Thursday, 7 July 2016

The Tony Blair Gang

The Chilcot Report yesterday has provoked a storm of retrospective debate about the UK's involvement in the Iraq war in 2003. Among the melee has been the assertion that Parliament overwhelmingly backed Tony Blair's call to arms - a pundit on Sky News suggested just "a handful" of MPs had voted against conflict, implying a contemporary near-unanimity for Mr Murdoch's mate's thirst for action (albeit carried out on his instructions by other people.) 
However, this was not the case at all. Many, many MPs and millions of others argued tooth and nail against the planned attack. Blair's increasingly fanciful claims about a clear and present danger from a sanctioned, defeated country which the UK and US had been quietly bombing ceaselessly for the previous four years, were not believed by many at the time - leading to his desperate need to "sex up" the intelligence reports which Chilcot has so devastatingly demolished. One was even lifted from a Hollywood movie rather than the backstreets of Baghdad, a shocking piece of criminal deception.

And so, while in Parliament Blair enjoyed majority support, there was more than just token opposition. As well as Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy's spirited opposition and resistance from Labour backbenchers like Corbyn, the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, resigned and warned of all the now realised dangers of the proposed military adventure.

When it came to the vote, on the substantive motion to go to war immediately, 149 MPs, including all 52 present Lib Dems, the 9 SNP,/Plaid, 2 Tories and 84 Labour MPs voted against. 
And on a proposed amendment, which stated the case for war had not yet been made, there were 217 votes in favour of delaying pending a UN resolution (which was unlikely to ever be forthcoming) - 145 from the Labour benches, all the Lib Dems and Nationalists, and 16 as well from among the Tory ranks.

Labour of course at that time enjoyed an overwhelming majority with 393 seats in the 650 seat House of Commons, but with only 245 Labour members voting with Blair, the Tories could have blocked the war. Instead, 139 of them, including David Cameron, voted against any further delay and so the amendment fell. The House then voted 412 to 149 for immediate war.

Thus, when Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, called on David Cameron to apologise for his and his party's role in the conflict, it was more than a political point - it was in fact stabbing home at a key issue that Chilcot, with its understandable focus on Blair, overlooked. And that is that, no matter how chillingly "charismatic" our glorious leader Blair was, and no matter how much he longed to be a President, or maybe even a Caesar, our nominal parliamentary system meant that he did not take us to war all on his own.

And in the same vein, it is not he alone who should take the guilt of this most heinous and counter-productive of military adventures.

David Cameron skated over both Lucas' question and the challenge from Angus Robertson, SNP Leader in the Commons, on failure to learn to plan - the same mistakes, Robertson charged, had informed (or perhaps failed to inform) the 2011 air war on Libya which has led to the ruin and anarchy there and to a tide of refugees northwards. While Jeremy Corbyn, who voted against the war, apologised for his party, Cameron disdainfully washed his hands of it all, as if he was never there.
Yet if justice was served, the focus would be on more than one bad man alone.

Tony Blair should be held to account. He should answer charges. But he should not be in the dock on his own. 

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