ON THE FACE OF IT, the Hutton Report should have concluded that the BBC made a minor error in a 6 a.m. news broadcast and it failed to take Alastair Campbell seriously when he fired off one more rant in a long string of similar complaints. And on the other side, the prime minister was employing a press officer (paid out of the public purse) who was out of control and who was trying to bludgeon news organizations into printing government propaganda, while the government machine was involved in grubby tactics designed both to prevent inconvenient truths from being exposed and to shift blame elsewhere.
A simple banging together of heads and instructions to do better in future would have been a satisfactory outcome to Lord Hutton's investigation. Instead, he chose to issue ludicrously one-sided conclusions, which resulted in the resignations of the chairman of the BBC's governors, the BBC's director general and the journalist involved. Not to mention a nauseating grovelling apology from the jobsworth temporary chairman of the BBC's governors. While on the government side, there was wall to wall public gloating by serial offenders who had received an unexpected (and unmerited) blanket get out of gaol free card.
As Hutton has chosen to paint all those on the government side whiter than white and their enemies blackest black, is it possible that he had a deeper purpose behind his so apparently biased report? Had he published a report which assigned blame where it belonged, and in an even-handed manner, then his report would have been forgotten in a few days, overtaken by the normal flow of politics. But the clearly wrong-headed opinions that he expressed received such immediate and universal condemnation, and triggered such public disbelief, that they cannot be dismissed at all easily.
It is possible that Hutton was trying to paint a picture of a Britain in which it is normal, and even expected, for the prime minster to make policy with a coterie of unelected cronies, and the heads of foreign governments, rather than his ministers? And in which the news media repeat only the spin issued by the Downing Street press officer? Perhaps Hutton was trying to signal, by the very unfairness of his conclusions, that the country is heading in this direction; and it will shortly arrive at the unhappy state which he portrays if good men stand idly by.
At one level, the Hutton Report can be seen as a rallying call to those who still retain some hope of repairing the damage inflicted on the political prestige of the British government by seven years of a culture of spin and outright lies at Downing Street. By deliberately ignoring facts which contradict his conclusions, Hutton has chosen to turn a judicial blind eye to all fault on the government side while heaping an exaggerated level of blame on the BBC. Does he have a hidden purpose in doing so?
Exaggeration seems to be Hutton's secret Key Word. After all, a thread of violent exaggeration runs through the whole of the background to his investigation. There was exaggeration of intelligence reports as a means of persuading the country to go to war by throwing in every scrap of 'helpful' information, no matter how untrustworthy; exaggeration of the threat posed directly to the UK by the Saddam Hussein regime; and exaggeration in Alastair Campbell's responses to all news items which were at odds with his desired line of propaganda.
Perhaps Hutton, in pushing exaggeration to an apparently ludicrous extreme in his report, is trying to issue a combined warning and wake-up call to the British people.
Has he created a mockery of a Downing Street Iraq dossier as a parable? Has he left out inconvenient evidence and exaggerated the relative weights of the rest to draw attention back to the political trickery that went on during the run-up to the latest Iraq war?
Or maybe he is really just a doddery old judge who believes, quite sincerely, that the prime minister and those involved in the machinery of government never tell lies.