Peter Oborne

Scapegoating Hoon was a bit like solving a crime by arresting the village idiot

Scapegoating Hoon was a bit like solving a crime by arresting the village idiot

For a long period in the late 1990s I worked for the Daily Express, a paper which vigorously supported the New Labour government. Once every six months or so Alastair Campbell, sometimes accompanied by Tony Blair, would turn up to give us our marching orders. At the end of one of these meetings I asked Campbell whether the rumours that he kept a diary were true. He moved his head away, did not look me in the eye. ‘No,’ he said. This is the trouble with Campbell. Though not without charm, or animal cunning or plausibility, he is untrustworthy. The extracts from his journal suddenly produced for the inspection of the Hutton inquiry last week must be treated with suspicion. Lord Hutton would be advised to check that no material was removed, inserted, changed or embellished. Even if the diary record has not been altered in any way, it should still be read as a partial record. As the Hutton inquiry draws to its close, the government’s strategy looks clear. Geoff Hoon is to be destroyed. Campbell himself will sustain a certain amount of damage: he can well afford to do so now that he is leaving Downing Street. Tony Blair himself will emerge as a saintly though impotent figure, restraining a slavering Campbell and Hoon in a doomed attempt to ensure that Dr David Kelly be treated properly. That is the conventional wisdom at the end of a week when the Hutton inquiry – pursued with so much more vigour, dispatch, competence and economy than the lumbering Saville investigation into Bloody Sunday – concludes its public business. The Financial Times put it well: ‘The outlines of a possible government exit strategy from the mire of Hutton allegations, freeing Tony Blair but sinking Geoff Hoon, finally began to emerge.’ There is an identity of interest between the media, demanding propitiation in the shape of a Cabinet minister, and Downing Street, which needs a sacrificial victim and seems to take the view that Hoon will do nicely.

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