Thursday, January 29, 2004
Welcome to the Elected Dictatorship

It is not clear what the final consequences of the Hutton report will be. Like the media run-up to the Scott report in the Major administration, the sound and fury of the pundits was eventually laid to rest by the bathetic desiccation of m'lud's conclusions.

Nevertheless, this inquiry was very different, in one significant respect from its previous incarnations. It was public and transcripts were available through the press, on the internet and even staged as a theatrical adaptation. Readers were able to make up their own minds about whose evidence they believed: the government's, the BBC's or independent witnesses.

Hutton's conclusions that damned the BBC, yet gave the government the benefit of the doubt are unsurprising in hindsight. The Chairman of the inquiry was chosen because of his familiarity with the procedures of the security services thrugh his position as Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland. Hutton did not perceive that the procedures followed during the period up to Kelly's death were undermined or broken. Perhaps they seemed akin to those that the security services in Northern ireland followed so many years ago when intelligence and politics were incestuously intertwined. Whitewash or an instinctual bias towards the administration of the day: it is not possible to explain Hutton's motives.

What counts is the reception of the Hutton report and this has proved damaging for the government. The Report was associated with wider doubts about the Iraqi war and whether the claims about weapons of mass destruction were justified. As the Bush administration has acknowledged the lack of evidence for WMD, the doubts over Blair's claims for going to war are multiplied: the claims which he put to a parliamentary vote.

The public is not convinced by the conclusions of the Hutton Report. The evidence aired confirmed their presuppositions of a manipulative and media-driven government that placed its own political needs above that of Dr Kelly or the country. Hutton's repudiation of every accusation thrown at Blair contradicts the general views popularised by the media and accepted by the country at large.

In consequence, this Report will increase the suspicion and mistrust of this government. Polls already show that the electorate has adopted a 'plague on both your houses' view. However, the offputting triumphalism of Blair is dangerous. He has entered the hubristic period that all Prime Ministers eventually attain: and he will use that to push through his desired changes - a supine BBC whose Charter may be amended to entrench government influence, an appointed House of Lords and politicised intelligence services.

(23.12, 29th January 2004)


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