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Rebutting the good and the bad, and support from football fans

Posted on 17 January 2010 | 12:01pm

We only get The Observer on a Sunday, and I fear that Gaby Hinsliff and Nick Cohen will be going into hiding after their articles today. Sorry, but you just can’t say these things!!

Ms Hinsliff has written what even my other half (who is used to reading unpleasant things about me) has described as a very friendly, quite flattering and insightful profile of me. In the media village, let us admit the truth here, one is not allowed to write friendly, flaterring or insightful things about me. One is only allowed to state and restate a negative view, because that is the game those in the village like to play.

If the reaction of the people at Old Trafford yesterday is anything to go by, and I do not just mean fellow Burnley supporters, then the negativity with which the press and TV sought to coat my evidence to the Iraq inquiry appears not to have got through. Media opinion and public opinion should never be confused. ‘We hate the papers as much as you do,’ one said. ‘Cos they never write about us unless we’re in trouble.’ But I would like above all to record the comment of a woman who stopped me as we were leaving the ground, who said her son was in the Army, she was incredibly proud of what he did in Iraq, and is now about to do in Afghanistan, and glad that someone had stood up for what we did.

There were similar if less emotional reactions as I made my way out through the United fans too. I got one hostile comment all day, and that was about football.

In an attempt to help restore Ms Hinsliff in the eyes of the negative media majority, I should say there are a number of points I could rebut, but only one that I want to. As she says, I have a novel to sell in two weeks’ time so I must correct her when she says my first novel, All In The Mind, got ‘stinking reviews.’ I think if she had inserted ‘one or two’ before ‘stinking’, that would have been accurate.

But I am sitting here looking at the back cover of Maya, my new book, complete with a loving front cover endorsement from Piers Morgan, which has a collection of superb reviews for All In The Mind. Even the ghastly Mail on Scumday is on there with ‘eloquent and touching … a triumphant exploration of the imperfection of heroism.’

From The Financial Times to the Irish Times, the Times to the TLS, the Mirror to the Guardian and the Indepedent, there are reviews that most first time authors would give their right hand for. Maya plug of the day over.

As for Nick Cohen, he has written a piece seeking to draw attention to the conspiracy theorising that surrounds so much of the debate about Iraq. Cohen has written consistently on this theme for some time. People say they want the truth, but so many of the critics and conspiracy theorists only want those parts of the truth that fit their criticism or their conspiracy theory.

Whilst in rebuttal mode, I should like to say something about a story in The Sunday Telegraph – no we don’t get it but Sky and the BBC called me about it last night so I looked it up online – which says I was ‘forced to clarify’ my evidence to the inquiry.

I wasn’t forced to do anything. I decided to send a note to the inquiry, because I felt the transcript as sent to me for authentification risked giving a wrong impression.

The conspiracy theorists are already out commenting, but for the record, and trusting to the fair-mindedness of most of the people who come on here, I paste below both the exchange in question, and the addendum which is now on the inquiry website. The exchange relates to the foreword of the September 2002 dossier on Iraq’s WMD.

SIR RODERIC LYNE:  So you certainly still stand by the words “beyond doubt”?

MR ALASTAIR CAMPBELL:  I do, because at the time that was the judgment that he was led to make.  I would also stand by — I know that the Butler Report felt that it overstated things, to talk about “extensive” and    “detailed”, and so forth, and “authoritative”.  I stand by that as well, because I think the document had the      full authority of the Joint Intelligence Committee.  It was detailed, and it wasn’t just about the intelligence       that had come in in the last couple of days and I think  some of the caveats were in there. You could certainly make the point, as both you and Sir Lawrence have now done, that there could have been more in terms of the public presentation, putting over the case about why those caveats were important, but I think, ultimately, in terms of what the public would have taken out of it, it wouldn’t have made that much difference, because it was a cautiously put case.

SIR RODERIC LYNE:  So if the JIC assessments, when we are able, perhaps — I don’t know if we will be able to publish them, but certainly re-read them — were not to correspond to the phrase “beyond doubt”, and if members of the JIC — and we have already heard somebody who did serve on the JIC, Sir William Ehrman — were to say that “beyond doubt” was not a phrase that was justifiable, would you at that stage say that Parliament had been misled by the Prime Minister saying “beyond doubt”?


SIR RODERIC LYNE:  You wouldn’t?  Okay.  Thank you.

The note I sent to the inquiry after reading the transcript is as follows.

  • ‘My answer at page 9 line 20 of the afternoon session. Reading the transcript, it would appear that I am saying it would not matter if it transpired that JIC members had made clear at the time of the assessments, and in the preparation of his presentation of the September dossier to Parliament, that the Prime Minister was not entitled to make a judgement that the claims being made on WMD, in the relevant sentence from the foreword Sir Roderic Lyne read to me, were ‘beyond doubt.’ That is clearly not correct. Indeed I say elsewhere in my evidence that if Sir John Scarlett had said to the Prime Minister that he could not make the claims he did about WMD, the Prime Minister would have accepted that without question. I thought I was being asked whether, if it was not stated in the JIC assessments that the case as put by the Prime Minister was ‘beyond doubt’, would that mean he had misled Parliament? The reason I said ‘No, it wouldn’t’ is because, as I stated elsewhere in evidence, the PM would be entitled to make the judgement he did based on the assessments he saw and had had explained to him, and those words did not have to be in the assessments for him to make that statement. Reading the bald words on the page gives the wrong impression of what I was saying in response to what I thought I was being asked in a question which contained a number of points in parantheses, and I would be grateful of the opportunity to make that clear to the committee.’

