Alastair Campbell emerged from that kind of shining silver limo more accustomed to transporting the likes of Jordan and Paris Hilton than former directors of communications. He got their entourage too: a vicious ‘pap’ scrum so tight that The Chilcot Inqury’s latest star witness required the assistance of four burly coppers to get to the doors of the QEII Conference Centre, temporarily affecting the exaggerated swagger of a TV detective as he did so.
Seven years after the UK first deployed troops in Iraq and more than a year, indeed, since we withdrew, Mr. Campbell is still answering questions about the preparations for war. They are the same questions he has answered before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and the Hutton Inquiry and Lord Butler; about sexing-up dossiers and the decision to go to war.
On Tuesday, the latest run of a bloody pantomime played just south of the West End and entry was free so I decided to go along and sit in the cheap seats to watch four hours of classic Campbell villany. It took him just three minutes to mention the damaging role of “the media” in the build-up to war – a theme to which he clings like a comfort blanket. It took a full two hours to get to the September 2002 dossier about which Mr. Campbell has been saying same thing for so long: namely, that he played no role in its writing nor was able to influence its substance – contrary to the claims of some journalists.
Since 2003, however, we have learned that Mr. Campbell drafted the foreword, advised the official author and Chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee Sir John Scarlett on “presentational aspects”, and even chaired the meetings on that dossier, so it’s a tough sell. Even so, Mr. Campbell stuck to his guns; even dismissing any line of questioning which points out that no chemical or biological weapons actually existed as "hypothetical”.
Other oddities included Mr. Campbell’s description of the “45 minute claim” which "wasn’t that big a deal" (I seem to remember it was) and his repeated references to Tony Blair as Prime Minister in the present tense.
At the point at which the former director of communications said, "I know I have a reputation for worrying about headlines: the truth is I didn’t and never did," he lost me. The face of Adam Boulton, the Sky News political sage, dropped like a brick-shaped blancmange too.
My guess is that Mr. Campbell will reprise all this nonsense for decades to come. Every book tour and TV interview will always finish with “just one last question about Iraq” and he will don the panto wig one last time to talk of “Tony” as if they were still both in No. 10. But while all this was Labour’s collective fantasy in 2003, the collective is dwindling. And, as a result, Mr. Campbell will seem increasingly peculiar.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated January 9, 2010