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Thanks to friend and foe alike for helping yesterday go by

Posted on 13 January 2010 | 8:01am

First of all thanks to the friends and also total strangers who offered support in various ways yesterday, not least across the web.

Fair to say there was loads of the usual abuse that comes whenever anyone goes out and defends British policy on Iraq, but there was also a big expression of the counter view, which rarely gets airtime but which is there nonetheless. The Labour Party’s media monitoring department also told me that even on the main websites normally totally hostile there was a good smattering of support.

Among the private messages I got in advance were some from former Iraqi exiles I mentioned in my evidence, some of whom are now back in Iraq and say despite all the problems their country without Saddam is a better place and one where democracy is beginning alongside, by their standards, normal life.

I am amazed too how many people, though they know I don’t do God, sent me passages from the Bible. As I walked through the media scrum on the way in, and on the way out, and listened to some of the overblown and agenda driven commentary, I was glad to have read in the morning an email with Psalm 56 attached … ‘What can mortal man do to me?’ it asks ‘All day long they twist my words, they are always plotting to harm me. They conspire, they lurk, they watch my steps, eager to take my life…’ I never detected a death plot among the British media, but the rest of it sums up the Westminster lobby to a tee.

And no, I’m still not doing God, but as Neil Kinnock once said to me, I sometimes think it’s a shame we’re atheists, because some of the best lines are in the good book.

It was my fourth Iraq-related inquiry, after the Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry into ‘the case for war,’ the Intelligence and Security Committee on the use of intelligence, and the Hutton Inquiry into the death of David Kelly.

This one was in many ways harder to prepare for, partly because of the passage of time, partly because I am no longer in government, though I did have access to papers when preparing, but mainly because though I had been given some indication of the areas to be covered, I knew I could and in all probability would be asked about anything and everything.

I was well served by the Cabinet Office team which is in charge of the archive, and spent part of the Christmas break reading official papers. But a combination of man flu and the feeling at times of being overwhelmed by the sheer volume means I did most of my preparation at home. The inquiry website was a huge help in that I could read the evidence of previous witnesses, which helped not only with memory but also with deciding which papers it would then be helpful to see. Then finally I compiled a list of main points I wanted to make, and a detailed chronological narrative.

My book was helpful too, in that there were reflections and detail in there – as was clear from the questioning – which was not necessarily in the archive. The defence chiefs’ early emphasis on aftermath planning, for example, my exchanges with Ambassador Bremer about the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, also specific observations made by Tony Blair and other leaders and ministers at key moments.

There were several references in my diary too to private notes sent by TB to George Bush, so why on earth the media were presenting this as some great new revelation says more about their addiction to the whooshery of ‘breaking news’ journalism than it does about the diplomatic exchanges at the time. A quick flick through last night took me to Page 684. Bear with me.

TB was working on a long note for Bush on the plane, and I left him to it and had a long chat with Jack, going through all the difficult areas. He was worried just how far out on a limb TB was pushing himself, but was still totally on board for where we were. The main message in TB’s note, when you boiled it down, was that there was a lot of support for the aims of the campaign, and we totally believed the policy was right, but there was real concern at the way the US put over their views and intentions, and that rested in people’s fears about their perceived unilateralism. It was a long and detailed note, going through all the difficult issues and questions, but that was the blunt political message in there. He was urging him to do more to rebuild with Germany, then Russia, then France, and saying he should seize the moment for a new global agenda, one to unite the world rather than divide it. He said that a distorted view of the US was clouding everything – look at how much cynicism there was at their efforts in the Middle East. We had to break that down. Why had Mexico and Chile gone the other way? Why did so much of Europe? It was about other things too. In the end he wrote a 12 page note that was both subtle and blunt at the same time. It was a good piece of work and if Bush took it on board would have a good effect.

Then on the next day

GWB had clearly read TB’s note and was going through it virtually line by line. He was fairly strong on MEPP. He said he knew there would have to be a reckoning in their relationships with others. He was on pretty confident form. He seemed a lot more on top of the detail and in the discussion on the complexities of the Arab world seemed less one dimensional than before. TB’s note was fairly detached but saying that in essence the US had a choice about what it wanted to do with its power. They had to face up to that choice. The power was a given but how it was used was a series of choices.