There you go. I accept I could have tried to make the first sentence shorter, but I am writing this for the inquiry team, not a bunch of hacks likely to twist what it says regardless. Rebuttal over. First sunshine for ages out there, so the bike beckons. My weekly AOL blog on Burnley’s heroics at Manchester United, and Fergie’s wild claims to have dominated a match we should have won 4-3, will be posted shortly.

And thanks to Trevor Malcolm for advertising the Amazon rate for Maya. Oh, is that another plug?

  • Jimmy Mac

    Too modest Al … I was one of the ones singing ‘there’s only one Ali Campbell’ as you were going mental at the ref when Valencia should have been sent off. Nice to see the bastards are not getting you down

  • Hilary Pearse

    Nice piece in the Obs, which at least recognises your strengths rather than the usual one dimensional profile we see from most of the press, TV and radio. I thought it was wonderful to see someone stand up for themselves. We out here in the real world dislike and mistrust the media far more than we do politicians who at least believe in the main what they are saying

  • Pat Graham

    I watched every minute of your evidence after the event on the inquiry website. I had already seen the coverage on the news. It was like they had seen a different event. well done

  • Chris MacDonald

    Agree with the woman at your match. My brother is out in Afghanistan now and I am sick and tired only ever hearing about things when someone dies or something goes not quite right in the mind of the journalists. We have the best armed forces in the world and whether Iraq, Afghanistan or Northern Ireland – my brother has been to all three – we should all support them and be proud of what they have done and are doing day in day out

  • Robert Jackson

    While we are all in the mood to nail deliberately sowed misunderstandings, in the past few days there has been a BBC Radio 4 programme explaining politician-speak preceded by rather sarcastic jingly-jangly music.

    One of their pieces expressed sympathy with the Tory claim that they will be disadvantaged by the fact that the electorsl boundaries will not be reviewed before the 2010 general election – so that Tory voters who have moved out of the cities to the country will be voting to pile up larger majorities in constituencies that are safe Tory seats anyway.

    This is a reflection of the natural process of people moving around. Folk still a have a vote – they are on the electoral registers.

    What the article conveniently did not mention was the fact that in the days before the electoral rolls were updated throughout the year an election could be called just before the rolls were revised – so people who had moved home had moved away from their vote and, to all intents and purposes, were disenfranchised. Students, tenants and the like.

    And that’s what the Tories did before the 1992 general election by calling it in the April fighting it on the old registers.

    To my mind disenfranchiseng voters deliberately is immoral and that’s one of many reasons I am not a Tory.

  • Brian Hughes

    An amusing feature of conspiracy theorists is that so many of them also claim that the Labour Government is incapable of organising the proverbial event in a brewery. Quite how they can simultaneously think it capable of devising, enacting and maintaining a complex conspiracy involving scores of people is a mystery.

    It’s a shame that so many journalists have mortgages to pay and thus feel obliged to write what they think their proprietor would like to read. An amusing suggestion in the film “Thank you for smoking” is that the world would be less full of hype if more people rented.

    Perhaps there should be a licencing system for journalists. To keep one they would have to demonstrate they’d spent at least a week each month away from London speaking to people who weren’t in the media (a bit like the drivers’ miles requirement for hanging onto an HGV licence). Also they’d have to be renters…

  • olli issakainen

    The Iraq war had no precedent in international law. It was not a defensive war, nor was it fought to prevent genocide or ethnic cleansing. It was a war to prevent potential future terrorist attacks.
    In Chicago on 22 April 1999, Tony Blair made his famous speech. The Chicago doctrine was born. But was the Iraq war a just war? Was it legal?
    Since the treaty of Westphalia the thinking has been that nation-state sovereignty is of an utmost importance. This is backed by Article 2.7 of the Charter of the United Nations. But the UN Charter justifies intervention under Chapters VI and VII.
    What about the concept of humanitarian intervention? Sometimes the principle of non-intervention yields to the international responsibility to protect. It can be argued that Iraq was such a case as the sanctions were endangering lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
    Of course, costs and benefits of humanitarian intervention must be carefully calculated before any action.
    Barack Obama said in Oslo that make no mistake, Evil does exist in the world. And containment and deterrence do not work against terrorism.
    In my opinion Iraq was attacked because the neocons wanted to bring democracy to the area after 9/11. They were persuaded by a top academic that this could not be done peacefully.
    Whether this strategy will work remains to be seen. When asked about the French Revolution, Chinese PM Zhou Enlai replied that it was too early say. What we can say now is that many tactical mistakes have been made in Iraq.

  • Roy Roberts

    You handled the vultures very well Alistair in your appearance before the Iraq inquiry.What is it about the tabloid press that they think they have a right of access to the inner temple of government to get their story before they spin it to their own view?
    From your Faucon friend

  • S Evans

    We all hang our heads in shame. We should have done more to stop you all from the illegal war. The legacy of New Labour is nothing new, the worst of history, repeating itself.

    A young man so very sad with modern politics.

  • Henry McNeill

    Never mind all that politics Alastair, did you see the Arsenal match? And was it not wonderful to see Coyle lose his first game. His team lacked the skill or the fight of the ones he left behind. Just heard I got my ticket for the Reebok next Tuesday. I could ask you if you will be there but I think I know the answer. Your support for all the causes you are behind is an inspiration, but for me the three that matter are Labour, Burnley and mental health campaigning. Keep it up and keep telling the tossers to toss off

  • George Woodhouse

    Sadly your clarification is nothing of the sort – presumably this was your plan.

    And like so many words “clarification” has had its meaning changed by NuLabour over the years to mean “Oh Dear – I’ve made a mistake better cover it up”!

    We can see right through you Alastair – as we can through Blair.