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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Blair's Future

Aired January 28, 2004 - 09:22   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: As Tony Blair fights for his political life this week, a British judge has handed him a major political victory.
There's Tony Blair in parliament right now. He's addressing questions in the wake of the Hutton report being released. The report now vindicates that the prime minister really did not have any role in the death of weapons expert David Kelly. Let's listen just for a moment to the prime minister.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Order. Order.

Leader of the opposition.

MICHAEL HOWARD: Mr. Speaker, David Kelly was a fine public servant, who did an immense amount of public good for this country, and I'm sure would have done so again in the future. I pay tribute...

O'BRIEN: Opposition leader Michael Howard now taking the mike. As you can see, a very contentious meeting, Q&A going on this morning.

Let's turn to Peter Stothard. He's the author of "30 Days: Tony Blair and the Test of History." He's also the editor of the "Times" literary supplement. He's live in London for us this morning.

Obviously tempers running a little bit high in this meeting, as we have seen for the good part of the morning.

First, let's talk about the Hutton report. What exactly was found? What's the bottom line, in a nutshell.

PETER STOTHARD, AUTHOR, "30 DAYS": It's game seven match to the prime minister really. It's no other way of putting it. There's been a great express train sort of running toward London in the last four months. And no one knew who it would hit. Would it be the BBC, or would it be Tony Blair?

But it smashed through the BBC, and Tony Blair was left looking very good today.

O'BRIEN: Well then, let's talk, before we talk about the BBC, let's talk about Tony Blair. There were really two parts of this. One, did the prime minister have any role in the death of David Kay, the weapons expert. And also, did the prime minister, was he responsible for, as they said, sexing up that dossier that made the case to go to war? Does this mean, this Hutton Report mean, that he is now clears on both of those counts? STOTHARD: Yes, absolutely. He didn't sex up the dossier, in the sense of adding false data to it in order to strengthen the case, inasmuch as the case was strengthened by his office by Alistar Campbell, then Lord Hutton decided that was an absolutely proper thing for him to do and for his office to do. And so yes, he's completely off the hook on that absolutely central accusation against him.

O'BRIEN: As we can see from that fairly contentious meeting in parliament there, the prime minister's popularity has been sagging. What do you expect this will do for his popularity? Do you think it's going to be a revival almost immediately?

STOTHARD: Well, he looks very, very powerful, and very, very confident today. His popularity actually hasn't gone down too much. It's -- where he's really unpopular, is with his own labor MPs, and his government is weak because his MPs are divided, not because he, himself, is particularly unpopular. He is still a very unpopular leader.

And I think, you know, this verdict, from a very distinguished judge, it's getting him off the hook and savagely attacking his critics, will really put a spring in his step, and yes, he must feel a lot, lot better today.

O'BRIEN: Peter, as the way you put it, that train running right through the BBC, what exactly are this implications for the BBC today in the wake of this report?

STOTHARD: The implications to the BBC are very serious. I would expect many senior governors, maybe the chairman, the director generals, would have to certainly reconsider their positions. It was an unfounded report. Well, all journalistic organizations can do that. But then they didn't check whether the report was justified before moving it up through the ladder of the BBC. The director general himself barely took any notice of it. He's supposed to be editor in chief, and the governor's who both represent the independents of the BBC, but also sort of be its monitors, its regulators if you like, did all the job of defending the BBC against the government, and none of the job of finding out whether the BBC was telling the truth. And Lord Hutton was very critical of that. And I would think some of their positions are really quite untenable now.

O'BRIEN: Well, that Lord Hutton has really handed a major victor to Prime Minister Tony Blair this morning.

Peter Stothard joining us this morning. Peter, thanks for being with us and explaining some of these latest breaking details for us.

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