A matter of words

January 08, 2004 ,

IN a week when TV reality shows reached new lows with “Shattered”, there is speculation that the Prime Minister may also face a few sleepless nights.

The Hutton Report on the death of Dr David Kelly is imminent, and the crunch vote on university top-up fees looms large.

Michael Howard tried to pre-empt the Hutton Report at Prime Minister's Questions this week, by asking Tony Blair about his denial that he had leaked Dr. Kelly's name to the press.

It previewed what promises to be a fascinating punch-up at the dispatch box.
Ministers in the Conservative government of which Michael Howard was a member, were beaten up by Robin Cook when the Scott Report on the sale of arms to Iraq was released.

This time Mr. Howard hopes to land the knock-out blow. But the Prime Minister shows every sign that he believes the report will clear him of lying; the one offence guaranteed to bring him down.

The Hutton Inquiry and top-up fees are about real issues, but also come down to how you interpret a few words.

When Tony Blair said he did not authorise leaking Dr. Kelly's name he was being truthful.
The press already had the name before the Prime Minister chaired a meeting to discuss if it should be confirmed that David Kelly had admitted speaking to BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan.

The words on top-up fees may prove more difficult.
David Blunkett had something very different from the government's current proposals in mind when he insisted that the manifesto ruled out top-up fees.

Indeed the abolition of up-front fees and re-introduction of grants for students is very welcome.
But the words in the manifesto may be more difficult to explain away than the words which Michael Howard desperately hopes will have the Prime Minister reeling on the ropes.