Tony Blair is innocent. He did what any ambitious, thrusting politician with a crushing majority would do…bestride the world stage and play up to the great powers, embracing the power lure of igniting war. Here was a man so popular, so representative of the country the UK wanted to be, he could do anything (that Gordon Brown let him). He didn’t need career public servants and plummy generals, could ignore the know-nothings in Cabinet. Tony could live out his fantasy – the post-war hip hero in the world’s auto focus, Justified Intervention papers in one hand, guitar in the other. When challenged, the hurt voice croaked: Look. I’m an honest guy.

The issue for me isn’t that he spiralled out of control in the rarefied air of Downing Street – they all do that. It isn’t that the former CND adherent and devout Christian turned out to be unprincipled and dangerously vain. Nor that he was prone to subvert the system of government.

The real problem is that he could get away with it. As we have seen outlined in Chilcot, there is nothing in the British constitution or in the rules of government to constrain a leader hell-bent on a course of action. If he cuts out his colleagues except a trusted few, how do they call him to account? If he ignores civil service advice, can they stymie him?

If his lieutenant and propagandist has more authority than his Defence Secretary, can a complaint stop him? If a million people march against him, does he have no obligation to stop and reconsider?

Eh, no. Tony Blair became de facto the government. One man with his own weaknesses and desires was allowed to twist the entire system until it fitted his pre-determined requirements. If that meant milking the internet for alarmist claims and stating with certainty that which was plainly qualified in order to win a vote, so be it. This last point, of overstating intelligence, is a grave crime in the world of espionage and information assessment. It is like relying on gossip in an environment aloud with false friends and whispered confidences. The function of the professionals is to interrogate every claim and evaluate each statement – not to delude themselves and the country because the information matches the expectation of the boss. We now know that much of the WMD claims came from a fantasist. Ironic, isn’t it? One fantasist feeding another.

For Iraq, the consequences that Blair himself spelled out to Bush beforehand of internecine conflict post-invasion, is a catastrophe of random violence, religious division once subdued but now aflame, of physical destruction, lawlessness, mass death and human displacement in the millions.

No one could foresee all of this, it’s true, and we all look sagely in the rear view mirror. But the warnings were there. They rained in from sources around the world of diplomacy, academia, politics and the genuine objection from, well, from people. For those who didn’t predict the breakdown of all society after the invasion, there was the question of legitimacy. Many of us could have been persuaded to remove the revolting, murdering tyrant Saddam with explicit UN support demonstrating a broad international, legally-founded case and a multi-national restoration plan. This of course was Blair’s original aim. One he didn’t stick to. I spent the war in a BBC studio listening to John Reid first explain how there would be a second resolution and then, when it didn’t come, say it was never needed. I was told, if I objected to invasion, I was a friend of Saddam. Reid, another of the Scottish former socialists now smoozing as a jumped-up lord, was Blair’s wriggle-meister – there was no contortion he wouldn’t perform for his master. Chilcot points to the military failure of the decision to stretch forces into Afghanistan – this over-reach was larded by Reid with the notorious waffle: We’re in the south to help and protect the Afghan people to reconstruct their economy and democracy. We would be perfectly happy to leave in three years time without firing one shot.

But what was a man like John Reid thinking? Where were his faculties? Was all subjugated to pleasing Tony, to career prospects?

I return to the theme. Where in the system is the check and where the balance to call to account a leader forcing a doomed path? Did no one, except Cook and Short, see the looming dangers? I have never understood how Darling, a trained lawyer and at the time an advocate, didn’t demand to see a full written exposition of the legal case for war. Was he afraid to ask? What is the point of a collective leadership that fails in its fundamental duty?

Imagine you are facing a decision to send troops to war. You shrug and tell yourself you can trust Tony to do the right thing. You don’t need to account to the bereaved parents or the legless returnee, right? If this was the most difficult decision Blair had to make, what does it say about his internal agonies that he breezed to Bush: Whatever…we’re with you?

