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FactCheck: Campbell diaries, part 2

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 18 July 2007

Do Campbell's claims on joining the Euro and the Iraq dossier ring true?

The claim

"I suddenly realised that because I had not really checked and double-checked with TB, we had briefed an enormous story on the basis of a cock-up."
17 October 1997

The analysis

It may sound like something out of "The Thick of It", but the story of Labour's first major pronouncement on the euro is a tale of party policy being drafted almost to fit with the newspaper headlines that have already been spun.

Campbell's account concurs with those documented previously in contemporary newspaper reports and that of Rawnsley in Servants of the People.

Before coming to power only months earlier, their 1997 election manifesto promised a referendum on joining the single currency if, and when, the economic conditions were right for Britain.

"To exclude British membership of EMU forever would be to destroy any influence we have over a process which will affect us whether we are in or out."

In October, Times' political editor is briefed that it is "highly unlikely" that Britain will join the first wave of the euro. The piece runs in the paper with the headline "Brown rules out single currency for the lifetime of this parliament". According to Campbell's diary, however, this was news to Blair.

The story was not denied. Instead, the Chancellor made a statement the next week in parliament confirming that Britain would not enter the euro until it made sense in economic terms.

In the aftermath of the Tories' squabbles over Europe, Labour were keen to avoid anything that would be seen as "just another u-turn".

So how conclusive was this "cock-up"? Of course, stories can be denied - but in the aftermath of the Tories' squabbles over Europe, Labour were keen to avoid anything that would be seen as "just another u-turn".

Earlier in the month, Labour's previous official message on the euro, though lukewarm, far from ruled membership out. The first lines highlighted in the press release accompanying out of a speech by treasury minister Helen Liddell earlier that month are: "We will keep our options open. Take the right decisions at the right time. Not weaken our negotiating position."

In contrast, Brown's official statement, made after the Times story, set out the economic grounds for entry and concluded that "it is not in this country's interest to join in the first wave of EMU starting on 1 January 1999 and, barring some fundamental and unforeseen change in economic circumstances, making a decision, this parliament, to join is not realistic".

The rights and wrongs of having joined the euro aren't so much the subject for a FactCheck as an economic thesis. But the long list of Blair's achievements in Campbell's introduction is tempered slightly by the final point: "Britain stronger in Europe if not, as he would have wished, in the euro".

Blair backs bid to bring 'spinning' under control, The Times, 29 October 1997 (subscription)
How the message was confused with the messengers, The Times, 21 October 1997 (subscription)
In or out Britain must be ready for EMU
Statement on EMU by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, 27 October 1997
1997 Labour manifesto

The claim

"The main problem, of course, was that there were no WMD discoveries beyond the two labs, and no matter how much we said that there were other priorities now, the public were being told as a matter of fact that we had done wrong."
June 2003

The analysis

Let's look back at the news agenda surrounding Campbell's note, made a few days after Andrew Gilligan appeared on the Today programme with allegations that the government had "sexed up" the dossier on Iraq.

Blair was preparing for a G8 summit, while the lobby briefings given by the PM's official spokesperson on 3 June 2003 are dominated by questions on Iraq and WMD, with a question on Europe the only exception.

A day later, at PMQs on 4 June, Iraq dominates. Two questions are tabled on local school funding issues, one on the middle east, one on the European capital of culture and one on unsustainable timber.

Unusually, the rest of the half-hour session is made up entirely of queries on or relating to Iraq, the war, intelligence and WMD.

'All I know is that I am going to keep going until we get an apology.'
Alastair Campbell, 25 June 2003

Pressure was indeed building on Downing Street to release evidence on WMD, with veteran MPs such as Robin Cook, Tam Dalyell and Clare Short joining the throng. So what were the "other priorities" the government was trying to push?

According the government news network, press releases put out on June 2 related to local and other foreign issues, plus a new anti-benefit fraud campaign and praise for disadvantaged schools' programmes.

On Iraq, however, Labour was trying to focus on the future. As the official press briefing of 3 June said: "It would have been utterly bizarre for us to have announced that our priority post-conflict was to look for WMD rather than focus our resources primarily on humanitarian and reconstruction issues."

It was a similar picture across the Atlantic: as the Mirror reported on 3 June, "President Bush defended the slow pace of efforts to find banned weapons, saying there were other pressing priorities such as restoring order and rebuilding Iraq."

But still - is it really true that Campbell, who was bullish in his demands for more evidence from the BBC, really wanted the matter to rest?

As he said of the BBC when called to give evidence before the Foreign Affairs Committee on 25 June, "That is a matter for them but all I know is that I am going to keep going until we get an apology."

Criticism, contradiction, confusion and concern - WMD, The Times, 3 June 2003 (subscription)
Briefing from PM's official spokesperson, 3 June 2003
PMQs, 4 June 2003, Hansard
Oral evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee on 25 June

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