The Spinnaker had carried him safely past the final marker in the Hutton and Butler enquiries, setting him free to profitably cruise off the Middle East coast, being sighted in harbour only when he needed to take on fresh supplies.
Steering a boat under Spinnaker can be difficult, a gust to the lee side and you can easily run off course.
Sir Roderic Lyne proved to be just such a persistent gust. Sidling up from the lee side of the previously tame and gentile Chilcot enquiry, he flummoxed Alastair Campbell, spinnaker-in-chief to Blair, by referring to letters Blair had written to George Bush as long ago as 2002 which he suggested showed that Blair had committed Britain to go to war long before the public – or other cabinet officials – were aware of it. ‘They were frank and advisory’ said Campbell lamely. Across the North Sea, a separate inquiry by the Dutch Government concluded yesterday that it was a letter from Blair, hand-delivered by the British ambassador and then mysteriously retained by him, that persuaded their Prime Minister to back the Iraq invasion. The Dutch judicial inquiry concluded that the invasion had been illegal. Those letters may yet becalm Blair.
Campbell’s course and insolent contempt for the great institutions of our country were writ large in his facetious replies and malevolent body language. The depths of secrecy and paranoia that surrounded his privileged position as faux politician at the heart of cabinet was revealed when he was asked about Clare Short.
Why wasn’t Clare Short in the “inner circle” bearing in mind her job? “That’s a very good question,” said Campbell, “Cabinet ministers are appointed from “within a fairly narrow pool” of people: “You will get a collection of individuals of variable competence, of variable trustworthiness in the prime minster’s eyes” and he would want to have conversations with a “smaller group” of people. Was he implying Clare Short was not trustworthy or competent? “When she supported a government position, she was both” said Campbell. “It’s not secret she was very difficult to handle at times,” he said. He also said there may have been some worry that information you wanted to keep secret, may have got into the public domain.
“When she supported a government position” – and there Campbell laid it bare for all to see. Only those who were known to agree with the Blair strategy and keep their mouths shut were permitted to the inner circle.
Those who did are alive and well. Blair, suntanned and cossetted, occasionally returns to his £4m country estate in Buckinghamshire, or his multi-million pound London mansion. protected by a phalanx of expensive metropolitan police officers, preaching his curious mixture of gospel and capitalism for impressive rewards. Straw still has his little feet under the Cabinet table. Hoon, the defence secretary in those days, appears strangely unmarked by his recent coup attempt.
And of those who asked difficult questions, who queried “the government position”? Robin Cook is dead, Kelly is dead. Clare Short roams Birmingham rattling her chains like the ghost of Marley; scarcely remembered, even by Gordon Brown, who was, in truth, the person she was most likely to have ‘leaked to’. Campbell implicitly ‘fingered’ Gordon Brown yesterday, and yet it seems that at the time, he and Blair went to considerable lengths to ensure that no word escaped their tight circle to anyone who might have proved to be an obstacle to their ambitions.
Many years ago, the Kray gang were removed from their position of prominence in South London. They operated by similar methods. Bury a few bodies, deny everything. When your enforcer walks in the door and scowls, that is all he has to do, fear will do the rest.
The good ship Blair may yet be scuttled. Fear of Blair’s enforcer is fading, “the weapon of mass deception” the media openly mocks him; Iraq has broken for ever the bond of trust between those who would send us to war and those who willingly gave up their sons for the cause. The weekly gathering at Wootton Bassett is more than just respect for the men who gave their lives, it is the warning salvo from a quiescent British public that rebellion may not be far away. No wonder the politicians stay well away from it.