The Hutton Inquiry: The empire strikes back

FRFI 177 February / March 2004

Months late, the Hutton Inquiry has reported and surprised most commentators by the completeness of the whitewash in the government’s favour. Most thought that a few minor heads in government would roll. But, true to form, the British government is arrogant in its cover-up and aggressive in demanding its pound of flesh. The BBC is being prepared for a carve-up. The press have minutely analysed the report and its background exhaustively, so here Carol Brickley offers a ‘constitutional review’.

In times of crisis it pays to know something about a country’s constitution. Contrary to popular belief the British state does have a constitution, even though it is not written down. The British state is the result of a settlement between the Executive (the government acting as the ‘Crown’), the Legislature (Parliament), and the Rule of Law (the courts and the judges). Of course, like everything to do with government in Britain, even this is a bit of a fiction: the sovereignty of Parliament and the rule of law are very much subject to the dictates of the political party in power – the government.

Anyone following current events will have no difficulty understanding this. Parliament is now the forum where the government engages in routine bullying, backstabbing and blackmail of MPs to push through its policies – witness the imposition of top-up fees. Government makes the law by these means, and is happy to ignore any law that gets in its way – witness the incarceration of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay in breach of international law and internment without trial in Belmarsh in breach of human rights law.

The events surrounding Dr David Kelly’s death are evidence of the crisis facing the British government over its invasion of Iraq in 2003. Public opinion was split on the question of war, and necessarily the ruling class (the Establishment) was deeply divided as well. The BBC likes to think of itself as a purveyor of objective truth, when in fact it is just another arm of the Establishment, in business, when the chips are down, to promote the views of the ruling class. Independent media analysis shows that the BBC’s coverage of the Iraq war overall was more supportive of the government than other media. But when the ruling class is divided, events can turn ugly. In troubled times the government will turn on junior partners, in this case its hired hacks, in order to save its own skins. The Hutton Inquiry is a perfect illustration of what happens.

Andrew Gilligan and David Kelly provided the government with perfect red herrings. Millions were spent on an inquiry into why Kelly killed himself. Andrew Gilligan has been publicly humiliated over one sentence in an early morning radio broadcast suggesting that the government knew that their claim that weapons of mass destruction (WMD) could be launched in 45 minutes was dubious. In contrast this same government has published two dodgy dossiers on Iraq and launched a brutal, expensive war in breach of international law. Rather than explaining why no WMD have been found and why its dossiers were full of dubious claims, not least that Saddam Hussein’s regime represented a ‘clear and present threat’, the government has been cleared of all the charges. Despite the evidence to the contrary, Hutton has declared that neither the Prime Minister, nor Geoff Hoon at the MoD, nor Alastair Campbell, played any part in naming Kelly to the press, despite the fact that Campbell and Hoon were ‘gagging’ to expose Kelly’s name, and the Prime Minister chaired the meeting which decided on a plan to do exactly that. Hutton decided that 10 Downing Street did not ‘unduly’ influence the publication of the September ‘intelligence’ dossier, despite the fact that the words were changed at Campbell’s request to make the tentative allegations about WMD into certainties.

Hutton was Blair’s perfect choice for the job of running the Inquiry. Rt Hon the Lord Hutton (life Baron), Law Lord until he retired on 14 January, educated at Shrewsbury School, Balliol College, Oxford and Queen’s University Belfast, formerly Queen’s Council, Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland and Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, had a life-time of serving the ruling class behind him. One of the many Latin shibboleths with which the legal profession dresses up its activities as an arm of the Establishment is ‘Let justice be done though the heavens fall’ – another fiction, useful only for maintaining myths. In the real world, Law Lords and the like are experts at maintaining the status quo and preventing earth-shattering conclusions. In this, Hutton stands in a long line of High Court Judges who have embarked on government whitewash inquiries (Widgery, Parker, Compton etc), or who like Lord Denning, ruled against the Birmingham Six appeal because he could not allow the ‘appalling vista’ of police and prison corruption that might undermine the ruling class.

Hutton worked in the Diplock courts in the north of Ireland during the period when his loyalty to the British state would have been the chief factor in his promotion. He was promoted to the top. In his last job, the Hutton Inquiry, he earned his bread, butter and wild strawberry conserve whilst believing, perhaps, that he was dispensing justice and overseeing the truth. Maybe Hutton was thinking of himself when he forgave the menacing John Scarlett from the Joint Intelligence Committee for being ‘subconsciously’ influenced by the pressure of No 10 when rewording the September dossier in favour of waging war. He can retire on a state pension well above the ‘Ordinary’.

So now it is hacks to the wall. Gilligan is shamed and the Director General and Chairman of the BBC have fallen on their swords. The Emperor has given the thumbs down and the crowds will cheer...or will they? The early signs are that Hutton may be a whitewash too far. Opinion polls now show that more people think Blair should be sacked than Greg Dyke. The public is suspicious that the government would like to ‘influence’ BBC news output: Campbell was already accusing the BBC of giving too much air-time to the opponents of the war.

Those weapons of mass destruction are still missing, and the latest chief weapons inspector, David Kay, the Coalition’s answer to Hans Blix, has just resigned having failed to find anything even with a staff of 1,400. The costs of the war and the occupation are rising, and Blair may be the last man to believe the lies.


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