TO BE TRUSTED'
After the publication of the Hutton Report into the events surrounding
the death of Dr David Kelly, polls showed that more people in
Britain believed their Prime Minister had lied about his role
in the affair than believed he had told the truth, and there
was less rather than more support for the war against Iraq.
This was despite the fact that Lord Hutton's report exonerated
Tony Blair, Geoff Hoon, Alistair Campbell and the British Government
in general of any wrong-doing. In particular, Hutton focussed
on whether the Government had contributed to Dr Kelly's death
by leaking his name to the media as the source for Andrew Gilligan's
critical report broadcast on BBC radio's 'Today' programme on
29 May 2003.
It hardly needs to be said that this is not the most important
question in relation to the war on Iraq. As the Sunday Times
observed a few days before Hutton came out, 'After the week
is over and the Harry Houdini of British politics escapes yet
again, we will still be in the dark on the substantive issues.'
(25 Jan., p. 1.18) (Matters to be examined in future briefings.)
MR BLAIR LIED
Nevertheless, going back to what Lord Hutton actually said,
the law lord decided on the main issue before him that the September
2002 weapons dossier issued by the Blair Government had not
been 'sexed up'. The public did not accept this interpretation.
Asked in a Sunday Times/YouGov poll, 54% disagreed with Hutton,
and only 27% agreed. (1 Feb., p. 1.13)
Hutton also concluded that there had been no 'dishonourable
or underhand or duplicitous strategy' to cause Dr Kelly's name
to come out. The public did not accept this interpretation of
events. Asked in a Guardian/ICM poll whether they believed Mr
Blair when he denied leaking Dr Kelly's name to the press, 45%
of voters said they did not believe him. (Guardian, 30 Jan.,
However, in two polls, before and after publication of the Hutton
Report, the Telegraph asked whether people believed that Mr
Blair was, or was not, telling the truth when he said last summer
that he had not authorised leaking Dr Kelly's name to the media.
Before Hutton, 27% had believed the Prime Minister. After publication,
this rose to 40%. Before Hutton, 50% of people had believed
the PM to be lying. After Hutton, this fell to 44%. ('Don't
knows' fell from 23% to 16%.) (Telegraph, 31 Jan., p. 4)
In other words, the Hutton Report has had an effect, convincing
significant numbers of the waverers and of the hostile that
the Prime Minister told the truth. But this effect is fairly
minor compared to the fact that, even after being found entirely
'not guilty' by Hutton, more people believe that Mr Blair lied
about his role in the Kelly affair, than believe that he told
THE NAMING STRATEGY
This is not surprising. Four days after the death of Dr Kelly,
Tony Blair was asked about his role in authorising the naming
of the weapons scientist. Mr Blair said, 'In reply to what was
being said earlier - did I authorise the leaking of David Kelly's
name? - that is completely untrue.' As pointed out in the Telegraph,
this was a question about authorization, not about leaking.
(27 Jan., p. 9)
Alistair Campbell, then Mr Blair's right hand man, wrote in
his diary before Dr Kelly's name came out, 'GH [Defence Secretary
Geoff Hoon] and I both wanted to get the source up but TB [Tony
Blair] was nervous about it.' (Sunday Times, 25 Jan., p. 1.14)
'The approach to naming Dr Kelly as the source had been driven
by a small group of Tony Blair's advisers, whose crucial meeting
on 8 July was chaired by the Prime Minister himself. Sir Kevin
Tebbit, the Permanent Secretary [top civil servant] at the MoD
[Ministry of Defence], was briefed afterwards. Sir Kevin would
later tell the inquiry his MoD colleagues felt there was nothing
to be gained by naming Dr Kelly. But the decision of the meeting
at No 10 made public disclosure inevitable.' (Independent on
Sunday, 25 Jan., p. 14)
The Prime Minister chaired the meeting that authorised the process
that would lead to Dr Kelly's name coming out.
There is an odd inconsistency in the public's attitude to Tony
Blair. Despite the fact that almost half the British people
believe he lied over his role in the Kelly affair, and over
half the British people believe he acted 'improperly' during
the events leading up to Dr Kelly's death, less than a third
of voters believe he should resign.
