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Home > Politics

In Godric we trust?

1 January 2004

It seems that Tom Lehrer was right, satire is dead. Following on from Time Magazine's scuppering of our plans to nominate an entirely inappropriate 'Person of the Year 2003', The Prime Minister has pre-empted our own New Year's Honours list by bestowing a CBE on Godric Smith, just weeks before the conclusions of the Hutton Inquity are due to be published.

Smith is, of course, one of the Prime Minister's most loyal spin doctors and the man who was called before the Hutton Inquiry because of his attendance at various meetings discussing Dr David Kelly. Smith came in for particular scrutiny because a press release confirming that the Intelligence and Security Committee had interviewed Dr Kelly was saved on his computer.

Smith was also the man who called the first dossier (that's the one that contained the 'sexed up' 45 minute claim, the one that lead to the whole Dr Kelly mess, not to be confused with the second Dodgy Dossier which was plagiarised from a PHD thesis) "a bit of a muddle" and was the first to realise Kelly's death was serious enough to wake Blair with the news.

He came across in the BBC2 Trust me, I'm a politician documentary as a bit Sir Humphrey Appleby. His job description has requirements of probity:

ii. should be objective and explanatory, not tendentious or polemical;
iii. should not be, or be liable to misrepresentation as being, party political

He has pushed that envelope here and there. Sometimes it would seem this was inadvertent. He gave misleading information to the press over Cheriegate, though it's thought that he was fed lies by Campbell and Cherie and passed them on unawares. And during the "bury bad news" fiasco, he said that "the email between Jo Moore and Martin Sixsmith doesn't exist". Which was true, in that it was Sixsmith's boss, Byers, who did receive the mail, which did exist.

And sometimes it seems advertent, like when he described a French veto at the UN as "poison" and when he dismissed that Andrew Gilligan story about the EU Constitution as a "joke" in 2000.

Still, in the context of an Americanised New Labour civil service, with the Intelligence community and the press also expected to be at the service of the party, the man staggers people with his professionalism.


Here, by the way, is what happened when Smith met Hutton...

Q. And would you like to say, in your own words, what happened?
A. Yes. That evening at around 6 o'clock I went into Alastair Campbell's office -- his office is very near Tom [Kelly] and mine, and I wander in and out -- and he was speaking to somebody who I was to discover was the Defence Secretary.

Q. How did you discover that?
A. That after I had walked into the room the phone call was put on speaker phone, so I could hear and participate.

Q. And what was being said in this conversation?
A. Alastair floated the idea that the news that an individual had come forward who could be the possible source be given that evening to one paper.

Q. And what did Mr Hoon say to that?
A. To the best of my recollection, he said that he would see where things stood.

LORD HUTTON: I beg your pardon, he said that?
A. He would check where things stood. I am not aware that he said a huge amount.

MR KNOX: Did Mr Campbell explain to Mr Hoon why this would be a good idea?
A. To the best of my recollection, I think his concern was that the Prime Minister would be appearing before the Liaison Committee the next day, and he wanted to ensure that the Prime Minister was not put in a difficult position if the matter was brought before him and it was not public. [...] I reflected on what I had heard and thought that it was a bad idea. I said as much to Tom and asked whether he agreed; and he did, so I said that the best thing was to get Alastair on the phone so we could tell him.

Q. And did you tell him?
A. I did, yes. [...]

LORD HUTTON: Sorry, why did you think it was a bad idea?
A. For two principal reasons. Firstly, that I thought the Government was within its rights to make an announcement of this sort and to do that in the way that it chose; and it seemed somewhat complex to have the story appear in one newspaper and then be subsequently confirmed that evening by the Ministry of Defence. Secondly, this was, if you like, completely news from nowhere is perhaps the best way to describe it, in as much as nobody, outside a small circle in Government, had had any idea about it.

Lord Hutton is expected to publish his report in two weeks.

Happy new year, Godric.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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