The pressure is mounting on Tony Blair as the Hutton Inquiry prepares to hand down its findings.

The report into the suicide of British weapons expert Dr David Kelly is
expected to be handed down by Lord Hutton in the next few weeks – and
the pressure is mounting on Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The Commons has been back at work for more than a week now (nudge, nudge, Canberra!) in an atmosphere of mounting crisis.

Blair already faces a major defeat of tertiary fees – and now stands
accused of preparing to “run away” from the findings of Lord Hutton’s
inquiry.

The Prime Minister has vowed not to hide from any criticisms in the law lord’s report on the death of Dr Kelly.

But he has again refused to say whether he would face MPs in a full Commons debate on its conclusions.

Conservative leader Michael Howard – who, in part, owes his job to
predecessor Iain Duncan-Smith’s mishandling of the issue – has said it
is “absolutely extraordinary” that the PM has failed to make the
commitment.

“The very fact he is refusing now to say whether he’s going to lead in
that debate will cause a lot of people to think he’s prepared to run
away and that he’s got something to hide,” Howard said yesterday.

It is also “extraordinary” that MPs had been given no guarantee of a vote at the end of the debate, Howard claims.

Blair, however, says he will make a statement to MPs and take questions on the day the report was published.

At stake are claims made by BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan that Downing
Street “sexed up” Iraq’s military capabilities to justify war, sourced
to Dr Kelly, who suicided when his name was revealed.

Many figures on both sides of the political fence have already pronounced the PM guilty.

Their motives, however, are often less than pure.

Labor reactionaries, unhappy with Blair’s New Labour “project” from
it’s inception – let alone supporting George W Bush in his action
against Iraq – see an opportunity to move Chancellor Gordon Brown, much
more of a Labour traditionalist, from his residence at 11 Downing
Street into Number 10.

Tory MPs see an opportunity to avenge themselves on the man who ended 18 years of Conservative rule.

Boris Johnson, the Conservative Member for Henley and editor of The
Spectator, gave a powerful summing up for the prosecution in The Daily
Telegraph last week after Blair said it was important the “totality” of
his remarks to the inquiry be considered.

“Right. OK then! Now I get it (slap forehead). How could I have been so
slow on the uptake? I understood until yesterday that the Prime
Minister had been caught out in a great big fat steaming smoking-pants
lie. I thought it was clear to the meanest intelligence that Tony Blair
had authorised the naming of poor Dr David Kelly to the media, and then
pretended otherwise,” he claimed.

“Only the ‘totality’ is operative, said Blair, irresistibly recalling
the performance of Nixon’s spokesman during Watergate,” Johnson wrote –
before examining “the totality of the Prime Minister’s words and deeds”
to “discover how we came by this misunderstanding. They total up to
quite a lot.”

Johnson concludes all the evidence says “the PM lied, and that is the totality of the matter” at The Telegraph – The Prime Minister lied

The left-leaning Observer is also a Blair opponent – but last Sunday it
offered a fascinating comment on the media and political war being
waged on Gilligan’s behalf and the odd alliances it had created.

“On 10 December Spectator magazine held a Save Andrew Gilligan dinner
at Luigi’s restaurant in Covent Garden,” journalist Nick Cohen wrote.
“As you would expect, many of the guests who wanted to save Gilligan
were Conservatives. The evening was organised by Peter Oborne, the
Spectator ‘s political editor, and David Davis, the Conservative Home
Affairs spokesman, was among the throng. The company of Spectator,
Telegraph and Mail men was however leavened by journalists from the
Independent, Guardian and Observer, along with one Labour and one
nationalist MP.

“In retrospect, several liberal hacks felt uneasy. Davis was canvassing
advice on how best to attack Tony Blair after the release of Lord
Hutton’s report. Going for Blair from the Left was one thing, helping
the Tories unseat a Labour Prime Minister – even a New Labour Prime
Minister – felt strangely like collaboration with the enemy…”

Cohen says that Gilligan failed to confirm what he had learned from
Kelly – then left the weapons expert to hang by admitting that he was
the source of the claim.

His conclusion shows the complexity of everything that is at stake:

“Solving the mystery of what drives a man to take his life is a dark
and complicated task. A lot will depend on the precise wording of Lord
Hutton’s report. But it’s already clear that the battle in Westminster
will be about how Kelly’s name came out and what flowed from the
revelation, and I’m not sure what the watching public will make of it.

“The big question Lord Hutton’s inquiry touched on was how it was
Britain went to war to remove Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass
destruction when Saddam Hussein didn’t have weapons of mass destruction
worthy of the name. If the BBC can’t substantiate Gilligan’s allegation
that Campbell forced spies to lie, Lord Hutton certainly heard that the
Government wasn’t over-interested in telling the truth. [Defence
Secretary] Geoff Hoon, for instance, admitted that he’d done nothing to
correct press reports that Iraq had weapons which could hit British
bases in Cyprus which he knew to be false.

“Spinning your country into a war is about the most serious charge you
can level against a government. Compelling a civil servant to give
evidence to a Commons Select Committee isn’t wrong in principle
whatever games the Government is playing.”

Plunge into the murky depths at The Guardian’s Dinner at Luigi’s – How a party held by hacks in support of Andrew Gilligan turned sour when hijacked by Tories.

Peter Fray

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