WHITEWASH! The Hutton report or How the Establishment looks after its Own

Imagine a game of football where the manager of one team made up the rules to benefit his own side, where the goalposts were moved and where the referee was on his side. The outcome of such a match would, of course be known in advance by the winning side, who would then run around the stadium in a state of ecstasy, yelling “Victory!” That is precisely what happened with the now infamous Hutton report.

"Lord Hutton's report is a curiously unbalanced document. He opens by saying that no one could have contemplated that David Kelly would take his own life as a result of the pressures he felt, at which point he could have stopped. Several hundred pages later, blame has, by implication, been apportioned. What is extraordinary about the report is that it has all been allocated to one institution, the British Broadcasting Corporation. Even if it is accepted that the BBC's reporting and its failure to clarify it contributed to the atmosphere that made Dr Kelly feel the pressures on him were intolerable, this one-sidedness seems perverse."

(The Independent, 29 January 2004)

"These lies are like their father that begets them: gross as a mountain, open, palpable." (Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part One, ii, iv, 260.)

Imagine a game of football where the manager of one team made up the rules to benefit his own side, where the goalposts were moved and where the referee was on his side. The outcome of such a match would, of course be known in advance by the winning side, who would then run around the stadium in a state of ecstasy, yelling "Victory!" That is precisely what happened with the now infamous Hutton report that came out on Wednesday. Contrary to what had been expected, Tony Blair, his former director of communications Alastair Campbell and the Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon were all cleared of any improper behaviour leading up to the suicide of the weapons expert David Kelly.

The majority of people had expected an even-handed report that would admonish the BBC for its mistakes, but also apportion at least part of the blame to the government, the Ministry of Defence and the Security Services. Nothing of the kind emerged. There is not a single word of criticism – even of the mildest sort – for Blair, Hoon or Campbell. Lord Hutton, who acted like a veritable bloodhound when investigating the BBC, seeking out and exaggerating every little detail, suddenly became blind, deaf and dumb when examining the conduct of Number Ten Downing Street, the Civil Service and the Joint Intelligence Committee.

To the general amazement, Lord Hutton found that the Government did "not behave in a dishonourable, underhand or duplicitous way" in confirming Dr Kelly's name to reporters who suggested it to the MoD press office after the Government announced that a civil servant had come forward who might be Mr Gilligan's source. Amazingly, even the chief victim of these events was not spared from the critical eye of His Lordship. On Dr Kelly himself, Lord Hutton said the government scientist broke civil service rules by his unauthorised meeting with Mr Gilligan and said he was "not an easy man to help or to whom to give advice".

Lord Hutton did venture a mild criticism of the Ministry of Defence for not warning Dr Kelly that his name would become public. But the rebuke was so feeble that it did nothing to threaten the position of Mr Hoon, who had been widely seen as the most likely casualty of the inquiry. Hoon has been attacked by the families of British soldiers killed in the war as a result of the bungling of the ministry that left troops without body armour, boots and other necessary supplies. This was also the result of political pressure: the haste to go to war was dictated by Blair's policy of dancing to Bush's tune. On grounds of inefficiency and bungling alone, Hoon should have been sacked. But as one of Blair's chief cronies, that could never be allowed.

The real role of Commissions of Inquiry

There can be little doubt that Mr. Blair was aware of the result of the Hutton inquiry well in advance. For weeks, when pressed to answer embarrassing questions about the Kelly affair in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister replied with an enigmatic smile and the words: "Just wait for the result of the Hutton inquiry." Michael Portillo, the Tory former defence secretary, said: "Certainly I don't think No 10 could be more satisfied if Alastair Campbell had written it - it's very satisfactory from No 10's point of view."

If it was not actually written by Blair and Campbell, it might just have well been. The government knew what it was doing when it set up this commission. A dangerous controversy was taken out of the public's eye and hidden behind locked doors long enough for the issues at stake to be at least half-forgotten. In the corridors of power and the clubrooms where such matters are decided, politicians, bureaucrats and judges decide between themselves the fate of trials and public inquiries. Hence, no commission in history has ever come out against an existing government. The whole set-up of commissions is just one more fraud in the whole gigantic fraud of bourgeois formal democracy, where the people are given the illusion of power, while all the important decisions are taken by the rich and powerful.