There are plenty of other references. I assume all these people parading as experts on me, on TB, on Iraq, have read The Blair Years. Quite a useful source I’d have thought. If not, it is still available in all good book shops and online. Oh, and I will shortly be launching a scheme to use the diaries to raise funds for the Labour Party.

I also caught some of the discussion about the ‘revelation’ that TB spoke regularly to GB about Iraq policy. The commentary on this was even more ludicrous. GB was chancellor at the time, you may recall. He was a member of the war cabinet. Again, The Blair Years records a morning when he takes me aside to complain about the way TB allowed ministers to drone on too much and show division in front of the military.

I caught one BBC guy saying there were serious electoral implications from me saying GB supported the policy. ‘Prime minister who was member of war cabinet at time of invasion supported invasion’. Shock horror. Not.

I would also point out that every aspect of this controversial decision had been played out at great volume and in great detail prior to the 2005 election, which we won comfortably.

I have always believed – on this and on most parts of the Labour record – that if we are strong and confident in defending the decisions made, and promoting the benefits that flowed from them, all the while clear that perfection never comes and mistakes can be made, that is an essential component of a winning strategy going forward.

A small point to clear up. You may have seen my phone pinged with a text when I sat down for the second session. I had remembered to turn it off at the start of the day, but forgot to do so again after using it in the break. Sir Lawrie Freedman asked if it was TB. It wasn’t. It was a football manager who has been feeding in a few thoughts to assist Burnley in the search for a new manager. Not Sir Alex, though he has been helpful as he always is to other clubs in the kind of difficulty you get into when a manager walks out mid-season. Amid his help, mind, has been the occasional reminder that we are playing United on Saturday, Burnley haven’t got a manager and his lot have gone to Qatar to prepare because it’s too cold at Carrington! How the other half live.

I will give the papers a miss today, knowing that most will follow their own agenda pretty much regardless of anything said yesterday, and I didn’t see the news last night because we went to see The Misanthrope. I loved it. Bit of a split in the family about Keira Knightley but I thought she and Damian Lewis were terrific. And I could not help thinking that she would be good as Maya, the heroine of my novel out in a few weeks. A couple of film-makers have already expressed an interest and I would ask them to note this match made in heaven. Kate W would be good too, mind. And can Penelope Cruz do a passable West London lower middle class accent that changes with fame? Maybe not. Hardback copy in the post to Keira.

Thanks again to the friends and foes alike who helped yesterday go by, with a special word for Mark Bennett, my former assistant in Number 10 and later at the Labour party, who put together that big blue briefing folder you may have seen, and my son Rory who made sure I didn’t leave it anywhere and kept me amused and calm during the breaks. I’d been expecting one break, not the three that materialised in a longer session than anticipated. But I feel I made the points I wanted to, and I hope I helped the inquiry with its continuing research and analysis.

  • David

    I am not involved in party politics but do take an interest in both current matters and, as a hobby, read political biographies and autobiographies. So, I must concur with you – I don’t think I heard anything yesterday that was new. I am getting even more dismayed with the ‘fourth estate’ – I guess I may even have less respect for them than I have for those whinging politicians who complain about expenses!! It’s been clear all along that you worked with passion with TB, supported your party with gusto, and, I guess, alienated some of the press in that time. I wonder how they behaved in the playground when younger? The only fault I can lay at your door, is your continued passion for…….

    Burnley!

    When you see the light – you’ll support the greater team

    – PNE!

    Look after yourself – you were looking a little stressed yesterday.

    David

  • quietzapple

    Well done! Your truth shames the twisters whose principal aims are to hang Tony Blair and end Labour Government by any means they can find.

  • grahamh

    I agree with very little of what you and TB did on Iraq, but I have much respect with the way you have conducted yourself since being out of office – including the way you handled yourself yesterday.