Britain today is a global joke. There is a Monty Python theme of upper class, self serving idiocy about this self-aggrandising island, effectively bankrupt, run by public school boys, rejecting multi culturalism and partnership but afraid to push the EU eject button, rushing to upgrade the nuclear arsenal and sending to their death the young without the decency of a plan.

I wonder what remains of the Britain our parents fought for that keeps so many Unionist Scots in thrall. When you survey the all-pervasive mess that is constitutional politics in Britain and the looming damage to our economy, it’s hard not to conclude that some people must truly despise Scotland in order still to resist self-government. What part of the crumbling edifice of ever-right leaning Britain convinces some to express their proud Scot feelings by holding the UK closer?

There is, I suppose a retro war-time element to thinking that, whatever happens, we’ll be alright. Britain will bounce back. The Bank of England will be proved wrong and the economy will grow. The Americans are lying – we won’t be at the back of the trade deal queue. We’re not really rejecting immigration. Even Labour will revive, eventually.

Maybe. But it seems something has gone very wrong with a country pushing away its friends and demonising its overseas workforce. Blair’s contempt for accountability and transparency over Iraq and his toe-curling plea that it was still the right thing that he would do all over again, shows how deluded our elite is.

We can’t insure against electing people with vaulting ambition or unstoppable arrogance but we can construct processes to limit their adventurism. A requirement before military intervention in another country should be UN consultation at the very minimum, making it impossible to brush aside inconvenient judgments.

The scariest part is remembering that our parliament voted to support Blair when Labour and the Tories combined to defeat the SNP and the Liberals. If there had been effective scrutiny of the case and full disclosure, would they still have voted that way?


(On another matter, I’m pleased to announce my appointment to Ruth Davidson’s Commission on Brexit in which capacity I’ll be working with Adam Tomkins on a plan for the economy after we depart the EU. I’m a big admirer of Adam despite our spats on this blog and I regret calling him a twat. To this end I’ll be conducting hands-on research on how a small country deals with poverty during a prolonged tour of Portugal)

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32 thoughts on “Whatever…

  1. PLus ca change … David Cameron ( who as a young whippersnapper voted for war in Iraq , ”based on the evidence at the time ” ) stated in the Commons that he had put in place procedures , checks and balances etc.. to prevent another Iraq catastrophe being enacted by a British Prime Minister .
    One word , David – Libya .

  2. Enjoy your holiday Deek. I can only imagine what you really wanted to call two-jobs Tomkins, I agree with you that twat doesn’t really sum up what most of us thin of him. No doubt someone with a better understanding of the Gaelic can supply you with appropriate terms.

  3. Or even think of him.

  4. Gavin.C.Barrie

    Never allow yourself to be called an expert, – nor an academic Prof. Tomkins.

    Holyrood, and TV appearances now indicate you’d best return to guising as that Dame from Slovenia.

  5. People let this happen because they are too frightened not to think it will somehow be OK.

  6. I miss Robin Cook.

  7. Derick fae Yell

    The Crown in Parliament, laid bare

  8. I take on board a lot of what you say here about checks and balances but cannot help but feel that if other Labour grandees had grave doubts about the war and a conscience, they could have called a vote of ‘No Confidence’ in Blair.

    That they didn’t means one of two things. The first is they didn’t have grave doubts. The second is that they did but didn’t want to rock the boat because it would damage their career prospects and, perhaps, the standing of the Labour Party more generally.

    If it’s the latter, those who employed that thinking to justify it to themselves should be ashamed. Blair is the man ultimately responsible for the UK taking part. However, those who did have reason to doubt his case and let it fly anyway, by voting for the war, have to take some share of the blame because they acted as his enablers.

  9. Para 1 reminds me of a guy in Germany in the 30s who came to power to popular acclaim who then went on to ignore the advice of the professionals and experts.

  10. Steve Asaneilean

    Every single MP who voted for Blair’s war – especially the Labour ones like Reid, Darling, Liddell, Wilson, Murphy, etc.- are as culpable as Tony for the consequences of their decision to unquestioningly support him.