A smirking Mr Blair told the House of Commons: "The allegation that I or anyone else lied to this House or deliberately misled the country by falsifying intelligence on weapons of mass destruction is itself the real lie. And I simply ask that those who made it and those who have repeated it over all these months now withdraw it, fully, openly and clearly."

This was a veiled signal to commence a witch-hunt against the BBC, to humiliate and terrorise the government's critics in the media. However, the Downing Street clique have seen the polls and understood that public opinion remains suspicious. It was not good policy to gloat in public, and so they have left it to their pit-bull terrier, Campbell, to go onto the attack. He crowed: "What the report shows very clearly is this: the Prime Minister told the truth, the Government told the truth, I told the truth. The BBC, from the chairman and director general down, did not. Today the stain on the integrity of the Prime Minister and the Government has been removed."

Shock and consternation

But not everyone is so easily convinced. The contents of the report caused shock and consternation. Austin Mitchell, the Labour MP for Great Grimsby – hardly a left winger - said: ‘It is a whitewash, basically. The danger is that it is so one-sided a report that it is going to lose credibility. People just aren't going to believe it.' (The Independent)

That is obvious. We are clearly in the presence of a gigantic and blatant whitewash. In fact, it is not even cleverly done. A good liar always takes care to make his lies as plausible as possible – that is, they must bear some resemblance to the truth. If they are too implausible, then nobody is going to believe them, which is the case with the Hutton report. This wretched document is so blatantly, one might say insolently, one-sided, that very few people will believe what it says. Indeed, the first opinion polls published this morning already show this. 56 percent of people think the Hutton report is a whitewash. On the question of "trust", 31 percent trust the BBC, but only 10 percent trust the government.

The universal scepticism is shared even by such redoubtable figures of the Establishment as Lord Rees-Mogg, who has openly questioned the results of the inquiry and the competence of Lord Hutton on The World at One yesterday ("Nice chap, bad lawyer, very conservative-minded"). Rees-Mogg pointed out what is obvious: the results of the inquiry do not flow from the evidence submitted.

Whether Lord Hutton is a "nice chap" we do not know. That really depends on who you are. To Tony Blair and his cronies, Hutton must seem a very nice chap indeed – or better still, a very obliging chap. As this hatchet-faced Ulsterman sat and droned on and on in his flat, monotone voice, the champagne corks must have been popping inside Number Ten. Lord Hutton, of course, comes from a very special tradition, the Ulster tradition of democratic politics, as developed by his worthy predecessor Lord Carson and best summed up in the celebrated phrase about elections in the North of Ireland: "Vote early, and vote often."

The inconsistencies, irregularities and contradictions in Hutton's report are legion. For example, it is known that Alastair Campbell did in fact beef up the reports submitted by the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) in order to make out a stronger case for Britain's participation in George Bush's war. To do this, the notorious (and completely lying) statement was submitted to the effect that Saddam Hussein could mobilise his "weapons of mass destruction" in 45 minutes – a lie that was repeated by Tony Blair in the House of Commons. Yet Hutton finds no fault with an unelected and irresponsible official actively interfering in the elaboration of sensitive papers by the Security Services for political purposes.

In a final submission to Lord Hutton, the Kelly family said: "The Government made a conscious decision to cause Dr Kelly's identity to be revealed and it did so in order to assist it in the battle with the BBC." The family quoted Mr Campbell's diaries as evidence of the Government's "improper" intent. In one extract disclosed to the inquiry, Mr Campbell wrote: "The biggest thing needed was the source out."

It is known that Campbell actively pushed for Kelly to be "outed" as part of his attacks on the BBC, and that he wanted his name to be kept out of it. All this is clear from his diaries, which were in the possession of the inquiry. This piece of dirty intrigue ought to have been sufficient for Hutton to have made some critical reference to this Rasputin of the Blair clique. But no, yet again, for some mysterious reason, His Lordship's critical faculties bean to vanish, the closer he approached the workings of the Blair government and its minions. He finds "nothing underhand in all this." This is quite natural, since if you do not intend to look for something, you will certainly never find it.

Even more incredible is the comment that the head of the JIC might have been "unconsciously influenced" by his knowledge that Mr. Blair was desperate to receive hard evidence about the existence of WMDs in Iraq, in order to silence the anti-war protesters and win over the sceptical majority of his own Party. And what is a good civil servant for but to serve his political masters? The JIC fell over themselves to give Blair and Campbell what they wanted.

