Saturday, November 28, 2009

Return of the Bliar

On Saturday 19 July 2003, the day after the death of Dr David Kelly, the Guardian journalist Hugo Young wrote a magisterial column which concluded with the following immortal words:

But the most eloquent message concerns the Blair government. It must be right at all times. Above all, the integrity of the leader can never be challenged. He never did hype up intelligence. He didn't take Britain to war on any other than the stated terms. Any suggestion of half-truth, or disguised intention, or concealed Bushite promises is the most disgraceful imaginable charge that deserves a state response that knows no limit.

That's how a sideshow came to take over national life. Now it seems to have taken a wretched, guiltless man's life with it. Such is the dynamic that can be unleashed by a leader who believes his own reputation to be the core value his country must defend. (My italics)

Six years on, will the Chilcot inquiry into Iraq War do what Hutton and Butler failed to do, and ensure that sainted reputation is finally and deservedly shredded? It's certainly looking that way.

Here's today's Journal column.

Earlier this week, a somewhat startling press release landed in my inbox from the PoliticsHome website, which as well as being a reliable source of Westminster news also carries out regular opinion polls.

It revealed that 70pc of the British public thought the process that led to the emergence of Herman Van Rompuy and Cathy Ashton as EU president and foreign minister respectively had been undemocratic.

So far, so predictable, you may well say, given the byzantine processes that led to the selection of the little-known pair.

But the release went on to reveal that the public were actually quite relieved that the top Brussels jobs had gone to such relative political pygmies, rather than what our very own David Miliband described as a "traffic stopper" like Tony Blair.

At first sight, this looks like a pretty savage indictment of the former Prime Minister from a public which once lionised him.

But if anyone is wondering why a man who won three elections in a row between 1997 and 2005 is now less popular with the British public than a 62-year-old Belgian economist, the Iraq inquiry which commenced this week may provide a clue.

The reports by Lords Hutton and Butler were damning enough, for those of us who took the trouble to read between the lines rather than fall hook, line and sinker for the Alastair Campbell spin - but this is something else entirely.

After only a few days' evidence from civil servants with no particular political axe to grind, it is already clear that this inquiry is going to lay waste Mr Blair's reputation like nothing before it.

Already, we have learned that the government knew 10 days before the 2003 invasion that Saddam Hussein had dismantled his chemical weapons and had no warheads capable of delivering them.

We have learned that “huge gaps” in intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were flagged up to ministers before the compilation of the so-called “dodgy dossier” in September 2002.

We have heard former US ambassador Sir Christopher Meyer claim that the decision to go to war was taken in 2002 when Mr Blair met US President George Bush at his ranch in Texas.

And we have heard the former ambassador to the UN, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, express the opinion that the war was of “doubtful legitimacy.”

Any one of these revelations by themselves would have been damaging enough. Taken together, and with the promise of much more to come, they are devastating for Mr Blair.

But so what, you may say. He’s now left office, and while all this sort of stuff might be interesting to historians, it will have little impact on the electoral battle for 2010.

Well, two things. Firstly, it was very clear from Mr Blair’s conduct in office that he cares very much about his place in history, and in particular, about how his decision to go to war in Iraq is ultimately perceived.

Secondly, it is na├»ve to assume that this won’t feed into the general feeling of ‘time for a change’ that is providing the backdrop to the 2010 contest.

But even though it will scarcely help his re-election chances next spring, the Iraq inquiry may yet give Prime Minister Gordon Brown the last laugh on his old rival.

Routinely rubbished while in office, he might turn out to be viewed more kindly by history, as someone who, like Callaghan, like Home, simply had to make the best of a bad job.

For Mr Blair, that already seems unlikely. His long descent from public adoration in the mid-1990s to public obloquy now seems close to completion.

The European Union must be breathing a huge collective sigh of relief.

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Barnacle Bill said...

Like Laurel & Hardy, Hitler and Stalin: will Blair & Brown go down in history together?

doctorhuw said...

Only 70% thought the manoeuverings over the EU post undemocratic?

How come 30% thought they were?

doctorhuw said...

Sorry, that last word should read "weren't."

How embarassing, I can't even my own standards of SPaG these days!

Anonymous said...

While you are all slavering over the demise of a particularly nasty man - I feel for the troops stuck in a war they weren't equipped to fight, unsupported by the public and ignored by the very government when they have been maimed and injured.

THAT is Blair's legacy - the rest is merely politics.

BlairSupporter said...

What an absolute travesty of the truth this article is. Opining by witnesses at the Iraq Inquiry is portrated as FACT. And as facts, or opinions, which were evidently more authoritative than the facts and opinions of politically elected leaders.

Presumably we can expect you to give the same importance to Mr Blair's facts and opinions when he speaks at the Inquiry?

No? Thought not.

What rubbish this kind of bias is, if par for the course.

As regards the great man that Tony Blair is, nothing new to see here.

Move on.

Charlieman said...

Thanks, Paul. Hugo Young's death seems so long ago but it was enjoyable to read a few of his final words in such pertinent circumstances.

littleoleamerican said...

As an American I am grateful to the former Prime Minister and to the brave British troops for standing with us in Iraq and Afghanistan. Amazing how only four thousand British troops "invading" a country of twenty-two million could exact such positive results with the Iraqi Security Police. Hoooorah!