The Times carried out a poll on 28 and 29 Jan., asking, 'Have
the issues surrounding the Hutton report made you feel more
favourable, less favourable, or made no difference to your view
of Tony Blair?' Only 11% felt more favourably towards the Prime
Minister. 36% of respondents felt less favourably towards him,
despite Lord Hutton's report. (Times, 30 Jan., p. 6)
Asked in a Telegraph poll to identify those who had behaved
properly or improperly during the events leading up to the death
of Dr Kelly, 52% of those questioned said that the Prime Minister
had behaved 'improperly'. Only 37% thought he had behaved properly.
(Telegraph, 30 Jan., p. 2)
SHOULD BLAIR RESIGN?
Yet at the same time, when asked who should resign in the light
of the Hutton Report, only 28% of respondents in an online poll
thought Mr Blair should go. 64% of people thought he should
definitely stay. (Telegraph, 30 Jan., p. 2) A telephone poll,
on the other hand, found that 37% of respondents wanted Mr Blair
to resign - with 24% of Labour voters agreeing with this position.
(Guardian, 30 Jan., p. 1) It is possible that people are more
honest online because it feels more anonymous.
Apparently 54% of people feel Mr Blair has been damaged by the
Hutton Report (30% 'seriously'). (News of the World, 1 Feb.,
p. 13) But, as we saw earlier, a significant number of people
(around 13% of voters) have actually been persuaded by the Hutton
Report that Mr Blair was telling the truth after all, about
his role in leaking Dr Kelly's name. And only 28% or so feel
he should resign!
The Telegraph asked the most pertinent question in its poll,
conducted by the online pollsters, YouGov. Voters were asked
to choose between two views of the Hutton Report. 34% opted
for 'It represents a thorough and impartial attempt to discover
the truth behind the events leading up to Dr Kelly's death'.
A decisive majority, 56% of respondents, however, believed that
'Lord Hutton as a member of the "establishment" was
too ready to sympathise with the Government and in the end produced
something like a whitewash.' (Telegraph, 30 Jan., p. 2)
At the same time, an NOP poll found only 49% of people thought
Hutton was a whitewash. (Express, 30 Jan., p. 10) Perhaps because
of the difference between the phrase 'something like a whitewash',
and a straight 'whitewash'.
Views divided on party lines. 71% of Labour voters had a rosy
view of the Hutton Report, only 19% of them thinking it was
a whitewash. In contrast, 81% and 71% of Tory and Liberal Democrat
voters agreed with the 'whitewash' verdict. (Telegraph, 30 Jan.,
p. 2) 'Nearly a half of Tory and Liberal Democrat supporters
say they have a much less favourable view of Mr Blair after
Hutton'. (Times, 30 Jan., p. 6)
AN OWN GOAL
Andrew Gilligan's immediate reaction to the Hutton Report was:
'It's so bad, it's good.' (Rod Liddle, 'My Week', Independent,
31 Jan., tabloid p. 45) This may be true for the anti-war movement.
The Guardian/ICM poll found that support for the war on Iraq
fell by 6% after the publication of the Hutton Report, from
53% a week before, to 47% on 28 Jan. 2004. Opposition to the
war rose from 41% to 46%. (Guardian, 30 Jan., p. 1)
'One astute Minister remarks, "I don't think the vast majority
of people wanted Tony to be destroyed by Hutton. My feeling
is that they think the Government should suffer some sort of
reprimand for what happened with Kelly, the dossiers, all that.
I fear that the sight of us walking away from this entirely
unscathed offends people's sense of fair play. It could even
make some hate us more."' (Andrew Rawnsley, Observer, 1
Feb., p. 29)
Alistair Campbell famously wrote in his diary, admitted in evidence
to the Hutton Inquiry, that he wanted a clear 'win' over the
BBC over the Gilligan/Kelly report - 'not a messy draw'.
It seems that instead we have a Blair/Hutton own goal.
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