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Diaries deal another blow to Blair
Shyam Bhatia in London | September 23, 2003 22:25 IST
The British public is trying to come to terms with the country's equivalent of Watergate following revealations that Prime Minister Tony Blair's closest adviser was prepared to go to any length to wreck the career of BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan.
Blair's Cambridge-educated communications director Alastair Campbell recorded in his private diaries how he hoped to "f**k Gilligan "by exposing weapons expert David Kelly as his source. The unseemly use of the four letter word indicates the desperation of the Downing Street propaganda machine, which launched a vendetta first against Gilligan and then against Dr Kelly for their role in questioning the propriety of the war against Iraq. Dr Kelly later committed suicide, prompting the government to authorise a judicial inquiry under Lord Hutton to inquire into the circumstances leading upto his death.
Although there is as yet no indication that Blair himself will have to resign, the credibility of the ruling Labour Party in general, and that of Campbell and Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon in particular, has been severely damaged by the evidence emerging so far from the Hutton inquiry.
Last week the Labour Party suffered a spectacular defeat in a parliamentary by election and latest opinion polls show for the first time that a clear majority believe that the Iraq war was not justified. But further incalculable damage has now been inflicted on both the party and the government after extracts from Campbell's private diary were made available to the public
These extracts show how determined the outgoing media adviser was to expose Dr Kelly's name to the media, saying it was "the biggest thing needed" in the battle against the BBC. Campbell's hope was that Kelly could be used to undermine Gilligan's claim that the government had exaggerated the case for war against Saddam Hussein. Campbell told the inquiry he had been "very, very angry and frustrated" with Gilligan's reporting and his refusal to back down. In his diary he records, "I wanted a clear win, not a messy draw."
As the inquiry starts to wind down at the end of this week, there is mounting speculation that Defence Secretary Hoon will turn out to be the high profile scapegoat of the Kelly affair. His all too evident contempt for the British media and his refusal to take any responsibility for Dr Kelly's suicide means he is a marked man. He has also dug his own grave by admitting in evidence that the British government's warning last year that the world was under threat from Saddam's weapons of mass destruction had been "exaggerated."