Such blatant political interference in what is supposed to be a non-political civil service should surely merit some critical comment from His Lordship. And he does indeed mention it – not as a fact (and it was a fact) but only as a hypothetical possibility – and even then it is relegated to the realm of the subconscious. Freud must be spinning in his grave at this gross misuse of psychoanalysis. But it was expressed in the most serious tones by Lord Hutton. It is fortunate that His Lordship appears to possess no sense of humour at all, or he would have burst out laughing at himself.

Where did the Intelligence come from?

In order to confuse the issue, Hutton resorts to sophistry, asking the question whether the JIC and Blair knew that the intelligence was false. We are firmly convinced that they did, and that they deliberately sought to manipulate whatever information came their way in order to exaggerate the "threat" to Britain posed by Iraq. We have no doubt that, one way or another, the government and its hired agents like Campbell, leaned on the Security forces to obtain "evidence" which, if it was not downright lies, was at least partial, shaky and unreliable.

This was then presented to Parliament and the British people as absolutely reliable and incontrovertible evidence backed up by the most reliable sources – our own British Intelligence – "the finest in the world" (just like our public transport, health service and education). In fact the conduct of the JIC over Iraq presents a lamentable spectacle. Either the JIC knew that the whole thing about WMDs was rubbish, in which case they are rogues, or they did not know, in which case they are fools. Most probably they are both.

There is absolutely no doubt that all this "intelligence" was a pack of lies from start to finish. There was absolutely no reliable intelligence to back it up. This was confirmed recently by the declarations of the man who President Bush sent to Iraq to look for "weapons of mass destruction", the chairman of the Iraq Survey Group, David Kay. The whole rotten edifice of lies and distortions with which Bush and Blair stampeded their countries into war on false pretences has been blown sky high. In order to hide their bare backsides, these scoundrels now resort to all kinds of trickery and manoeuvres to confuse and disorient public opinion. The Hutton farce is only part of these manoeuvres.

Where did the intelligence come from? We know where it came from. It was mostly invented by Iraqi exiles in the USA who were desperate to push America into invading Iraq. They falsified the issue of "weapons of mass destruction" and then passed it on to the Republican Right – the lunatic elements that surround the President and constantly egg him on to his madder adventures. These then passed them off as good coin to the President, who, not being very bright, immediately accepted them as genuine and incontrovertible. Finally, George W. whispered in Tony's ear, and the latter, as usual, became more Papist than the Pope on WMDs.

The "intelligence" reports had nothing to do with the decision to invade Iraq. Bush and Blair had made up their mind to invade Iraq a long time ago. The quibbles of the UN were merely an irritating irrelevance to them – a hindrance to their "grand Plan". In Alice in Wonderland the Queen shouts: "Verdict first, trial afterwards!" A similar logic was pursued by B and B to drag the American and British people into a criminal war. We know there were people in the intelligence services of both Britain and the USA who were worried about this. David Kelly was one of them. But the central point is that the decision to go to war had already been made long ago, and Bush and Blair were only concerned with softening up public opinion to prepare for it.

These facts are of primary importance to answer the questions posed by the Hutton inquiry, yet not one of them feature in the report. Why? Because, like the football manager we mentioned at the beginning, Blair deliberately gave the Hutton inquiry extremely narrow terms of reference, limiting it to dealing with the causes of the death of Dr. Kelly, and excluding the central question of "weapons of mass destruction" and whether the invasion of Iraq was justified.

If you ask the right question you usually come up with the right answer. If you ask the wrong question you will inevitably come up with the wrong answer. Moreover, the way a question is posed can itself determine the answer. Not satisfied with the extremely narrow terms of reference imposed by the government, Lord Hutton then chose an even narrower interpretation.

Lord Hutton simply ignored the crucial question of whether Mr Blair took Britain to war in Iraq on a false prospectus. He ruled that the intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was beyond his terms of reference. After that the whole inquiry was a case of Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark. By so narrowly defining his remit (which he did not have to do), Hutton took a decisive step in the direction desired by the government. Even so, the one-sided nature of his final report shocked many observers. Blair is now dancing for joy, but his euphoria is misplaced. The Independent commented: "Blair's triumphalism is mistaken: this unbalanced report does not vindicate his decision to go to war." The execrable Hutton report will not make the issue of his criminal Iraq policy go away. The stage will be set for new explosions and crises.

