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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 January, 2004, 16:17 GMT
Hutton gives Blair fresh start

By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

It was always likely Lord Hutton's report would transform the political landscape overnight. And so it has proved.

Tony Blair at the Hutton inquiry
Blair will start to rebuild leadership
That it would change it so comprehensively in favour of the prime minister and the government was not predicted quite so widely.

Lord Hutton's measured and detailed, albeit narrow report was about as good as it could have been for Tony Blair.

It also removes any question mark over the future of Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon.

And it lifts the cloud from over the heads of both former spin chief Alastair Campbell and the head of the Joint Intelligence Committee John Scarlett.

It could not, however, have been much worse for Tory leader Michael Howard and the prime minister's critics, including those on his own benches.

Turn the tide

For Tony Blair, he will seize on it to start the process of rebuilding the bond of trust with voters that has been damaged over the past couple of years.

He will also use it to reassert his authority over his party and combat those who have routinely suggested he survives on spin and deception.

Lord Hutton
Lord Hutton's report exonerated the prime minister
He certainly needed an event to turn the tide of his leadership which, over the past year or so, has been under question like never before.

Tuesday night's victory over tuition fees, narrow though it was, helped - although it also suggested it was the chancellor who was the real power in Downing Street.

The Hutton report, however, provided that key event.

The prime minister has not simply been cleared of lying and deception, his leadership has been given a massive boost.

Booing and hissing

It is a pretty safe bet now that the persistent rumours over his future will die down.

For Michael Howard, the report undermined his attacks on the prime minister's truthfulness and integrity.

And his performances during both prime minister's question time and the exchanges following Mr Blair's statement on the report were seen by many in Westminster as ill-judged.

Charles Kennedy
Kennedy wants inquiry
He persisted with his line of questioning over the prime minister's truthfulness and was subjected to an extraordinary outburst of booing and hissing from the Labour benches.

He will not be looking forward to next Wednesday's full Commons debate on the report.

If he misjudges that occasion it could take much of the shine off his otherwise highly successful leadership.

New inquiry

None of this alters the fact, however, that the questions over how and why the prime minister took Britain to war remain unanswered.

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy has maintained a consistent stand on this issue and returned to this subject during the Commons debate.

He, in effect, said that we were now back to the position we were in before the whole diversion of the Kelly-Gilligan affair overshadowed all the other questions about the war.

His calls for an independent inquiry into the war, and the issue of Saddam's elusive weapons of mass destruction, have been taken up by the Tories and Mr Blair's critics such as former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook.

But, in the wake of the Hutton report, they will be much harder to pursue.

Tony Blair, on the other hand, will be hoping and working to ensure that this represents a new start for his leadership.




WATCH AND LISTEN
John Reid, Health Secretary
"The prime minister told the truth"



SEE ALSO:
BBC castigated in Hutton report
28 Jan 04  |  Politics


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