BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 16.06.02

Interview: PETER OBORNE, Political Editor of The Spectator

On the claims that No. 10 sought a bigger role for the Prime Minister in the Queen Mother's funeral.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: But first, the man who broke the story, the Political Editor of The Spectator, Peter Oborne. Peter Oborne, still no proof that Tony Blair tried to get a bigger role for himself at the funeral? PETER OBORNE: I think there is proof and I have no doubt there is proof. The last story that he tried to muscle was right. The proof is there in the Downing Street document on Friday, actually, when we learned that the Prime Minister rang up..the Prime Minister's office, Black Rod was rung up while he was waiting at the North Door of Westminster Hall and informed that the Prime Minister was going to come down into the North Door and he said, apparently, here the accounts diverge, the Prime Minister's office..the rebuttal document which they published on Friday says that Black Rod said go ahead. The Mail on Sunday account of Black Rod's killer memo says that Black Rod urged against it. Whatever way, whatever..whether Downing Street is telling the truth or whether Black Rod's memo is the truth, there's no question that this attempt...that it was talked about on the..actually on the day when they..actually as they were waiting for the Queen Mother's cortege to arrive, that this telephone call arrived. HUMPHRYS: And yet, Black Rod himself has said 'at no stage' and this is a direct quote from him 'at no stage was I asked to change the arrangements' - end of story surely? OBORNE: That's very interesting that. I think it did cause..he made that statement, under pressure I think from Downing Street, the day, I think that The Spectator was published. According to the Mail on Sunday account of the memo, he says that that was a form of words that actually..that was strictly true but there was this constant pressure, these endless questions, I've got them here: what's the PM's role; won't the PM be meeting the coffin and surely the PM meets the Queen. I mean you have this series, although there wasn't actually a request to change, you get this intense pressure and these dozen telephone calls made in those few days leading up to the lying in State. HUMPHRYS: And the Press Complaints Commission itself says none of the three publications involved who carried this story, had produced evidence in their defence that Blair himself was in any way involved in any of this. OBORNE: This is the form of words agreed between the PCC and Downing Street in order to get, to give some sort of fig leaf to Downing Street's climbdown and decision to withdraw its complaint to the PCC about us and what they said was and it was a disingenuous formula, which is we have climbed down from an ascertain that the Prime Minister was personally involved. We never said that the Prime Minister was personally involved, my story and I think the Mail on Sunday's story was that officials ringing up from Downing Street.... HUMPHRYS: But the headlines said 'Blair says this', 'Blair tries that', I mean the implication is perfectly clear. OBORNE: Well, official rings up from the Prime Minister's private office in Downing Street, they're not ringing up on their own behalf, they're ringing up with the authority of a Prime Minister. HUMPHRYS: It's all a right wing plot is what some people say. Look at the publications that it's been in, The Spectator - a Conservative newspaper, a Conservative magazine. The Mail on Sunday, ditto. OBORNE: I'm actually very amused by this. This thesis suggests they are into advanced dementia. There's Jack Straw saying we're trying character assassination. We've got one Sunday paper, a left wing Sunday paper calls me Tory lickspittle today. I've just say one thing, when The Spectator broke the story, my story, the story I wrote, that Michael Ashcroft was funding the Tory party, do you remember the trouble that caused, we put that on the front page. We put that, we put it right up on the front page of The Spectator. When we ran this story, we didn't think it was all that important, we didn't even put it on the front page. We are not motivated by political malice or anything like that. We are journalists trying to bring facts to the light of the general public. That is our job and I am not a member of the Tory party, never been a member of the Tory party, I've written loads of stories which are deeply wounding to the Tory party and I've never been accused by them of being part of a left wing plot and I..they are just confounding, they think, they have a sort of curious, Manichaean view of the world, good and evil and that they....and actually we just go about doing our necessary, but not particularly grand job of journalism, of ferreting out the facts. HUMPHRYS: Right, thanks very much for that.
NB. This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.