The onslaught on the BBC

While treating the government, the civil service and the intelligence community with kid gloves, Hutton lambasted the BBC mercilessly. In his 740-page report he said that the BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan's allegation that the Government had "sexed up" its dossier on Iraqi weapons and included intelligence it knew to be probably wrong or questionable was "unfounded". He criticised as "defective" the BBC management system which allowed the reporter to make his claims on Radio 4's Today programme and said the BBC governors should have investigated the Government's complaint about his story more fully.

The announcement of the Hutton report immediately led to a vicious campaign against the BBC. The Blairites were baying for blood. These creatures are not only greedy for power and fat salaries. They wish to enjoy their power and privileges undisturbed by public inspection and control. This is particularly true of the notorious "spin doctors" – that pack of unelected careerists who have fastened their teeth on the Labour Movement as a vehicle for personal advancement and a road to lucrative jobs in government.

Under the regime of Tony Blair, parliamentary democracy has been steadily emptied of any content it may have once possessed. Power has passed from parliament to the cabinet and from the cabinet to a tiny clique of unelected officials – the notorious "spin doctors" whose sole concern is to manipulate public opinion and silence press criticism of the government, thereby protecting their own substantial interests.

Chief among this army of greedy carpetbaggers is Alastair Campbell, a man characterised in equal measure by thrusting ambition, over-confidence, political illiteracy and a bullying temperament. The great "crime" of Andrew Gilligan was to partially expose the role of Campbell in these manipulations. Seething with resentment against the BBC for daring to question his role in government (which, by the way is absolutely unconstitutional), he has done his best to whip up an atmosphere of Macarthyite witch-hunting against the BBC which threatens to further erode what is left of the freedom of speech and the press in Blair's Britain.

Under the remorseless pressure of this pack of Blairite bloodhounds, the BBC has been left reeling. Visibly shocked at the viciousness of the attack, the BBC bosses beat a hasty retreat. Greg Dyke, the corporation's director general, said: "The BBC does accept that certain key allegations reported by Andrew Gilligan on the Today programme on 29 May last year were wrong and we apologise for them." But apologies are not what Blair and his bully-boy Campbell are after. They are motivated by petty spite and vindictiveness and they want to terrorise and cow the BBC so that never again will it attempt to shed light on the obscure operations of the government spin machine. There was a deafening chorus of ministers, ex-ministers, MPs and Alastair Campbell, for BBC heads to roll. Heads did roll.

Gavyn Davies (a multi-millionaire thanks to his career with the investment bank Goldman Sachs, and therefore a typical Blairite) was appointed chairman of the BBC in 2001. This was itself a blatant attempt to secure political control of the BBC, since Davies was a supporter of New Labour and a personal friend of several Party leaders. But unfortunately, Davies did not act as they expected. Probably he was stung by Tory accusations that he was too close to New Labour, and therefore he made no attempt to muzzle investigative journalists like Andrew Gilligan, who made it their business to ask awkward questions and shed light on the dark corners of government. This became particularly irksome to Blair during the Iraq war, when Campbell accused the BBC (falsely) of an anti-government bias.

For these reasons, Gavyn Davies had to go. The Blair-Campbell cabal could never forgive him for his "betrayal". He duly fell upon his sword immediately after the inquiry. However, he did not go altogether quietly. The attack on Gilligan's report about the Iraq dossier was, he said, merely the latest episode of an anti-BBC campaign co-ordinated by the Prime Minister's then director of communications, Alastair Campbell.

Mr Davies said: "The board reiterates that the BBC's overall coverage of the war and the political issues surrounding it, has been entirely impartial and it emphatically rejects Mr Campbell's claim that large parts of the BBC had an agenda against the war."

He made it quite clear that he questioned the results of the inquiry. He asked: "Is it clearly possible to reconcile Lord Hutton's bald conclusions on the production of the September 2002 dossier with the balance of evidence that was presented to him during his own inquiry?"

He also asked: "Are his conclusions on restricting the use of unverifiable sources in British journalism based on sound law and, if applied, would they constitute a threat to the freedom of the press in this country?"

