The day Campbell tried to bring Muslims 'on message'
06 August 2003
The true extent of Alastair Campbell’s Rasputin-like control over the inner workings of the government machine is gradually unfolding. It is staggering that a party political appointee like him could chair a planning meeting of the Joint Intelligence Committee, the senior most cross-departmental group in this field, as he did on 9 September 2002, and could make “drafting suggestions” to its chairman, John Scarlett on the dossier which said that Saddam's weapons posed a "serious and current threat" (26 June 2003, The Daily Telegraph). The Muslim representatives who were ushered into No. 10 on 27 September 2001 to discuss the crisis were probably unaware of his reach when he sidled up and told them "You guys have got a selling job to do” (reported in the Daily Telegraph, 19 October 2001). Campbell assumed that the Muslim leaders would obediently come ‘on message’ on the imminent war in Afghanistan.
The delegation may have taken his remark lightly, but Campbell is a man accustomed to seeing his pronouncements accepted as orders (the Fleet Street insight is that when Campbell asks a Minister to jump, the response is not ‘why’, but rather, ‘how high’).
After the Downing Street meeting, representatives from The Muslim Council of Britain refused to condone military action as a way forward. Its Press Release of 9 October stated, “British Muslims want justice to be done for the horrifying events of September 11th. These day and night strikes - which are already leading to innocent civilians deaths amongst the long-suffering Afghan population - will not achieve this purpose…These attacks will only lead to further polarisation in the world. This will not be a fitting memorial to those who died in the September 11th atrocities". Campbell was slighted.
A few weeks later The Times (26 October 2001) carried a report stating that the MCB Secretary General, at the time Yousuf Bhailok, was causing Downing Street ‘embarrassment’ due to “complaints that he has associated with international terrorists. Mr Bhailok was a speaker at a conference in Tehran on the Palestinian intifada, along with the leaders of Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He was reported to have called for economic sanctions against Israel, and to have said that his organisation had [not participated] in Britain's Holocaust Memorial Day because of the continuing ‘genocide’ against Palestinians.”
The Times journalist with this awareness of what does and does not cause Downing Street’s ‘embarrassment’ was Tom Baldwin, who, it now emerges, is a soul mate of the latter-day Rasputin: “I know a little about both Campbell and Gilligan. If it came down to a question of whom to trust, I would opt for the former … on this issue the BBC does not stand for principle but Blundering Bombastic Cynicism” (Times Online, 18 July 2003). Were Baldwin’s revelations on the MCB’s attendance of an Islamic conference in Iran Campbell inspired, drawing on access to intelligence reports?
All the evidence points to Baldwin being one of Downing Street’s chosen recipients for inspired leaks, including the current Kelly tragedy. The Telegraph observes that “Tom Baldwin, political writer of the Times and a close friend of Mr Campbell, denied yesterday that it was leaked to him, although it was certainly obtained first by the Times and in his report Baldwin specifically cited Downing St sources for Dr Kelly's identification” (19 July 2003).
The lesson for the British Muslim community’s elected representatives is that they should continue standing up to any future sultans of spin and be true to their constituency.
‘New lease of life for the bored sultans of spin’, by Rachel Sylvester http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2003/06/26/ncamp26.xml
‘MCB opposes war on Afghans – Insists on Justice