  • jlocke13

    in the light of TB’s statement that he would have gone to war even without evidence of wmd, it is obvious this was about regime change and not disarmament and as such was illegal….the wmd 40 minutes away statement was expressly designed to mislead and to ensure parliament voted for the war….

  • Malcolm Martin

    I watched your appearance live on the Chilcot inquiry website (which is a very good site btw, nicely designed). I then watched the news last night. It was like two different events. They are as you say addicted to sensation and immediate pop analysis. Real news would have been if you had said no, you did not support Blair. No, Blair did not consult with Bush in writing as well as verbally. No, Gordon Brown was not involved in the decision. Yes, of course I changed the intelligence. It was like watching them performing in a panto where you were the vilain and they had to make all these boo hiss sounds. Trust me Alastair, the public are onto it and despite their wall of noise you came over as clear, principled, passionate and honest. I speak as someone who went on the march against the war

  • Holly Graham

    Why do the BBC never show interviews with Iraqis? People who were brutalised and oppressed and are now free? Why do they only speak to British people who have never been to Iraq and care only about trying to bury an excellent Labour government? Good luck Alastair and please put the zeal and communications skills on display yestrday into full time use on the campaign trail

  • John Jamieson

    Go on admit it, God is in there somewhere?

  • Fran Mellor

    Loved Keira in Bend it like Beckham, and it is that Keira rather than the later incarnation you want I think. Having seen the cover though she would need a lot of make up. Looking forward to it. Loved All In The Mind

  • Mark

    Problem still remains that there was no attempt to ‘correct’ the 45 min claim (which was completely wrong and obviously very influential), citing the defence that you can’t correct every story in every paper. Yet AC was happy to storm into the C4 news studio to ‘correct’ Gilligan’s dodgy dossier story which was actually mostly correct.

    The message was manipulated no matter which way you look at it, and turning on the BBC was a massive smokescreen.

    Very effective at these hearings though.

  • s chapman

    Kind of wary posting a comment on here after realising how matey AC is with John Scarlett and the intelligence community…beware everybody !
    Ridiculously egotistical rambling denial…well done for keeping up for 5 hrs sir….

  • David Banks

    Watched the almost-live coverage on News24 and thought you did well, although I don’t think it was the toughest cross-examination you’ll ever have encountered.

    Shame we didn’t hear more from you when in Government, rather than second-rate ministers who were less than convincing.

  • Hugh Jeavons

    Who was the manager? is it Prem League? If so can we get a book going? I’m going joint favourites Allardyce (your mate I read) 5-1, and Redknapp 5-1 (you play golf with him and Jamie I read) McLeish and Moyes 6-1, (a Jock friend of Fergie will be a friend of yours) Steve Bruce 10-1, O’Neill 15-1, Wenger 25-1 and Benitez 40-1 (enemy of Fergie will be enemy of yours)Ancelotti 50-1 (not aware you know him) . Might have a cheeky little punt on Pulis. He looks the sort you would like. I’m a Stoke fan. Hope you stay up. Real club real fans and real fans at clubs like mine hate what Coyle did. Goes on about it being ‘a football decision.’ Yeah, which has decimated the coaching staff of a football club and he couldn’t give a shit cos he’s gone to a different club. The football decision doesn’tjust affect him and his new club

  • Chris

    I really thought you did fantastically yesterday. As an 18 year old, I must admit I have grown up with the media barrage of criticism against you and Labour in general and at the time, ignorant of the facts, sucked it all in. Since becoming more interested in politics however, I’ve taken the time to find out more and read your diaries (which are brilliant by the way), and now have nothing but respect for you. Blair was undoubtedly one of the best Prime Ministers this country has ever had, and the United Kingdom has entered this new decade a far better to live in because of the work he and you did. Apologies, all this is slightly irrelevant to the inquiry and your latest blog post, but I wished to convey the message that there are many people out here who don’t believe the media spin and lies and genuinely respect you for the exceptional work you have done.

