A public school housemaster once described the difficulties, and amusements, of explaining the principles of school justice to ill-behaved youths. A boy would arrive in his study, complaining that he had been unfairly punished by Mr Snooks. The housemaster would remind him that he had spent the entire term making a thorough nuisance of himself in Mr Snooks’s lessons. If this detention might not have been strictly merited, what about the other 20 which he had somehow evaded? But boys were invariably deaf to such reasoning; they would merely slouch away with a weight of grievance on their shoulders.
Just like Alastair Campbell now; he has responded to recent events by wallowing in truculence and self-pity. Of course he was innocent of inserting the 45 minutes to WMD passage in a joint intelligence committee document. John Scarlett of the JIC and Richard Dearlove of MI6 – both outstanding public servants – would never have permitted it. Yet even if Mr Campbell is innocent on this occasion, that is a matter for irony, not sympathy.
Earlier in his career, Alastair Campbell spent several happy years halfway up Robert Maxwell’s fundament. That unlovely vantage point not only influenced his entire approach to politics. As he has been, in effect, deputy prime minister since 1997 – John Prescott, the nominal holder of that post, is to brainpower what Alastair Campbell is to integrity – it has also corrupted the Blair government. Hence a further irony. Though Tony Blair has always been reluctant to acknowledge any moral debts to his predecessors in the Labour party, the resulting vacuum is being filled by a large, pervasive, posthumous presence: Bob Maxwell.
The reasons which Tony Blair has given for going to war with Iraq are about as reliable as one of Mr Maxwell’s share issue prospectuses. This has one unfortunate consequence.