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Home > Politics

Tom Kelly, Sultan of Spin

That's a relief! It's not official government policy to mock the corpses of its critics.

5 August 2003

We hear today that describing David Kelly as a "Walter Mitty" was "not intended as an official briefing nor does it reflect the government's view". Phew! Because, in Iraq, you wouldn't even have had a Kelly figure to ridicule while he was waiting for his funeral.

Which leaves the question: what on Earth was Tom Kelly playing at?

There are two possibilities. The first is that he genuinely didn't realise that the comments would be reported. Let's put that another way: this man, who worked for the BBC, and who had a Campbell-type job at the Northern Ireland Office, didn't realise how the 'papers work. In which case, he has the political nous and the diplomatic savvy of a tramp wanking in a church and he should clear his desk.

The other possibility, of course, is that he knew what he was doing. Supporting this view was Ladbrokes, who gave odds of 5:4 on Kelly(not-dcsd) for Campbell's replacement. So what we would be seeing here would be a "background briefing" which wasn't meant to be reported. It would be a senior source giving a private account which journalists weren't to repeat verbatim. They're just meant to remember the comments and bear them in mind - i.e. to feel contempt and disregard for the dead man who devoted his life to arms control. They're not meant to repeat the lies to the public - they're meant to subtly belittle him.


We can't tell, obviously. Just like we can't tell what was in the MoD documents that they have admitted was "a media plan" on how to stop Kelly (dcsd) making them look bad. And we don't know which Labour MP started telling the press that Andrew Gilligan was "cracking up" and about to kill himself. And we don't know who from the Labour party sent the lies about George Galloway around the 'papers until they found one who'd print them (The Sun.) And so painfully on.

So it may well be that it was unfair of us to call Kelly(not-dcsd) stupid. He may simply have been conniving to diminish Kelly(dcsd)'s reputation in order to save that of the Labour party. I wonder what odds Ladbrokes are offering now? Maybe he should have waited for the funeral and just pissed on his grave in private.

ps: incidentally, I've never thought too much of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Do you think Tom Kelly was talking about the book or the film? Because, in the film, a mild-mannered man gets involved with a real-life conspiracy. And though he gets pilloried by the insensitive, what he says is true. Not the most potent analogy. They should have called him Billy Liar, maybe. Or Benny from Crossroads.

I rate Thurber's cartoons far above anything he did in print. Especially the dogs.thurber_dogs.gif

Best of all are the single-panel, one-line-of-dialogue ones:

We've all been there

And timely is his story in pictures The Last Flower. A wonderful propellerhead called William D. Kiernan has uploaded a bunch of cool things, and this is one:

I offer this happy little divertissiment to you on the eve of yet another bombing foray against the Fiend of Baghdad, or rather, against his subjects; alas, you may be certain, as certain as sorrow and sin, that not a hair upon the head of our ex-CIA-employee Saddam Hussein will be mussed, not a one.


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