At least Mr Davies, whose fortune is an estimated £150m, will not miss the £80,000 salary his four-day-a-week BBC job paid. His resignation was soon followed by that of the director general Greg Dyke, who is also the BBC's editor-in-chief. Mr Dyke accepted responsibility for the report, but that did not mean that he "could or should" have known before transmission that it contained errors.

The remorseless pressure on the BBC has already borne fruit. The BBC governors, instead of defending the corporation, immediately capitulated, issuing a grovelling apology to the government. The corporation has announced that any reporter with a controversial story - preferably transcribed in full in his or her notebook - will have to ensure it does not clash with complaints and compliance procedures being drawn up under the aegis of the newly appointed deputy director general Mark Byford.

This is already a measure that will inhibit the work of investigative journalists. Anecdotal evidence suggests that producers are no longer happy to use unscripted two-way interviews on the most controversial stories. If this kind of thing continues, the last pretence of an independent BBC will have gone up in smoke. The reactionaries will feel more secure to pursue their anti-working class policies, free from the last elements of democratic scrutiny and restraint.

For a Labour Movement Inquiry!

Is any of this of interest to the Labour Movement? Some will ask this question. And of course, the so-called "independence" of the BBC was always very relative, partial and conditional. In the last analysis, the television and the newspapers will always defend the existing order. Yes, all this is perfectly true. But the working class – above all in Britain – has always been in the first line of the struggle for democratic rights. It is in the interests of the working class to achieve the maximum amount of democracy because this will give us the broadest scope to fight for socialism.

We will therefore fight against any attempt to restrict democratic rights. Yes, the freedom of expression is always partial, conditional and restricted – like all other rights under capitalism. But it is not in our interests as a class to see it still further restricted.

Among rank and file journalists at the BBC and beyond there is growing anger at Lord Hutton's blatant one-sidedness and the assault on press freedom. All honest journalists are indignant at this new attempt to muzzle and tame investigative journalism and bring the BBC under government control. There were spontaneous walkouts by journalists at the BBC in protest at Hutton. That is the way to do it! If the TUC was worth its salt, there should have been a national wave of strikes and demonstrations against this monstrous whitewash and scarcely veiled threat to the rights of journalists.

On this question, the Labour Movement should not be neutral. We know that under the capitalist system there can be no such thing as a genuinely free press. We know that the vast majority of the newspapers and television channels are owned and controlled by a handful of super-rich moguls. We also know that the much-vaunted "independence" of the BBC is a very relative affair, and that in the last analysis the TV, radio and press will come down against the working class and in favour of the status quo.

Hutton's hatchet job on the BBC could have far-reaching implications, not only for democracy but for culture. Already Tessa Jowell the Culture Secretary is warning that the Hutton report will be "taken into account" when the BBC's charter comes up for renewal. Since it is already underway, this is nothing more than crude and undisguised blackmail.

The Blair clique – doubtless in cahoots with their wealthy big business pals who are anxious to get their paws on British television – are clearly toying with the idea of a "radical reform" of the BBC. There are people who would love to break up the state-owned BBC and open up British television to the kind of "free-market" jungle we see in the USA. Until recently the BBC, for all its faults, maintained quite high standards of broadcasting.

Tony Blair makes no secret of his admiration for the "free market" and all things American. We are now threatened with the Americanisation of British television, with the attendant collapse of cultural standards and an invasion of commercial interests of the kind so familiar in Italy, where the gangster Berlusconi controls the media and uses his control to defend his right wing government. This would be a blow against both democratic and cultural standards. It must be decisively rebuffed.

The working class is the class that is most interested in defending democracy and culture. In the period of its senile decay, monopoly capitalism threatens both. Bourgeois democracy is increasingly being emptied of any content it once possessed. Democratic rights are being whittled away one by one. The Labour Movement will ignore this threat at its peril.

The Labour Movement must vigorously oppose the witch hunting of journalists and defend the freedom of expression. It must conduct its own inquiry into the Iraq war and the conduct of Blair and Bush. It must expose the machinations of the clique of careerists who have hijacked the Labour Party and led it down a disastrous path. And it must purge the Labour Movement of corrupt, dishonest and alien elements and return to the socialist road.

London, January 30, 2004.