  • Ela

    I was against the war in Iraq. I do not expect anything of great interest form the inquiry because I never perceived the WMD as the main reason for entering Iraq and that is why I personally find the whole discussion irrelevant.Having read your diaries (after watching In The Loop which I greatly enjoyed I thought it was a good idea to get a different perspective) I think I have a better understanding of the your prime minister’s motives. It still has not convinced me the decisions were correct, though. However, the British press did an awful lot to make me try and see your side of the argument with all this incessant repetition of personal attacks on you. I wonder if some of these journalists don’t see or just don’t care that even for a foreigner like myself (following the whole thing online) it looks more than anything like a personal war. All the best to you and sorry about my English:)

  • jane18

    I have kept an eye on a lot of the enquiry watching witnesses of interest and reading transcripts. I watched all of your evidence and was astonished at how aggressive the morning session was compared to previous hearings. I have to say that your responses to the wide ranging questions were excellent, straightforward, sensible, utterly believable and understandable. The comment from some of the journalists later were astonishing. I cannot believe that we listened to the same testimony. I was angry later when a journalist who used the term “sexed up dossier” at the time was on a Russian news channel accusing you of lying. Your testimony was briefly discussed on Newsnight with Lord Faulkner giving a sound defence of your input. Ming Campbell was more interested in his own view (and getting on TV) and deviated from the testimony heard that day. The newspaper review later was to be expected with outrageous headlines – you are right not to even look at the papers today.

    I was very proud of how you stood up yesterday – well done. I hope you are unconcerned about many of your nasty former associates in our great British press. I find it difficult to understand why Tony Blair and you are constantly villified in some newspapers. I can only put it down to jealousy – how dare someone from the left of British politics be successful and how dare they make money. Is it any wonder that many of us no longer buy newspapers?

  • Nick

    As for support from Labour people, I would refer Alistair Campbell to Labour Foreign Secretary Robin Cook’s ex Adviser David Clark, speaking on the Today programme earlier.

    Speaking of ACs role in the build up to war, Clark said;

    “Some mistakes are so enormous as to effectively disqualify that person from public life thereafter”.

    Let that stand as Campbell’s epitaph.

  • peter

    The UK should never have gone to Iraq regardless of Campbells’ protestations. We are not the worlds police force deciding on regime changes at our whim.Hans Blix & David Kelly should have been listened to not the voice of some tired soho media mincer.He and Blair may protest their innocence but the history books will tell a different story.

  • Salmondnet

    Your response was as expected but unconvincing. It may be possible to accept, though with considerable difficulty, that in the run up to the invasion you believed in the probity of your actions on the basis that it is OK to mislead in pursuit of a greater good. The fact that, with the benefit of hindsight, you still don’t see what a disaster this was, is the real worry. The fact that Saddam Hussain was a tyrant, one among many in the world, does not diminish the fact that this was the most ill-conceived and, in relation to the post invasion planning, worst executed foriegn policy decision since Suez.

    Tony Blair at least has the grace to look like a man who no longer sleeps at night. If you still can, you must have a hole were youe conscience ought to be.,

  • Carl Gardner

    You’re quite right about short memories about Iraq, and made a good point about opposition to the war in 2003 being a substantial body of opinion, but far from overwhelming, as is often implied now. I seem to remember polls suggesting more people backed Tony Blair than opposed him, at the time. Of course many of them would say they felt misled – but that’s another point.

    I noticed one incredible example of this short memory syndrome when, in 2006 I think, the Times published an article by a leading QC complaining that Lord Goldsmith’s advice on the war “has still not been published”. That was a year or so after the advice had, in fact, been published. People had got so used to banging on about the “cover up” of the legal advice, I suppose, that its actual publication passed them by.

  • Colin

    I was oddly amused that both the BBC and ITN felt someone with Gilligan’s massive, throbbing, credibility on pre-war intelligence was the right man to offer analysis on your appearance before the inquiry.

