OPINION: Campbell remains Blair's biggest mistake

As most astute political commentators predicted, a judge appointed by the Prime Minister was never likely to criticise him much. I'm reliably informed that when Tony Blair read the Hutton report, he thought at first he had the wrong document and that it must have been a joke by his staff.

Even though the PM had carefully chosen the good Lord, in consultation with Peter Mandelson, never in his wildest dreams could he have thought that anyone in their right mind would deliver such a comprehensive whitewash.

The joke doing the rounds in Downing Street was that Dulux has invented a new paint colour: 'Hutton White'.

It should not have taken long for alarm bells to ring in Number 10 about how the nation would react to such a one-sided report. We had all heard the evidence and we all expected at least some criticism of ministers and spin doctors. So did the Government. In a previous appearance before a judge during a libel trial, Alastair Campbell was described as an unreliable witness, yet Hutton, despite all the evidence, thought otherwise. He even chose to ignore the fact that Campbell's evidence was different from that he gave to MPs. A complete exposure of his diary would surely have sunk him, which is why his lawyers did everything to limit its exposure.

Tony Blair made a pretty good fist of his response in the House of Commons, effectively ending Michael Howard's honeymoon. His big mistake, however, was to allow Alastair Campbell to have anything to do with the response.

Blair seems to be the only person in the world who still thinks the discredited spin doctor is a good thing. One unnamed cabinet minister said at the weekend: 'I wish Alastair would shut up.' So do the electorate and nearly all the Parliamentary Labour Party.

As all historians know, Winston Churchill's maxim of being magnanimous in victory still holds true, and only someone as arrogant and self-important as Alastair Campbell would have the nerve to ignore it.

It was a sure sign that Campbell has lost all sense of reality when he appeared on the ornate staircase of the foreign Press Association to deliver his verdict on Hutton. Who does he think he is? A small clue is that in his embarrassing one-man roadshow he likened Tony Blair to Nelson Mandela.

A short statement to PA saying that he welcomed the fact he had been exonerated by Lord Hutton would have been more effective PR and more helpful to the Government. Like Mandelson before him, this great communicator hasn't a clue how to communicate himself.

All the good that came of Campbell's departure has been undone in just a few hours. What is the point of employing the trusted David Hill if Campbell is allowed to do this?

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