  11. As someone who enjoys dry deadpan humour I have to hand it to you Derek. I’ve spent some time studying that last paragraph, the one which begins with the words “On another matter….” and I’ve drawn a complete blank. A round of applause and a well deserved tip of the hat is due to you because for the life of me I cannot locate the humour or the piss take which must be there.

    The alternative explanation that it is a serious representation is just too outlandish to be realistic. And here was I thinking that us Yorkshiremen were just Scotsmen with every ounce of generosity squeezed out of us. Obviously I ‘ve got some catching up to do to get on the same wavelength.

    No doubt someone will explain it to us at some point. In the meantime, Respect, nice one.

  12. Portugal is a beacon of fairness compared to the so-called united kingdom.

  13. O/T. I’ve just caught up with the opening of the new session of the Scottish Parliament. Who was responsible for allowing the absurd flummery of ancients in medieval costume to despoil Holyrood? On what basis are they there? Who invited them to attend? What legislation gives them the right? It was a sickening sight to see the Presiding Officer, ill at ease in his best (or possibly hired) wedding outfit, grovelling to Mrs Windsor. Can we not rid ourselves of this nonsense?

  14. This from Grousebeater. https://grousebeater.wordpress.com/2016/07/07/pukesville-england/
    contains a map showing all the lethal explosions in Baghdad since 2003.

    As far as I am concerned that is the Blair/Bush legacy or at least the first part.

  15. The UK is a puffed up and pompous paper tiger. Leased nuclear weapons, aircraft carriers with no planes to carry. Trapped in the afterglow of a heritage theme park Britain that never existed. They used casual racism to get it out of Europe but still feel entitled to the benefits it enjoyed. The UK is the mouse that roared. Recast as the grand duchy of Fenwick. One of its propagandists revels in the fact that he rode on the coattail of a real super power and how he’d do it all again. A straw man obsessed with his legacy, not of being a great man, but of being the creepy kid who hangs around with bullies. I too wonder at the people who cling to Britishness. I am of an age now, were I can look back and wonder at what the fuss was. There really is nothing great about being British at all.

  16. People like Kezia and Davidson just don’t grasp what Scot’s voted for in the EU referendum.

    They talk about Brexit deals and access to the free market. We don’t care a jot about that. We voted to remain EU citizens. Get it Kezia! We want to keep our passport, our EU friends , our identity and some pride in the part of the world we come from. I am Scottish and European and proud of that. You are not taking away my passport and giving me the scraps of a despised UK. The UK(England) is a complete embarassment to a lot of Scots.

    It’s the same shallowness that happened duringh indy ref. The 45%voted for Scotland , for democracy,culture, identity. Not pensions and bank accounts. The shallow no side won a war on wallets not on pride or democracy.

    No country ever ever became indendent to improve their bank accounts. They all did it from the heart as it feels right to be free and feels wrong to be enslaved.

  17. Thanks for that Big Jock. Exactly how I feel.

    Re Blair, Derek has it right – no checks, no balances, no accountability, no day in Court to face the consequences – they walk away to make their millions.

    I wonder what the Report would have said if the likes of Bliar et al hadn’t been allowed to get their retaliation in first?

  18. I’m living in Portugal Derek and I think you’ll find that their new socialist/comunist/left-block government are doing a very fine job in undoing a lot of the austerity measures of the previous government. Not only that but they are exposing the tories for the sychophantic troika followers they were, to the detriment of the country. The IMF has come out and said that austerity doesn’t work and Portugal are showing this with their change in policy leading to better statistics in such a short time. Of course the EU are not happy with this situation at all and are shouting about sanctioning……which in itself is ridiculous because they are punishing them for the last government’s figures….which were directly due to following the troika’s austerity measures. We live in interesting times 😀

  19. No Peter , he deserves to have to carry the burden of guilt for the rest of his cushioned , elite life, as do many others in what they unleashed on the Iraqi people.
    The implication of what you are saying Derek is ( but I’m not sure if it’s in Chilcot) the likes of Alistair Campbell, an unelected bullying spin doctor was privy to information the elected ( however incompetent, self serving and distant cabinet) MPs were not.
    It would be an interesting inquiry into the exact role he played.
    Democracy , what a warped version they have sold us

  20. “But what was a man like John Reid thinking?”

