Campbell’s spin as transparent as ever

by Chris Ames

On my previous post on the issue of the Independent on Sunday article claiming that “Tony Blair blocked the Government’s most senior lawyer [the attorney general] from explaining to Cabinet the legality of the war in Iraq”, it was noted that Alastair Campbell had responded to the story on his blog. Campbell’s (attempted) rebuttal largely misses the point but does make a very good point about what the views of the attorney general (Lord Peter Goldsmith] were at the time.

Campbell is so hooked on his self justifying claim that “The Real Spin Doctors Are The Journalists” that he does exactly what he accuses one of the IoS story’s authors of doing.

I also drew attention to various passages of former Attorney General Peter Goldsmith’s evidence to Chilcot, and asked if the IoS had bothered to study it before rushing to print a story which conformed to their view of the Iraq war.

e.g. when Sir Roderic Lyne asks: ‘so no one at any stage asked you to restrict what you said to cabinet to the fairly limited terms in which you presented this to cabinet?’ And Goldsmith replies ‘No.’

If Campbell had bothered to read the IoS story properly, he would have seen – as I pointed out yesterday – that it did quote exactly that piece of evidence to the Inquiry. He later claims that what he recorded in his diary – that Blair “made it clear he did not particularly want Goldsmith to launch a detailed discussion at Cabinet” – is “consistent” with this.


Calls for Inquiry recall over Campbell claim

by Chris Ames

The Independent on Sunday reports that:

MPs demanded an emergency recall of the Chilcot inquiry last night after new revelations that Tony Blair blocked the Government’s most senior lawyer from explaining to Cabinet the legality of the war in Iraq.

The story is based on the new version of Alastair Campbell’s diaries, which apparently record that in March 2003:


TB also made it clear he did not particularly want Goldsmith to launch a detailed discussion at Cabinet, though it would have to happen at some time, and ministers would want to cross-examine. With the mood as it was, and with Robin [Cook] and Clare [Short] operating as they were, he knew if there was any nuance at all, they would be straight out saying the advice was that it was not legal, the AG was casting doubt on the legal basis for war. Peter Goldsmith was clear that though a lot depended on what happened, he was casting doubt in some circumstances and if Cabinet had to approve the policy of going to war, he had to be able to put the reality to them.

I haven’t bought or otherwise looked at Campbell’s latest moneyspinner and it is difficult to work out the context. The point is of course that this sort of revelation/claim should not be coming out now, given that the Inquiry should have got to the bottom of it. The IoS points out that at the Inquiry Goldsmith expressly denied that anyone had put such pressure on him. Here is the relevant extract:

SIR RODERIC LYNE: Before you went to Cabinet — I know I’m  going ahead a bit here — how was it decided that you would present the advice to Cabinet in the way that you presented it to Cabinet? Was it solely by you or was it by you in discussion with the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary or others?
RT HON LORD GOLDSMITH QC: No, this was really my decision, and the point for me was to decide what the — determine how to express my view to Parliament, and the Parliamentary answer then seemed to be a convenient way, as a framework really, for what I would then say to Cabinet about my view on legality.
SIR RODERIC LYNE: So no one at any stage asked you to restrict what you said to Cabinet to the fairly limited terms in which you presented this to Cabinet?

Amazingly, Campbell told the IoS that the two accounts were “entirely consistent”.  We already know that Goldsmith’s  account is untrue, a note of a meeting between Goldsmith and Straw on 13 March 2003 records that Goldsmith told Straw:

that he thought he might need to tell the Cabinet when it met on 17 March that the legal issues were finely balanced. The Foreign Secretary said that he needed to be aware of the problem of leaks from that Cabinet .

If the Inquiry does not address this, it will have no credibility at all.



Countdown to Iraq

by Andrew Mason

Alastair Campbell is scheduled to release Volume Four of his diaries on 20 June. This further edition, entitled ‘The Burden of Power: Countdown to Iraq’, is the final planned part of his series, although this new volume apparently indicates that he continued to keep a diary beyond 2003, the entries from which may be published at some point in the future.

The earlier volumes were ‘Prelude to Power: 1994-1997’; ‘Power and the People: May 1997 to June 1999’; and ‘Power and Responsibility: 1999 to (September 11) 2001’.

The official launch will be hosting by the Mile End Group at the Queen Mary University of London.

The publication of this part of the diaries was originally expected to have taken place at the end of last year. Whether or not the delays currently being experienced by the Chilcot Iraq Inquiry have also affected the timing of the release of this volume remains to be seen.