OPINION: The Kelly affair was of Blair's own making

We are told the double whammy of Hutton and tuition fees is Tony Blair's toughtest test yet. My toughest test is writing about Hutton before knowing the outcome, aware it will be read when you do.

It is unlikely a judge will see it as his job to bring down a Prime Minister, especially as it was Blair who appointed him, so he may escape the wrath of Hutton. Nevertheless, the war in Iraq was a PR disaster; ever since the PM decided to ignore his party and public opinion he has been struggling to regain any credibility. The problem is that we went to war on the basis of a lie. There were no weapons of mass destruction, and Blair seems to be the only person left on this planet who still says there were.

The BBC was Alastair Campbell's weapon of mass distraction and, although his tactics cost him his job, they did have the effect of saving his boss's skin. That's what spin doctors are for. Blair survived the Hutton enquiry because the judge was not given the job of looking into the reasons why we went to war but to explain the death of Dr David Kelly. A proper enquiry into the war would sink Blair, which is, of course, why we won't have one.

Why didn't Hutton ask Blair about his chat with journalists on the plane back from Japan, an occasion when he clearly lied? Michael Howard has raised this at PMQs six times because he knew it would not be part of the report. Blair knew it too, but the fact he repeatedly said we would have to wait for the report didn't stop Downing Street fighting a pre-report PR war. The master stroke was the Sunday briefings that everyone else was guilty. One can only speculate as to who tipped off The Sun.

Just as the whole Hutton debacle was of the Blair's own making, so was his decision to bring forward variable tuition fees this side of the election.

It says something about Blair's arrogance that he did so despite a specific manifesto pledge not to. Fortunately for Blair, few read or believe the manifesto, and his PR job has been good. Most of the media have been won over. The Guardian used a leader to accuse opponents of fees of supporting not only the Tories but the Morning Star and Socialist Worker.

Having the Chancellor onside helped the 'sell', but only because Blair's parliamentary links have been so poor. Blair needed Gordon Brown to convince MPs, as the late conversion of chief rebel and Brown loyalist Nick Brown demonstrates.

As ever, it is Gordon who comes out of it best. He was untainted by Hutton and saved Blair's skin on fees, but sometimes my ex-boss can't help giving the game away.

When asked on TV if Tony Blair would be in charge at the next election, he failed to say yes. Brown hates to lie, and he knows just how vulnerable Blair still is.

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