Thursday 29 January 2004

Now Blair Must Tell Truth on WMD

When even the inspectors are saying the were no WMD, for the government to still stand by their justification for war, is even more vacuous than the Hutton report.

Tony Blair would have been justified in cracking open a bottle of bubbly last night.

He and those around him had been vindicated by the Hutton report.

With the narrow victory on university fees the previous day, it made an incredible double for a Prime Minister written off by many pundits.

There were no celebrations at the BBC, though. Lord Hutton was brutal about their management and journalism.

They pride themselves on being the best in the world so, when they fall short of that standard, they must expect the roof to fall in.

Their chairman, Gavyn Davies, an honourable man, did the decent thing and resigned. That will make it easier for them to sort out how the Corporation is run in future.

As Mr Davies said, you must accept the verdict of the referee so there is no point in complaining about the Hutton judgment.

There is no doubt BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan should not have said that Downing Street knowingly inserted a false claim in what was called the dodgy dossier.

He said they knew it wasn't true that Saddam Hussein could fire weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes - a claim proved false by Hutton.

But in the first three letters of complaint from No.10, no mention was made of that claim, which became the focus of Hutton's report.

The rest of Gilligan's short broadcast was correct. He was RIGHT that the 45-minute claim was inserted late, RIGHT that there was disquiet in the intelligence communities about the dossier and RIGHT that there was an anonymous, single source for the information.

But that lone mistake was one too many for the BBC. Even though the main thrust of the Gilligan report was correct.

And there lies the crucial point which Mr Blair has yet to address.

The BBC was not running an anti-war agenda despite the frenzied insistence of Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's former press chief.

It was properly reflecting the views of millions of Britons who did not believe that the evidence was there to take us to war in Iraq.

SIXTEEN months later, not a single weapon of mass destruction has been found. Far less one which can be prepared and fired on another country in 45 minutes.

The Hutton inquiry focused on the most narrow terms of reference - for which Mr Blair has to thank his old pal Lord Falconer, just as he had to be grateful to Gordon Brown for his Commons victory the previous day.

That meant the real issue - the existence of WMD - wasn't even touched on.

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