    This could lead to a seat in the House of Lords..

  21. Sandra Hunter

    An excellent reference in detail of the lead-up to the war in Iraq is minutely covered in Andrew Rawnsley’s ‘The End of the Party: The Rise and Fall of New Labour’. To get a factual thick read on the reality of the Middle East and interventions is Robert Fisk’s ‘The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East’ and Mark Curtis’ ‘Secret Affairs Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam’. Read and weep for the future is bleak. The UK Government has armed, bribed, murdered, coerced, starved and any horror you can think of for years having funded, then de-funded, bribed allegiance from insurgents then blown them to bits the next week as they armed the enemies of the enemy and so on and so forth for more years than the UK government could remember. They cannot now keep track of the hundreds of groups they support, don’t support, want to support, want to get rid of – and the US relationship is a similar mire of horror and deception aided by the illusionists and myth-making media and industrialists who incite public acceptance of Iraqs past and Iraqs ongoing and Iraqs to come.

  22. Why do we keep on calling the UK a democracy? It’s as plain as the bread of a coal-minor’s piece that a country governed by an unelected head of state, a parliament with more unelected members than elected members, which operates on the medieval English view of the Constitution (that Sovereignty comes from God to the Monarch in Parliament, that that Sovereignty is absolute and above the Law, and the people are Subjects of the Monarch in Parliament), rather than the ancient Scottish view (that Sovereignty comes from God to the people, whose sovereignty is subject to the Rule of Law, who choose a Monarch and a Parliament who are Subjects of the Sovereign People, with the Monarch reigning, the Parliament governing and the People exercising sovereignty). Where do the Treaty and Act of Union grant the UK parliament the right to operate on the English view rather than the Scottish view? These two views of the Constitution are incompatible. That the English view is what operates demonstrates that we were conquered and also betrayed in 1707.

    I do not believe that the English people are capable of conceiving of the Constitution of the UK in any other way than the English view. I doubt the England will ever be a Democracy, and that for Scotland to be a real democracy it must become independent, and eventually a Republic.

    I hope that the Queen lives until after we become independent, and that when she dies we have a referendum on whether we should become a real democracy, with an elected Head of State

  23. Looks as though May will be our next PM. Leadsom has chucked in the towel after her gaff ridden weekend.

    So looking forward to implementation of Snoopers charter, British Bill of rights and Brexit (in no particular order). 🙁

    • yes quite right Cruella Deville will be anointed on wednesday , she has stated she will unite the nation and her premiership will be different more caring than the previous nasy b/trds who were in charge aye ok .
      The constitutional earthquake we are about to experience has been totally ignored and sidelined by the media indeed Scotland and the SNP have disappeared from print and broadcast media that is unless Ruth the i am not a tory opens her gub she appears to have a direct link to Pacific Heights alias the BBC propaganda unit who act as the official opposition in Jockland

  24. 1997 and ‘new’ Labour won the general election. Whilst many seemed elated to wipe out the Thatcher years and beyond this was not a Labour government but a more centralist party posing under the Labour name. Forward 20 years and we have a power fight within Labour. Telling is the support/opposition to Trident within the party. My honest view is that Labour fired a missile at themselves long ago and they’re still trying to cope with the fallout, a slow lingering death. Europe moves to the right, Labour move to the clifftop

  25. Jings Derek, it’s near the end of July! Are you still on holiday or have you retired? I’m missing your pithy observations!😉

  26. Wait, what? You went on holiday with Tory MSP, Prof Tomkins and you are now on a Tory Committee on Brexit? I am sincerely & totally discombobulated by this last paragraph.

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