  • fred.broughton

    i met you a couple of times during your No.10 tenure.
    So I watched yur full evedence,yesterday. I was convinced of your commitment to your role and I believed both Tony Blairs and your position on the Iraq Pre and post war detail.
    That position is not very fashionable much easier to express glib accusations of lies and conspiracy.
    Blair took a position on the conduct of Saddam and decided to act. I applaud those who act decisively. Alastair,when you do feel under the strain of accusation, Remember there are people that do understand and agree .
    Well done. there are many silent people that support you.

  • barrie north

    well done for sticking to your guns yesterday your loyalty to the greatest Prime Minster this country has had since Atlee does you enormous credit.

  • Jane A

    I’m trying not to repeat myself (elsewhere) or many of the others on here but it needs saying that you were on-form, unruffleable, clear and convincing. Well done and to Mark B too for (ahem) hands-on support.

  • Brian Tomkinson

    Did you really give the papers a miss today? It’s hard to believe but just in case you did, as you expected, they were not complimentary. Thought you would like to know.

  • Alan Cobbold

    ‘The Misanthrope’ – how appropriate!

  • Wilson

    what to expect from a person who was once a mediocre journalist of a tabloid news paper and a spin doctor …!!! Even I felt questioner were worst than you AC
    good luck and keep up the good work of spinning!

  • C Burke

    I thought you did really well yesterday.
    I’ve several friends who were involved in the invasion as Marines. The stories they tell about what they found when they arrived just tear your heart out.

    One thing did amuse me yesterday – the little bald man who kept falling asleep all morning behind you then proceeded to pull angry poison dwarf faces for the remainder of the day. Fantastic!

  • Em

    Well done Alastair. What you said needs saying again and again. I’m sick and tired of the wise-after-the-event brigade. We all know what they would be saying if their had been WMDs and Saddam used them because nothing had been done. Whether we agree with him or not we should say well done to Tony Blair for doing the unpopular thing because he believed it was right. And I agree, Psalm 56 is great!

  • Trevor Malcolm Portsmouth Hampshire

    ON FOR AN HONEST SPIN, TODAY
    —————————-

    In support of what Jane Appleton says, published below, but abit puzzled why the sentiments expressed here on your blog, do not always reflect or convey the comment left on your FaceBook – light-hearted there, sometimes heavy-going here. Or maybe, that’s how it’s meant to work

    Still, as my hero Sir Winston Churchill said ” … keep on buggering on … ” – quite so, sir. Will do, love

    It’s as long ago as last May you were crowned “Mind Champion of the Year” by the most honourable Lord Melvyn Bragg, for your ongoing and increasingly substantial contributions to mental health awareness

    Yet, even on that occasion, your good friend Paul Farmer, Mind CEO, acknowledged to a Mind member privately that you ” … seemed like a Nice Boy … ”

    Quite so again, Alastair, darling

    And seeing you perform in the witness box, so to speak, thus has it turned out. Finest example of integrity

    Of course, your shift in choice of 100% pure silk luxury brand gentleman’s ties from Princess Diana’s favourite man-gift (Hermes range) to the more sophisticated, delicately-patterned Zegna of New Bond Street you wear now, yes, I feel sure that, too, has played its part: just in time for you to look at your most sophisticated best, when distinguished novelist, Scribe Campbell, sets off to promote the book “Maya”

    Need only look at the photo of you published in this month’s “Disability Now” magazine to conjure that much. You look pleased, proud and honoured to be handing out the fictional programming award with Cerrie Burnell to “EastEnders” for their realistic portrayal of disability. More “pro bono” contribution from you, sir – just as deeply appreciated, thank you. Plus, more gentlemen’s fashion news to follow, for certain

    TM —————

    ———————

  • Stan Rosenthal

    Heartening to see this amount of support for Alastair’s terrific performance at the inquiry. You can show the same kind of support for Tony by signing the online Ban Blair-baiting petition (which can be googled under that name). Signatures are all the more important now given that TB is due to give evidence to the inquiry in the next few weeks.

  • Donald Stavert

    Alastair,
    Though you handled the inquiry well and were a credit to TB and his administration. I wish he was back in charge. cheers DS

  • Kieran

    Respect to you.