by RAY FLEMING

IN five hours of giving evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war on Tuesday Alastair Campbell stuck carefully to the party line that he and Tony Blair developed together in 2002-03. It would have been surprising if he had not done so; after all, he was Mr Blair's chief spokesman at the time and, in fact, many people referred to him as the Deputy Prime Minister because no one else was closer to the seat of power. We learned on Tuesday that Mr Campbell knew the contents of the prime minister's personal letters to President Bush even though the Foreign Secretary of the time, Jack Straw, was not privy to their contents despite the commitment they made to British support for a military solution in Iraq.

Although Mr Campbell insisted that he would still defend “every single word” of the infamous 2002 dossier, which claimed that Iraq could deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes, he bent sufficiently under questioning to acknowledge that the claim “could have been clearer” -- a substantial admission from a supposed expert in communications but one that he qualified by alleging that the press had unnecessarily given the claim “iconic status”.

Most people will think that the press were right to underline this groundless claim and to think that it was included in the dossier to strengthen the decision that Mr Blair had already made to go to war with George W Bush.

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