sense that the job has been bungled for one reason or another.
As already noted, the lack of detailed planning on how Iraq should be run after Saddam was toppled was a clear mistake emanating from the Bush team, and much of the ensuing controversy – and ghastly violence – stemmed from that…
Now we have it on the record why the British planning too was faulty.
Because Tony Blair had the political courage to invade Iraq, but he lacked the political courage to sack Clare Short and bring in someone who would take orders loyally and honourably (no leaks putting military operations at risk) once a decision had been made.
Why did he not sack her?
Because ‘Clare’ was one of ‘Gordon’s’ close allies in the government, and he did not want to confront the implications of tackling him. Thus is Gordon Brown personally and directly implicated in the Blairish Iraq policy debacle.
All is Revealed, on the record this time.
As was notorious at the time, Tony Blair could not deal with personal confrontation – if it could not be sorted out on his terms on the Downing Street sofas, it would just be left for better times.
The whole New Labour project was built on Alastair Campbell and his minions frothing up the media to divert attention from the irresponsibility, weakness and double-dealings between the people at the very top of the Labour Party.
When it comes to Iraq and the rest, the human and policy costs of their private selfishness go far beyond calculation.
The truly remarkable thing, though, is that despite all this there are still plenty of people out there ready to vote for them.
So maybe Alastair and Peter and Gordon, wretched and discredited as they are in every possible respect, get another last laugh at our expense?